More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

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More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Jan 08, 2018 8:39 pm

For several years, in England, Dr Andrew Davis has achieved national attention for his attack on the promotion of systematic synthetic phonics and the phonics check by the Department for Education in England.

To achieve such national attention was dismaying and mystifying as Davis makes a range of opinion-based comments about systematic synthetic phonics and the national phonics check, their 'imposition', flaws and potential damage to able readers. On his official university page you can find the following links:

Publication Information

To get a free download of "To read or not to read: decoding synthetic phonics" (published online December 13th 2013) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... x/abstract

View launch of "To read or not to read: decoding synthetic phonics" (held January 29th 2014 at the Institute of Education, London University) at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/8n52lgaxzfi9 ... PESGB2.mp4

Summary articles and selected media coverage of "To Read or not to Read..":

Don’t let reading wars hold back more able children - available https://theconversation.com/dont-let-re ... dren-22468

A Plague on the Fundamentalism of synthetic phonics- at http://news.tes.co.uk/b/opinion/2014/01 ... cs-39.aspx

Brief clip from Radio 5 live coverage at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01qpxlv

Interview - available at http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/nursery-w ... -education

News report about "To read or not to read" plus comments - at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25917646

Reading lessons: why synthetic phonics doesn't work http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-netw ... CMP=twt_gu


As we have noted via the IFERI forum, there are many people who challenge the official promotion of systematic synthetic phonics, and the phonics check - some who have joined with Davis through, for example, joint public statements and collaboration for publishing literature which in essence is against the 'imposition' of systematic synthetic phonics and the phonics check.


I started to write about Dr Andrew Davis four years ago (January 2014) and was even invited to participate in a radio broadcast alongside Davis - providing our different perspectives on the scenario, see here:

https://phonicsinternational.com/forum/ ... .php?t=556
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Re: More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:12 pm

So, four years later, Davis now has a very expensive published book to describe his thoughts in detail. Conversations have thus been generated internationally as awareness of Davis's views has spread to Australia probably since his collaboration with Margaret Clark, Greg Brooks and other detractors from the national introduction of a phonics check.

For Jennifer Chew's comments about the collaborative Margaret Clark book, see this thread:

viewtopic.php?f=2&t=935
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Re: More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:16 pm

Molly de Lemos noted the following in a conversation via the DDOLL network:

In his article published in the Guardian (see attached), Andrew Davis argues that the phonics check is not valid because ‘the term phoneme doesn’t mean sound’, but refers to ‘sets of sounds in speech that distinguish one word from another’. As an example he gives the sound (phoneme) ‘a’ as in hat, as compared with the sound (phoneme) ‘a’ as in ‘hart’, arguing that the change in the middle sound gives a different word. He goes on to argue that this means that the concept of a phoneme is abstract, and ‘changing the sound may or may not change the word’, and to give examples of words that have the same spelling but different meanings and different pronunciations (homographs), as well as words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings and different meanings (homonyms). On this basis he argues that it is only when you have worked out the context that you can correctly ‘say’ the word, and that the process of blending sounds is not actually reading, and that the phonics check therefore becomes a test of what words a child already has in their spoken vocabulary rather than a test of ‘reading’.

In scoring the phonics check, it is true that different criteria are applied to the scoring of real words and pseudo-words. In the case pseudo words any plausible pronunciation is accepted as correct, whereas in the case of real words the word has to be pronounced correctly to be accepted as correct. For example, if the real word ‘blow’ was pronounced to rhyme with ‘cow’, it would be scored as incorrect, but if ‘blow’ was a pseudo-word and was pronounced to rhyme with ‘cow’ it would be accepted as correct.

I don’t see this as a real issue, and I assume that the words included in the check are selected to minimise this sort of problem.

But it does illustrate the point that correct pronunciation of real words is dependent on two processes. The ability to sound out words, plus specific word knowledge. There are some real words which children could mispronounce in cases where they are familiar with the spoken word but not with the written form of the spoken word. For example, the word ‘island’ could be pronounced as ’is-land’ rather than ‘eye-land’. In which case it could be argued that the word has been sounded out correctly, but is marked wrong because the pronunciation is incorrect.

However, this does not invalidate the Phonics Check as an assessment of children’s ability to sound out words, which is the essential first step in learning to read, and Davis’ argument that because ‘some fluent readers fail the check, and fail it more than once’, does not support his conclusion that the ‘Department of Education should abandon the check and allow teachers to continue to use phonics intelligently and flexibly in the context of reading for meaning’.

Rather, it indicates that teachers can in fact be misled by students who appear to be able to read fluently, because they have a good sight word memory, but at the same time have poor decoding skills, which will only become evident at a later stage when they move beyond reading predictable texts with lots of familiar words and pictures to facilitate guessing from context, and are faced with more complex texts which include unfamiliar written words and no picture clues to help with guessing.

This is a point that needs to be made clear in refuting the arguments of the ‘phonics denialists’.

Molly

PS Some of these points were also raised in the ‘Open Letter to Michael Gove on ‘Why the Year 1 phonics check must go’, from ‘a coalition of leading educationalists’, organised by the UK Literacy Association and signed by 11 ‘leading educationalists, including David Reedy, General Secretary of the UK Literacy Association, as well as Andrew Davis, Greg Brooks, Carole Torgeson and representatives from various other national associations and teacher groups.
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Re: More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:26 pm

As Molly has mentioned various points about the phonics check and noted the name of UKLA representative, David Reedy, I shall slip in here a piece from Reedy about the check that was included alongside my comments about the check and presented as a 'debate' in the magazine Teach Primary (2013).

I believe the issues raised by both Reedy and me may help to inform people in Australia who are currently deciding the pros and cons to introducing a phonics check. One thing is clear is that people in Australia, as in England, do not share a common understanding about the processes of reading, how best to teach those processes and whether the phonics check is valid or not, see here:

https://phonicsinternational.com/screener_debate.pdf

Subsequent to the Teach Primary article being published, I felt the need to address the issues raised by Reedy in his piece and so wrote this personal response:

https://phonicsinternational.com/reedy_response.pdf

I also wrote this article, Phonics for fun, for life chances and for life! which mentions a wider range of issues including the accountability of governments for addressing weak literacy and for finding out the consequences of methods and materials they may promote:

https://phonicsinternational.com/Though ... honics.pdf

So, whereas many people say that governments (politicians) should stay out of the business of teaching, I would suggest there is a very strong case for governments (politicians) to be active in finding out why there may be poor standards of literacy. This is surely being responsible for the nation's citizens welfare including their educational and work opportunities.
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Re: More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:29 pm

In response to Molly's comments about Davis, Jennifer wrote this:

That Guardian article brings back memories! Shortly before that, Davis had been holding forth about phonemes in a discussion forum (Times Ed.Supp., I think) and saying some things that made me think he was out of his depth. I checked with Prof. Dick Hudson, a linguist, and he confirmed this. The Guardian article then appeared, and Dick submitted this comment:

'Andrew Davis is very muddled when he writes this:

"Much of the current documentation around SP gives the impression that phonemes are sounds from which spoken words can be constructed. For example, the "cat" sound can be made up from |k|, |æ| and |t|. But the term "phoneme" doesn't mean "sound"; it actually refers to sets of sounds in speech that distinguish one word from another. For instance, /æ/ and /a:/ are separate phonemes in English. /æ/ can be heard in the middle of "hat", while /a:/ is heard in the middle of "hart". The change in the middle sound gives us a different word."

Yes, a phoneme is more abstract than a sound, but that's why you can say that the pronunciation of "cat" consists of three phonemes, and why the middle phoneme is different from the one in "cart". So that at least is not a problem for SP.

Incidentally, I'm a prof of linguistics, so I can assure Andrew that SP is reasonably consistent with linguistic theory. And it's not too bad from other points of view, as long as you just see it as a very first step towards full literacy.'


Further, Jenny wrote:

I've administered past PSCs to over 100 children, and was also an official observer at the pre-trial in 2010. Very few children had problems of the type mentioned by Davis. At one school using Ruth Miskin's 'Read Write Inc.' which teaches 'ow' as the first spelling for long /o/, several children read 'brown' as 'brone' but I've encountered few if any cases where that type of error is enough to make the difference between 'passing' and 'failing'. Moreover, children who don't have English as a first language do as well in the PSC as English-speaking children, which suggests that the vocabulary issue is not a serious problem.
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Re: More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:31 pm

Molly then added:

I have now read the Editorial introduction to Andrew Davis’ Impact paper (To read or not to read: decoding Synthetic Phonics), but not the paper itself.

In the Editorial introduction, Davis’ argument is summarised as follows:

"....teaching children to correlate letter combinations with sounds, and to blend sounds into sequences, is not teaching them to read. Reading is a matter of grasping meaning conveyed by text. While sustained attention to letter-sound correspondences can be helpful to some novice readers, we should neither assume that it is helpful to all nor confuse mastery of such correspondences with the ability to read."

I can’t see how anyone can engage in any meaningful debate when there is such a fundamental difference in the way in which the term ‘reading’ is defined, and such a total failure to understand that in order to get meaning from text it is necessary to be able to read the words on the page.

You can’t get meaning from text if you can’t read the words on the page.

How often do you have to say this to get the message across?
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Re: More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:33 pm

Jenny continued:

The trouble is that Davis and Co. think that children can lift the words off the page without decoding phonically, and they are aided in this belief by the fact that some children learn to read quite well by look-and-say and even whole-language approaches. When whole classes are taught like that, however, too many children struggle, and even those who don’t struggle with reading tend to spell less well than they might otherwise do. Spelling problems were the first thing that struck me when I started teaching secondary-school students in England after previously teaching the same age-group in South Africa – the S.A. students had been given a good phonics grounding at the start of primary school, whereas the English students had not.

I’ve always felt that a good decoding start is the safest for all. Why on earth do so many people think that this militates against reading for meaning? Stanovich quotes Smith and Goodman on this, then writes ‘There is no research evidence indicating that decoding a word into a phonological form often takes place without meaning extraction, even in poor readers. To the contrary, a substantial body of evidence indicates that even for young children, word decoding automatically leads to semantic activation when the meaning of the word is adequately established in memory (‘Progress in Understanding Reading, 2000, p 173 – it’s the ‘Matthew Effects’ article).
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Re: More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:35 pm

Molly recalled Steve Dykstra's comments about the role of decoding and its relationship to comprehension:

Some of you may recall this quote from Steve Dykstra that I posted on the DDOLL network some time ago:

'..... for beginning readers, the main comprehension "strategy" is to decode the word to sound and match it to a word you already know from your oral vocabulary. Doing so efficiently accounts for nearly all reading comprehension in the first years of learning to read. It's the reason oral vocabulary is such a good predictor of reading comprehension. The more words you know, the more words you can comprehend from print by decoding them to sound.

Decoding contributes more to comprehension than all other strategies, combined. It isn't close.'
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Re: More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:38 pm

Dr Kerry Hempenstall contributed some research summaries supportive of this point:

“Beginning with the first grade sample, 4.73 of the sample, or 1669 students, were identified as being poor at reading comprehension. Of the 1669 students who were poor at reading comprehension, only 0.24% or 85, met the criterion of being adequate at decoding. This result supports the idea that that decoding is the primary stumbling block for beginning readers.” (p.3)

Possible causes of comprehension difficulties include the following:
1. Decoding difficulties
2. Difficulties with meaning (vocabulary)
3. Difficulties with syntax
4. Limitations in working memory
5. Poor inference making
6. Inadequate comprehension monitoring
7. Limited prior domain knowledge
8. Insensitivity to text structure

Wagner, R. K., & Meros, D. (2010). Vocabulary and reading comprehension: Direct, indirect, and reciprocal influences. Focus on Exceptional Children, 43(1), 1-12.


“Participants in the study were first, second, and third graders, totalling nine cohorts and over 425,000 participants in all. The pattern of results was consistent across all cohorts: Less than 1 percent of first- through third-grade students who scored as poor in reading comprehension were adequate in both decoding and vocabulary. Although poor reading comprehension certainly qualifies as a major problem rather than a myth, the term specific reading comprehension disability is a misnomer: Individuals with problems in reading comprehension that are not attributable to poor word recognition have comprehension problems that are general to language comprehension rather than specific to reading” (p.3).

Spencer, M., Quinn, J.M., & Wagner, R.K. (2014). Specific reading comprehension disability: Major problem, myth, or misnomer? Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 29(1), 3–9.
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Re: More on phonics denialists - Dr Andrew Davis and the phonics check

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Tue Jan 09, 2018 1:34 am

While Andrew Davis and many others argue strongly for the professional rights of the teacher to make his or her own choices about their teaching, I argue the opposite in this article published in Headteacher Update - and point out that the main value of an objective phonics check is not to find out what the individual child can do but how effectively the individual teacher is teaching compared to others in the bigger picture:

Literacy: A moral right

In a challenging article, literacy expert Debbie Hepplewhite bemoans the conflicting and often strongly held views on how we should teach children to read – and calls for the moral rights of the child to be placed above the professional rights of the teacher


http://www.headteacher-update.com/best- ... ht/164571/

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