Friday, August 4, 2023

Is Learning to Read Unnatural


This morning I read an excellent must-read article written by W. Dorsey Hammond.

I don’t agree with him taking a few unnecessary punches at phonics but overall it is a must-read article.

The article says:

“The average child normally endowed and normally taught learns to read only with considerable difficulty.”

This statement is made by the white man who does not know how to read in any other language. A child taught to read in Malay will have no problem reading any word in less than 3 months of teaching.

My book, ‘Teach your child to Read’, can get any kid, with no acuity problem, to read in less than 4 months. The book is made up of 30 lessons with only about 5 to 8 sentences per lesson. 


Dorsey Hammond:

The noted neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene (2018) argues that there is no place or mechanism in the brain to accommodate the learning to read process, seemingly adding credence to the reading-is-unnatural assumption. Dehaene and other researchers point out that oral language has been around for 50,000 years, whereas written systems developed much later—a recent 5,000 years ago—and that many languages in the world, even today, have no written system.

Does Dehaene know how a kid learns to read? Of course not! Read my blog post. LINK 

Dorsey Hammond:

However, the argument is frankly not entirely persuasive. Simply because a behavior emerges later in human development does not necessarily make it more “unnatural” nor more difficult or daunting to learn.

Yet in today’s culture, numerous articles, podcasts, and blogs regularly lament how difficult and daunting it is for children to learn to read because it is an unnatural process. One might be led to believe that this notion is settled science. It is not.

Yes, let me quote what our so-called 'education guru' Pamela Snow said, ‘Reading (and its corollary, writing) is a human contrivance that has existed for only approximately 6,000 years (Snow, 2016). This recency of reading as a human skill is important, because 6,000 years is a mere blink in evolutionary terms, and the human brain has not developed specialized neural pathways to support a skill that is widely agreed to be essential to successful living in first-world developed economies and to the social and economic trajectories of developing nations.’


What a stupid statement to make! What an insult to the human mind! This woman blocked me because she could not answer questions I asked.


Our brains have an innate ability to learn to read. Read my post found here


Dorsey Hammond:


There is yet another issue that requires our attention. If learning to read appears to be complex and a daunting task, the question is, for whom? Though cognitive researchers may see reading as a complex process, young children usually do not. They see reading as mysterious when done by others, such as parents and older siblings. However, they see it as doable and they want to do it for themselves. Of course, they may begin to think of it as difficult and complex if they are told that it is, so to suggest to the young child that reading is really hard serves no useful purpose. They may also begin to think of reading as difficult if they are not successful with the instruction they receive or are made to feel they are not doing well. But their initial response to reading is ordinarily eager, open, and confident.


As I have said numerous times, kids who find reading difficult are instructional casualties (A word coined by Dr.Reid Lyon). They are kids who have been confused by wrong instructions by TV programmes and by teachers.


Dorsey Hammond:


Children’s pattern-seeking brains are critical to their ability to learn language. Because of their capacity for detecting patterns, children are able to develop generalizations and infer the rules of how oral language works. It is the human brain’s capacity to detect and create patterns that make thinking and language learning possible. (See Mattson, 2014.) The same is true when they learn to read. Their development of oral language has primed them to infer the rules of print language by detecting patterns in the words, sentences and paragraphs they see on the page.


Yes, this is what I discovered by teaching my students. Children learn using patterns they have accumulated in their brains. I use these patterns to teach my students and have explained them in my book.


Dorsey Hammond:


Rather than viewing learning to read inflexibly as either natural or unnatural—as if it must be one or the other—a more fruitful approach is to ask whether learning to read can be made a more natural learning process so that young learners will learn more easily.


Yes, if at all you want to teach phonics then teach the sounds represented by letters correctly. Do not teach the letters with extraneous sounds thus confusing them. This has been my mantra for more than a decade.  


Dorsey Hammond:


We return to our original question: Is learning to read an unnatural act? It is perhaps not as natural as learning to talk, although it appears to be just that for some children. And sometimes teaching a child to read can be challenging. However, learning to read is not as unnatural as many contend…


Why does it appear to be natural for some children? It is probably because they have not been exposed to the wrong sounds represented by letters by TV programmes such as Baby TV and by play schools and kindergarten teachers who taught sounds represented by letters wrongly. It is probably because they were taught by their parents before they went to school.

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