https://www.apmreports.org/story/2021/1 ... ing-theory
Influential authors Fountas and Pinnell stand behind disproven reading theory
The education professors double down on a flawed approach that encourages pictures and context to read words. Heinemann — their publisher — faces harsh criticism.
November 19, 2021 | by Emily Hanford and Christopher Peak
Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, two of the biggest names in literacy education, are breaking their silence in the debate over how best to teach kids to read, responding to criticism that their ideas don’t align with reading science.
Fountas, a professor at Lesley University in Massachusetts, and Pinnell, professor emeritus at Ohio State, are authors of some of the most widely used instructional materials in American elementary schools, and their approach to teaching reading has held sway for decades. But at the core of their approach is a theory about how people read words that has been disproven by cognitive scientists.
A 2019 podcast episode and story by APM Reports helped bring the discrepancy to wide public attention. Since then, Lucy Calkins of Teachers College Columbia, whose work relies on the disproven theory, has admitted she was wrong. But Fountas and Pinnell had remained largely silent until earlier this month, when they released a series of blog posts to address the controversy.
The 10-part series, posted on the website of their publisher, Heinemann, was billed as an effort to “offer clarity around mischaracterizations of our work.”
At the center of the controversy are teaching techniques that encourage children to use context, pictures and sentence structure, along with letters, to identify words. Fountas and Pinnell reiterated their allegiance to this approach in their blog. “The goal for the reader is accuracy using all sources of information simultaneously,” they wrote. “If a reader says ‘pony’ for ‘horse’ because of information from the pictures, that tells the teacher that the reader is using meaning information from the pictures, as well as the structure of the language, but is neglecting to use the visual information of the print. His response is partially correct, but the teacher needs to guide him to stop and work for accuracy.”
Mark Seidenberg, a cognitive scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies reading and language development, said this statement doesn’t square with what decades of scientific research has shown about how reading works. “If a child is reading ‘pony’ as ‘horse,’ these children haven’t been taught to read. And they’re already being given strategies for dealing with their failures. This is backwards. If the child were actually given better instruction in how to read the words, then it would obviate the need for using all these different kinds of strategies.”
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