For my response, I've copied and pasted the whole of Brooks' post which I've broken up and put into quotes with my comments beneath each section.
Teaching of synthetic phonics in Australia based on flawed evidence
By Greg Brooks
What is phonics for? Where does it fit into an overall pedagogy of literacy? Without clear answers to these questions, the contestants in the phonics debate will continue to circle each other like blindfolded prizefighters.
First of all, what an extraordinary introduction to Brooks' piece. There are very clear answers to Brooks' questions available through many routes. What is chilling, however, is how those who raise questions and undermine the teaching of phonics appear not to 'hear' explanations of the practical answers despite many attempts over years to address any queries and challenges both directly to individuals and via the public domain internet networks. This is well-documented and easy to prove since the advent of the internet and there has been a notable increase of bloggers who afford clear critical analysis of the debate about phonics. Good examples of such bloggers include Andrew Old, Pamela Snow and Greg Ashman and others such as the researchED community have found information to answer the questions Brooks raises. Andrew Old through his Scenes of The Battleground
blog, for example, has been writing about the behaviour of 'phonics denialists
' and their misrepresentation of the role of phonics since 2013, see here: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=917
To answer Brooks' opening questions directly:
'Phonics' is the representation of speech sounds in print (for the English language, this is the English alphabetic code using the Roman Alphabet letters). Phonics teaching is about the introduction of the knowledge of the alphabetic code (the letters and letter groups and the sounds they represent) from sound-to-print for spelling purposes (encoding) and from print-to-sound for reading purposes (decoding). 'Where does it fit into an overall pedagogy of literacy?
' - 'phonics' is the teaching of the technicalities of reading and writing as part of a language and literature-rich experience. As a consequence of a body of research, the role of phonics has long been commonly featured in the following two ways: The Five Pillars of Literacy
Since the review of research literature in 2000 by the National Reading Panel in America, phonics has been listed as one of five main features of necessary reading instruction: 1) Phonemic awareness
(which is developed within phonics teaching anyway); 2) Phonics
(teach the alphabetic code and phonics skills explicitly and systematically); 3) Fluency
(build up reading capability with repetition); 4) Vocabulary enrichment
(teach vocabulary explicitly); 5) Comprehension
(develop language comprehension and reading comprehension). The Simple View of Reading
(original concept by researchers Gough and Tumner, 1986)
The Simple View of Reading rationale is now widely accepted as a model highlighting the two main processes of being a reader in the full sense: 1) Word recognition/decoding
- What IS
the word? 2) Language comprehension
(spoken or 'listening' comprehension) - What does the word MEAN
? You can see the diagram of the Simple View of Reading here:https://phonicsinternational.com/The_Si ... _model.pdf
Surely these well-known models embedded into official literature provide very clear answers to Brooks' opening questions.
The aim of literacy teaching is to produce readers who tackle texts on paper or screen with confidence and understanding, so that they can learn, enjoy their reading and, when appropriate, read aloud with fluency and expression. But to beginners the marks on the page are arbitrary, meaningless squiggles. Even those which correspond to words they understand when spoken to them cannot yet be related to meaning. Therefore the overriding aim of phonics is the efficient identification of unfamiliar printed words.
Precisely! So why does 'phonics' cause so much consternation such that Brooks describes the scenario as 'contestants in the phonics debate will continue to circle each other like blindfolded prizefighters'
So who needs to be taught phonics and when?
Some children are enabled to bridge that gulf by being read to copiously, and joining in the reciting of the texts they have heard so often they have them off by heart, until they twig the essential insight that what they are saying is represented by what they can see. For them, phonics is not only unnecessary, but may be a hindrance. Therefore phonics has no place in the teaching of reading to young fluent readers, and testing their ‘phonic knowledge’ is irrelevant and risks causing them to regress in their learning.
This is what I can never understand. Why should ANY young learners be put in a position, or need to, 'bridge that gulf by being read to copiously, and joining in the reciting of the texts they have heard so often they have them off by heart, until they twig the essential insight that what they are saying is represented by what they can see
Why wouldn't parents and teachers see the need to teach explicitly the most complex alphabetic code in the world - starting with simple letter-to-sound or sound-to-letter matches? Why should ANY child be left to deduce, intuit or 'ferret out' (Sir Jim Rose's words in his 2006 review) the alphabetic code for themselves - even though some do manage this very challenging feat. In fact, why would any adults leave young learners to deduce their country's writing system for themselves. Why would we not explicitly teach all young learners the code of their languages explicitly and systematically? That we even have to contemplate a scenario where children are expected to make their own connections and intuit their language's code beggars belief.
Now - I am going to suggest that this statement (which I shall now write in red) that Brooks makes is utterly shocking and virtually inexplicable: "For them, phonics is not only unnecessary, but may be a hindrance. Therefore phonics has no place in the teaching of reading to young fluent readers, and testing their ‘phonic knowledge’ is irrelevant and risks causing them to regress in their learning."
But Brooks seems to be only one of a group of academics who are gathering a head of steam to talk in terms of 'phonics' damaging early readers. The level of this emotive language, and the challenge of such a suggestion, is worrying indeed. The danger is that this perpetuates the idea that teaching featuring the code of the English language and the phonics skills required for reading (and spelling) could be damaging to any profile of child - and such a notion excuses teachers for opting out of teaching phonics for at least some children - perhaps many. HOW CAN ANY EDUCATIONALIST CONSIDER THAT TESTING (ASSESSING) 'PHONIC KNOWLEDGE' IS IRRELEVANT?
HOW CAN TESTING 'PHONIC KNOWLEDGE' CAUSE ANY LEARNER OF ANY PROFILE TO REGRESS?
These flawed notions about phonics and the lack of understanding about the role of high-quality phonics teaching, including objective phonics assessment, for all children is why there are more and more children identified as 'dyslexic' with parents' organisations growing in large numbers - frequently describing their concern about the lack of phonics, or the weak teaching of phonics, in their children's schools. Indeed, in Australia we are witnessing many dyslexia-based organisations petitioning for the introduction of a phonics check in Australia. Many of these concerned parents will describe that they have indeed read copiously to their children but to no avail - their children have not been able to 'twig
' the complexities of the English alphabetic code in order to produce fluent, capable readers. This confirms that it is actually a pretty ludicrous idea for anyone to suggest that children should have to, or be expected to, pick up reading through their book-experiences at home. The step further than this is to suggest that those children who have managed this feat should then be actually hindered or damaged by any explicit phonics teaching in the school setting. Really?
What a truly shallow and irresponsible suggestion.There may well be an issue regarding the content and level of the phonics teaching which of course needs to match the learner's needs and capabilities - the danger being a mismatch such that precocious readers are provided with a diet that is constantly much lesser than their requirements.
Anyone who knows anything about the complexities of the English alphabetic code, however, should know that there is plenty of scope to provide an advanced level of phonics not only for reading purposes but particularly for spelling purposes. Phonics for teaching spelling can arguably be content-rich and appropriate right throughout primary and beyond if needed. See the complexities of the English alphabetic code via my range of free Alphabetic Code Charts and you will readily see that this is not just infant phonics:http://alphabeticcodecharts.com/free_charts.html
What of the children who arrive at school not yet reading? Their most important immediate task is to learn to read, so for them the purpose of phonics is to provide a quick start on the identification of regularly-spelt words, alongside the essential (for English, with its complex orthography) learning of some basic high-frequency but irregularly-spelt words as sight words.
There is no published piece of literature nor any single phonics proponent that EVER suggests phonics alone constitutes teaching children to read. Let's all agree to that!
The experimental evidence shows clearly that phonics in this context works for both normally-developing children and those who are falling behind. But the same body of evidence also shows that (a) the teaching must be systematic and not incidental; (b) it must be embedded in a broad and rich language and literacy curriculum, because there is much more to reading than just word identification, and therefore phonics alone does not constitute teaching children to read.
The flawed case for teaching only synthetic phonics
The message about embedding phonics in a rich curriculum is there loud and clear in the Rose Report (2006), which was published in England and used as evidence to impose a national phonics test in England. Advocates of the phonics test, and the associated teaching of “synthetic phonics”, in Australia regularly cite this report, especially to argue that Australia should impose the teaching of synthetic phonics on all school beginners.
Let's reflect on Brooks' use of language here - he writes, 'used as evidence to impose a national phonics test in England
' and '...Australia should impose the teaching of synthetic phonics on all school beginners
.' Note the word 'impose' associated not only with the phonics check but also with the actual teaching of synthetic phonics on all school beginners. This is clearly an emotive use of language no doubt to sway opinion against the provision of phonics as the 'imposition' is associated with official educational and political guidance and law in England. And don't people like to bash the politicians whatever their calibre.
Cambridge dictionary definition of 'impose':
to officially force a rule, tax, punishment, etc. to be obeyed or received
to force someone to accept something, especially a belief or way of living
Oxford dictionary definition of 'impose':
Force (an unwelcome decision or ruling) on someone.
Put (a restriction) in place
Impose oneself on, exert firm control over
In a sense, then, those against phonics teaching or introducing a phonics check have delved into emotive language as a means of putting across their arguments. We do not read of any evidence to show that phonics for fluent young readers is damaging - indeed, Brooks has gone beyond speaking against the introduction of a phonics check in Australia and has actually implied that synthetic phonics reading instruction for 'teaching of synthetic phonics on all school beginners' is an imposition.
Is he saying, then, that teachers should refrain from phonics teaching for all beginners who come to school already reading? Are teachers to choose who gets phonics provision in their settings? Really?
I am dismayed by such an irresponsible suggestion. I am actually shocked that Professor Brooks has travelled down this road along with some other detractors with whom he now associates.
I was present during the presentation of evidence for the Rose enquiry and I believe Jim Rose overstated his case for synthetic phonics in the subsequent report. Nevertheless, Rose’s message about embedding phonics in a rich curriculum, which is a very basic message, got lost in the controversy his report stirred up around whole-word versus phonics.
Jim Rose mostly stuck to saying phonics teaching must be systematic, but in places elided that into saying that systematic phonics is synthetic phonics, which the experimental evidence did not justify, and still doesn’t. There is as yet no evidence that any one form of phonics teaching produces better progress than any other form of phonics.
This is not an accurate statement. Any type of phonics and some phonics is better than no phonics, but 'synthetic phonics' is the most effective and especially important for disadvantaged learners. 'Synthetic' simply refers to the synthesising, or blending, of the sounds uttered in response to letters and letter groups all-through-the-printed-word to discern the spoken word (the sounding out and blending process) - and the 'units of sound' of the alphabetic code are generally at the level of the smallest 'phonemes' (the /k/ /oa/ /t/ as in 'coat') rather than larger units of sound such as syllable chunks (fab-ric) or onset and rime (br-ick).
Following the Rose Report there was a noticeable increase in the number of phonics-based intervention schemes for struggling readers in England, but it was only after the change of government in 2010 that strong official pressure was put behind synthetic phonics, often using a flawed and partial interpretation of the research evidence, and Rose’s conflation of systematic phonics with synthetic phonics. This was expressed in the misleading slogan-like mantra that ‘Synthetic phonics is the best way to teach children to read’, ignoring all the caveats about embedding phonics in the broader curriculum and the dearth of supporting evidence.
Again, Brooks does not provide us with any evidence of his assertions that synthetic phonics was based on 'a flawed and partial interpretation of the research evidence' and that Rose conflated 'systematic phonics with synthetic phonics'. I myself having been involved heavily in the reading debate for two decades in England and internationally including being involved in the parliamentary inquiries into reading instruction in England and helping to inform the Rose Review, can vouch that at no time was there any lack of reference to 'embedding phonics in the broader curriculum'. This has ALWAYS been stated but it is one of those statements that HAS NOT BEEN HEARD. How can so many academics and critics be so hard of hearing?
It is ironic that that line is actually at odds with the latest (2013, p.13) version of the national curriculum for English in England, which has this to say:
Skilled word reading involves both the speedy working out of the pronunciation of unfamiliar printed words (decoding) and the speedy recognition of familiar printed words. Underpinning both is the understanding that the letters on the page represent the sounds in spoken words. This is why phonics should be emphasised in the early teaching of reading to beginners (i.e. unskilled readers) when they start school.
This is much more balanced than many public pronouncements. Moreover, it implies that phonics teaching is essentially time-limited. As soon as children ‘get it’ or are seen to have ‘cracked the code’, only occasional reinforcement of sounding-out and blending for unfamiliar words is needed. As Jeanne Chall put it 50 years ago in Learning to Read: the great debate, once children have developed the ability to identify written words, teaching further phonics ‘is sheer madness’.
Teaching of phonics for spelling, however, is part of the 'systematic synthetic phonics teaching principles' certainly as embodied in England's National Curriculum (2014) and, of course, the level of phonics teaching should be commensurate with children's needs whether for reading, or spelling, or both.
I simply don't agree with Brooks here about various pronouncements. The confusion has constantly been over the expression 'range of reading strategies' and 'multi-cueing reading strategies' whereby teachers, and others, often appear not to understand the differences in teaching multi-cueing for guessing the words on a page compared to multi-cueing for meaning-making. To this day, this confusion abounds and many people do not appreciate that multi-cueing when it amounts to word-guessing is potentially damaging for many children. There is far, far more danger for learners inherent in multi-cueing word-guessing (and this is well evidenced in the body of research) than for the idea that 'phonics' for early readers is damaging. How can it be that all these detractors aren't fighting the corner against multi-cueing word-guessing (guess from the picture, guess from the first letter or letters, read on and then go back and guess the word that makes sense) if they care so much for the welfare of young learners?
Teachers don’t need a national test to tell them about their own students
Again, this is incorrect. The many different responses from teachers about the advent of the check, the nature of the check, and interpretation of the results of the check provide evidence that teachers really do need a national test to tell them about their own students. Many teachers have reported that their 'better readers' have done less well than their 'weaker readers' in the check. See my response to David Reedy of the United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) which will provide some explanation regarding different profiles of young readers and the different interpretations of teachers to the results of the check. In any event, teachers need to know how effectively they are teaching compared to other teachers in like circumstances - and from year to year, and so on. See:https://phonicsinternational.com/reedy_response.pdfhttps://phonicsinternational.com/Westmi ... ite%20.pdf
What of those children who don’t ‘get it’ the first or second time? There are a few for whom phonics simply doesn’t work, but they are rare and exceptional. An Australian friend who taught in an Infants school (Years 1-2) in England for over 30 years says that she was unable to unlock the door of initial literacy for just one child in all that time. There are others who struggle and fail to progress well. Observant teachers know perfectly well who they are, and need deep professional knowledge to understand them and work round their difficulties. Teachers don’t need a test to identify children who are struggling. When teachers in England were asked about the phonics test a great many said it didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know.
See the links above regarding the idea that teachers said they didn't need a test to tell them anything they didn't already know. I've written a couple of articles regarding issues around the phonics check and teacher-knowledge, see:https://senmagazine.co.uk/articles/arti ... or-phonicsviewtopic.php?f=2&t=914
What teachers of initial literacy do need is better support for helping the strugglers, which was supposed to be part of the follow-up to the phonics test, but is notable by its absence. Money put into that would be well spent, which the money spent on the phonics test is not.
I suggest that high-quality teacher-training is important for first time teaching and for teaching the strugglers. Many of these children would not be struggling if they had the best systematic synthetic phonics teaching for first-time teaching.
Meanwhile, money is very well spent on the phonics check. There is plenty of evidence that it has made teachers in England far more mindful about the effectiveness of their phonics teaching and year on year, many teachers are improving their results. Around a thousand schools are teaching nearly every child to decode well by the end of Year One, year on year, and this includes schools in disadvantaged contexts.
In the first three years of national operation, the phonics test in England cost £44,000,000 – what a waste! Spend your Australian dollars on good professional development instead!
Australia could readily use England's phonics check and this is ready-made which would reduce any costs. Also, using the same check is more objective. How effective, for example, is the phonics teaching in Australia compared to England? Australia could build on England's findings and practices to date.