Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talk for teachers...

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Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talk for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Jul 11, 2018 7:12 pm

As IFERI followers know, there is quite a battle taking place in Australia regarding the type of reading instruction teachers provide in their infant and primary schools. The suggestion is that 'whole language' and weak phonics provision prevail in many schools as a consequence of the content of the dominant training in teacher-training universities and of various official guidance documents for teachers.

We have a number of threads on our IFERI forum following developments about the possible uptake of a national phonics check in Australia, and we note that various academics and teachers' organisations are protesting about the promotion of systematic synthetic phonics and about the advent of a phonics check.

A member of a popular international educational network alerted others to video footage of a talk provided by well-known David Hornsby in Australia with this comment:

This is being spread far and wide in Australian social media circles today.

I am going to follow this post with various responses to the video footage which has, to put it mildly, dismayed and alarmed people who are passionate that children in Australia (and the rest of the world) deserve to be taught with the best evidence-informed practice and programmes - leaving no child to the 'chance' of out-dated and flawed provision.

I hope IFERI followers appreciate how the battle for evidence-informed reading instruction is played out by calling upon research findings and leading-edge practice and programmes wherever possible. Speakers and teacher-trainers should be very careful to speak knowledgeably and accurately - apparent 'facts' need to be checked out and challenged when they turn out to be not-true - that is, misinformation - which is not only misleading but potentially very damaging for teachers' professional development and ultimately for the reading instruction that children receive in the classroom.
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Re: Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talks for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Jul 11, 2018 7:20 pm

I responded pretty quickly to the alert about the video because, being in England, I have the opposite 'hours' to those living in Australia so whilst my colleagues slept, I managed to watch the video. This is what I said:

Thank you for the link to David Hornsby's talk – I just watched the video.

How frustrating, though, as I so wanted to address all David’s comments and criticism direct to David and the audience.

Quite clearly, he needs an Alphabetic Code Chart for a start – that would help him enormously: ... bleTop.pdf

If he found out more about assessing children with the Year One Phonics Screening Check before trying to sound like the authority on it, he would realise that in England teachers are guided to accept alternative pronunciations for those nonsense words where the pronunciation could me more than one option. David said there could only be one answer – he is wrong.

If David did the maths for onset and rime – he would perhaps understand what a huge number of ‘rimes’ there are (and consonant clusters) – and that learning rime endings by recognition and repetition isn’t even in the same league as all-through-the-word phonics where children are taught both blending and segmenting with many different grapheme and sound combinations which gives them enormous flexibility as readers – and they learn to read extremely quickly.

David picked up on the words spelt with ‘ew’, ‘u-e’ and ‘u’ that have different pronunciations (long /oo/ or /y+oo/). If he checks out the Alphabetic Code Chart above, this is addressed as some ‘combined phonemes’ such as /yoo/ are included.

Again focusing on the maths, when critics of phonics pick on a few odd words to make their points, they neglect to appreciate how many hundreds and thousands of words children can lift off the page with good phonics teaching.

Then, as he went on about the wonderful ‘authentic’ literature, does it not occur to him that the teacher could be in danger of ruining the storylines and content if also trying to pick up on the odd word to teach some phonics at the same time. This is how to ruin a good story and some fascinating facts in a non-fiction book.

Teachers of systematic synthetic phonics really value good literature, and make sure the children get plenty of it without the detraction of throwing in some phonics – and what weak and limited phonics we saw just teaching about ‘o’ via the word ‘dog’ and other rimes. I suppose this pre-supposes the children know all the other letters in those rimes. How were they introduced?

Then we saw some quasi-Elkonin boxes, this is a confusion between teaching reading and spelling. There are much better ways to teach the phonics routines of reading and spelling when teachers consider the notion print to sound for reading and sound to print for spelling. We can also build in handwriting with spelling. Here are some good suggestions for the phonics routines which provide clarity in what the children themselves need to do for beginning reading, writing and handwriting: ... utines.pdf ... utines.pdf

I have no doubt at all about the sincerity of David and those attending his talk. It is just so heartbreaking to listen to him turn teachers away from rigorous phonics teaching with his sarcasm and humour – and hearing the teachers laughing according to his lead.

I noted also that the Australian curriculum that he highlighted referring to the ‘combining’ of phonics, grammar, syntax etc. to ‘decode’ words – which in effect is multi-cueing word-guessing.

We just have to keep chipping away with alternative information and I do get the impression that a growing number of teachers in Australia are taking an interest in the debate.

I was then asked to do more about David Hornsby's talk than comment amongst colleagues privately:

Debbie, please rebut this rubbish on social media if you see it. David Hornsby is a major influence in Australian education and continues to steer teachers in the wrong direction.
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Re: Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talks for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Jul 11, 2018 7:24 pm

This comment followed from another colleague:

As Debbie says, it's not the case that only one pronunciation is acceptable for non-words such as 'plood' in the Phonics Screening Check - Hornsby either hasn't read the guidance at all or hasn't read for meaning. With 'lead' and 'tear', he knows what alternative pronunciations are possible and. having eliminated all other possibilities, can then make a final decision based on context - that's exactly what we want children to be able to do There are in any case not many heteronyms in English, so the problem is pretty rare.

-I'm all for teaching morphology, particularly for spelling purposes, but when people start using the sign'-'signal'-design' type of example it shows that they don't have the needs of beginners in mind.
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Re: Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talks for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Jul 11, 2018 7:35 pm

Next, came this observation with reference to the Australian curriculum definition of reading which had certainly shocked me as it promoted multi-cueing word-guessing which has been officially discredited in England based on international research findings:

One aspect of the problem, though, is that it feeds into insecurities and scepticism from teachers who are yet to see the transformative potential of approaches like synthetic phonics. It’s easier to dismiss it as laughable because people like Hornsby are seemingly able to produce so many apparent exceptions and contradictions in the English language.

My fundamental issue with his talk (at least the first ten minutes, which I’ve watched) is his muddying of the distinction between decoding and comprehension. I hadn’t realised that the Aus Curriculum definition was so confusing and meaningless as well! If teachers aren’t privy to this distinction, it makes it very easy to confuse the various subskills that contribute to literacy learning, and thus justify any haphazard approach to teaching it … So long as it involves rich literature and authentic literate practices.

It might help here to provide the diagram for the Simple View of Reading which does make 'the distinction between decoding and comprehension'. The Simple View of Reading makes clear that to be a reader in the full sense requires two main processes: 1. the technical knowledge and skills to be able to 'lift the words off the page' and, 2. the language comprehension (spoken language) to be able to understand the words that have been lifted (read). In the 'notes' of England's 'Core Criteria' [to identify a systematic synthetic phonics programme], the Department for Education writes: Note 7. It is important that texts are of the appropriate level for children to apply and practise the phonic knowledge and skills they have learnt. Children should not be expected to use strategies such as whole-word recognition and/or cues from context, grammar, or pictures. Ironically, this suggests contrasting guidance to that in the Australian curriculum as flagged up via David Hornsby's talk and yet both teachers in England and teachers in Australia have the same task of teaching reading and spelling in the English language.

A printable version of the Simple View of Reading diagram: ... _model.pdf
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Re: Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talks for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Jul 11, 2018 7:43 pm

Very helpfully, attention was drawn to an article written by Sir Jim Rose, author of the world-renowned 'Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading' in England in 2006:

I find it surprising that so many people still fail to understand the simple view of reading, and its implications for the teaching of reading.

See for example Jim Rose’s recent article in the ACER Teacher magazine, at ... simplistic

I think that this should be compulsory reading for all teachers, as well as for those who teach teachers and write curriculum documents for teachers.

I recommend reading Sir Jim's article in full. Here is an extract from it with reference to the debate on reading instruction and relevant to the concern raised about misinforming teachers (my additional emboldening in the text):

From research to the classroom

The teaching of reading is by no means unique in seeking to apply the findings of authoritative, high quality, research to establish ‘what works best’. The route from research to the classroom, however, is often problematic in making the key messages accessible and clear to those who are expected to apply them, notably, frontline teachers.

Experience teaches that important messages from research may be lost in translation – or rather, like Chinese whispers, they become increasingly distorted by misinterpretations. Only a fool would believe, for example, that phonics is the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of learning to read. It would be equally foolish, however, to ignore the fact that an overwhelming amount of leading-edge research now strongly supports the message that a thorough grounding in phonics is essential but not sufficient to becoming a skilled reader.

In our language system, children must learn how the alphabet works for reading and writing – ‘the alphabetic principle’. To this end, an emphasis on one key element of the Simple View of Reading, notably, decoding, has been necessary to restore the alphabetic principle to its essential place in teaching beginners to become skilled readers. The downside of this, however, has been a ‘phony war about phonics’. This has fuelled an anti-phonics lobby, much to the disadvantage of children, especially those who struggle to learn to read, and despite the fact that: ‘… studies of reading development, studies of specific instructional practices, studies of teachers and schools found to be effective – converge on the conclusion that attention to small units in early reading instruction is helpful for all children, harmful for none, and crucial for some’
(Snow & Juel, 2005, pp. 501–520).
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Re: Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talks for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:00 pm

This contributor expresses my feelings - I often wonder whether any of these phonics critics have actually visited classrooms where children have benefitted from good systematic synthetic phonics provision! I can't help but wonder because, if they had, they would surely stop being so critical and sarcastic!

If only David Hornsby could visit my school and see the absolute joy on the faces of the Prep children actually reading their first decodable book after learning their first 6 letter-sound correspondences in the Little Learners Love Literacy program. I know how I would like my grandchildren to be taught to read!

This reminds me of many years ago when, as a primary teacher (infant teaching at the time), I wrote to Tony Blair - then Prime Minister in England. The National Literacy Strategy had been rolled out in England promoting the 'Searchlights' multi-cueing reading strategies - instructing me, as a teacher, to tell my pupils to 'guess the words from the pictures'. I didn't know about research findings at that time, but it made no sense to me at all to tell my pupils to guess the words from pictures and the context of the sentence. It was my very weakest readers who might desperately guess if presented with reading material that they could not read. I wrote to Tony Blair to challenge the guidance in the NLS and I asked him what approach he would prefer for his own children!!!!

But what I find utterly shocking, is that we are still having these debates and reading wars 20 years or so since I, and others, were writing to politicians about evidence-informed reading instruction - and others before me have done this far, far longer. Check out, for example, the bio of IFERI committee member, The Right Honourable Robert W. Sweet Jnr:
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Re: Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talks for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:05 pm

And then, I received this rebuttal of David Hornsby's claims. You can only imagine how long it must have taken to write this rebuttal - such is the passion, outrage and concern that teachers are being provided with such misinformation that potentially prevents the nation's children from being well-taught in foundation literacy knowledge and skills:

A rebuttal of David Hornsby’s ‘The Role of Phonics in Learning to be Literate: Sydney Symposium 10 February 2018

Here I address the ideas and outline errors David Hornsby makes in his Sydney Symposium lecture.

1. ‘Meaning’ as ultimate goal

Hornsby’s premise is that, ‘The basic message from the Australian Curriculum is ‘combining’ of context, semantics, grammar and phonic knowledge when working in some sort of literate practise. But, “I don’t see anywhere, I don’t see anywhere in our new curriculum that we can teach phonics in isolation or that we can abandon meaning. The whole of the Australian Curriculum is meaning-based.”’ [1:17]

Hornsby’s major focus is that reading is all about meaning. As an analogy, he probably sees the car as all about the driving too. Fair enough, but, as we all know, both words and cars are made up of parts. Sometimes the bonnet has to be opened and the engine examined; sometimes the word has to be picked apart. Not all car owners are expert mechanics and know what’s going on in there; not all readers are competent at comprehending the orthographic squiggles on the page. Not all car motorists are F1 drivers; not all readers feel confident battling through the traffic on the worded-page. Yes, both the motorist and the reader want to get to their desired destination and understand and appreciate their journey, but their lack of skills will certainly determine the speed and enjoyment of their trip. To finally arrive at ‘Meaning’ can be a difficult expedition.

As will be become obvious, Hornsby’s premise misses the foundational aspect. For beginning readers the phonic part is tantamount and for many it requires specific teaching and learning. Yes, meaning is of course ultimately the goal of reading, but this can also apply to an analogous meal too: each ingredient is important, added when necessary, and without the careful combination of each then the meal will be a mess.

Let’s explore Hornsby’s arguments.

2. decode/recode –

The word ‘recode’ is one that teachers seemingly are unfamiliar with. Since Hornsby has to dutifully inform his enthusiastic crowd of this word and its meaning, please pardon my initial unfamiliarity. Even a search through the Australian Curriculum when ‘recode’ was entered came up with 0 results. From the AC’s POV, it mustn’t hold much weight. With regard to his definition of decoding, he is being slightly mischievous. Strictly speaking, the conversion of print to sound (which is then matched with a word in the lexicon to retrieve meaning) is known in academic research as 'phonological recoding'. However, it is much more commonly referred to in reading research literature as 'decoding'.

The following information from Knoepke, et al, in “Phonological recoding, orthographic decoding, and comprehension skills during reading acquisition (2014)” addresses the finer points of phonological recoding/orthographical decoding:

“To become skillful readers, children have to acquire the ability to translate printed words letter by letter into phonemic representations (phonological recoding) and the ability to recognize the written word forms holistically (orthographical decoding). Whereas phonological recoding is the key for learning to read and useful for recognizing unknown or low-frequent words, orthographical decoding is often more efficient and takes less time, thus facilitating reading processes on the sentence and text level.”

“Beginning readers must recode an unknown written word at least once letter by letter before information about its orthographic form can be added to the mental lexicon. As a consequence, phonological recoding is the prerequisite for the development of the orthographical decoding route. Thus, beginning readers should basically rely on the phonological route because almost every word in its written form is new and unknown to them. Only recognizing the same written word over and over again allows the reader to build up a representation of the word form as part of the mental lexicon. These orthographical representations can then be used for word recognition as well, either in a direct way (lexical route according to the DRC model, Coltheart et al. 2001) or in concert with phonological and meaning representations (according to the triangle model, Plaut et al. 1996). Thus, the assumption seems reasonable that word recognition in beginning readers is primarily accomplished via the phonological recoding route and in experienced readers via the orthographical decoding route.”

“To conclude, our results consistently demonstrate the significant role that both phonological recoding and orthographical decoding skills play in successful reading comprehension throughout the elementary school years”

So, is Hornsby hijacking words and terms that have specific meanings in the scientific research literature and redefining them to suit his purposes? Yes.

In a nutshell, Hornsby's key deficit in understanding is that he wants to skip the phonology aspect of reading. He thinks that because expert readers seemingly go straight from print to meaning, that novice readers do the same. This is a fundamental error. This fundamental error is being passed on to today’s teachers

3. ‘gamp’

Hornsby initially focusses on that the student isn’t reading for meaning when they read the letters g-a-m-p. That’s OK in this situation. In this circumstance the student is being asked to read a string of letters to see whether or not they can understand the individual sounds and THEN put them into an appropriate combination.

Hornsby asks, “What my question is to people who believe in the use of nonsense words, if you want to use ‘gamp’, why wouldn’t you use ‘camp’, or ‘damp’ or ‘lamp’, for goodness’ sake?” [3:40]

The reason is threefold:

Firstly, the example (from MultiLit) is measuring a student’s ability to decode (in this case) individual phonemes and assess that student’s strengths and weaknesses. This is used diagnostically to show strategies that are used when a reader sees a word for the first time: how accurate are their word-attack skills?; do they guess from the first sound?; use letter names rather than the phonemes?; mix-up letter names and phonemes?; or does the student systematically sound the word out and blend it together? According to research (Ravthon, N., 2004) “… pseudoword decoding is the best single predictor of word identification for poor and normal readers” and is the “… most reliable indicator of reading disabilities”. By using pseudowords a lot is gleaned in discovering the child’s mastery of the alphabetic principle as well as their ability to blend sounds into a unit of language.

Secondly, the reason to use pseudowords/nonsense words is that the child may recognise a certain word and repeat it accurately yet is unable to use those similar letters/sounds in a different word. Thus, known-word knowledge is not being assessed but their capacity to utilise similar letter combinations. Again, using pseudowords is a powerful tool for assessment.

And thirdly, what if the student is presented with the word ‘c-a-m-p’ and does not know it? They have never had exposure to that word or concept. To them c-a-m-p is a pseudoword.

Does that mean that the word is unusable since, for the student, no meaning is available?

Pseudowords are used as an analytical tool. Students need to work on the skills necessary for quick and accurate decoding of unknown words (alphabetic principle, letter-sound correspondence, blending, etc.) and this can be readily discovered from using this assessment tool. Remember, every word a child meets for the first time is initially a non-word.

When students read the Harry Potter series for the first time, they are confronted with words such as basilisk, dementor, expecto patronum, hinkpunk, and Hufflepuff (to name but a few) that were either coined by the author or co-opted into her universe. This also applies to readers of Star Wars, Star Trek and numerous other fantasy and sci-fi worlds. Each word is unknown at first sight. Each needs decoding. Decoding of the letter-sound correspondence is the initial task. None of these words are imbued with meaning. Meaning comes later.

As a thought experiment, the following words are provided to a student: draff; famulus; afreet; bumbo, skelf, hwyl

Firstly, these ‘nonsense’ words are decodable. So, initially the student would show their level of understanding of the alphabetic code. They would show their skill in blending these letters together. They would show their current level of confidence and fluency as well. An assessment of certain specific skill-sets could be made.

‘But they have no meaning!’ would be the cry from the battlements. ‘They shouldn’t be used!’

The pseudowords I chose were actually real words. There was meaning attached to each, just that the reader may not have known it. As a young reader meeting new words constantly, ‘meaning’ of known concepts comes after successful decoding. They will, of course, meet many words that they as yet do not know the meaning thereof, so pseudo-like words are met daily. Without initially trying to use decoding skills, the reader won’t be able to even attempt correct pronunciation(s) let alone meaning. ‘Meaning’ is the ultimate goal, but the journey starts with phonemic awareness and decoding. That you don’t know the meaning doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your letter-sound correspondence knowledge to actively work out a word. How many times has a student asked a parent or teacher, “What’s a ______?” having utilised their decoding skills? Provide the child with the skills to attempt the unknown.
FYI: draff - dregs or refuse; famulus - a magician’s assistant; afreet - a powerful jinn in Arabian and Muslim culture; bumbo - a drink of rum, sugar, water and nutmeg; ‘skelf - a splinter of wood’ in Scottish; and hwyl - ‘goodbye’ in Welsh

As Hornsby states, “Let’s actually clear this up once and for all.” [3:35] I agree.

PS A gamp is ‘an umbrella, especially a large unwieldy one.’

4. ‘”I want to prove to you that phonics alone is often not enough to decode” [4:33]

Hornsby sets up a deceptive stance where he suggests that phonics should never be a standalone. No one in the phonics-advocacy community suggest it should be a phonics-alone approach. He posits this in his opening statements. What is advocated is more and better coverage of phonemic awareness and phonics in early literacy, and also in interventions for students who are struggling to read and spell words accurately. Phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency are all important.

Having said that, approximately fifty percent of English words can be spelled accurately by sound–symbol correspondence alone, and another thirty six percent can be spelled accurately except for one speech sound. Only four percent are truly irregular. Phonics certainly has a dominant role to play.

Then, Hornsby provides to his audience a few heteronyms [lead, tear, permit] yet states, “You are allowed only one correct answer!” [5:00]

Hornsby’s biased argument is evident: one must rely on his initial limited use of the term ‘decoding’. The audience is then limited to one choice. This activity is NAPLANesque in the “one correct answer”, he states, but it is obvious that it is not real-world based. He informs the audience that if a student cannot decode the meaning of the words presented, since they are not contextually presented, then the meaning will not be gathered from reading. Reliance for understanding would have to arise from elsewhere or not at all.

He makes a ludicrous statement when, through audience-involvement, the word ‘lead’ read out. The audience member says “lead” (as in lead singer) and then the audience is asked to, “Tell her what it should be!” and they say “lead” (as in lead pencil).

Hornsby states, “No one in the room can read that word, and neither can I because I don’t know what it means.”[5:40] Amazingly, everybody in the audience read that word and was able to do so in two different ways. That they could read the word showed the exact antithesis of his statement! He then asserts that because “… he has the meaning he can make the phonics work.” Without the phonics the sound/letter strings would have meant nothing. With letter-sound correspondence knowledge you can read it and provide two different words. Specific meaning for that word in situ comes later, but the audience proved that the word could be read in more than one way.

As he later states, “If the phonics can work in more than one way”[6:44] then it is imperative upon us as teachers to ensure that the students realise and are taught that graphemes/phonograms can be, and are, utilised in multiple ways.

Hornsby then states: “What’s the point, what’s the point in having graphophonic knowledge if we can’t use it if meaning and/or structure are missing?” [6:25] The point is we can use it and we do with the skill of knowing that some words have the same spelling but different meanings and pronunciations. If you did not know, there are approximately only seventy heteronyms in the English language. That’s not many. Context is important, but being able to decode these words is the initial need.

5. ‘We can’t decode nonsense words’

Hornsby focuses upon 3 pseudowords taken, as he states, from the UK Phonics Test [plood, pove, nowl][7:24]. He highlights to the audience, with one finger held high, that, “the tests allow only one correct answer” [7:50]. He then goes on to state that, “If you don’t guess the correct one, then tough …” His slide shows the three sounds of /oo/, three of the sounds of /o/ especially with a –ve ending, and the two sounds associated with /ow/.

He inadvertently shows to the audience that graphophonic knowledge applied to even pseudowords has an incredible teaching capacity! He shares with the audience his knowledge of phonograms, his knowledge of ‘silent final e’ and ‘v at the end of a base word’, and he shares with the audience his ability to use these in different ways in words. Imagine if he taught students or teachers such concepts and how to master them!

Now, to the absolute mistruth that he previously declared shows just how desperate he is to ensure his audience takes away absolute propaganda. As noted, he categorically stated there to be only one correct answer in the Phonics Test.

From the Phonics Screening Check 2017 Scoring Guidance - Pronunciation of Real Words and Pseudo-Words: “Some of the graphemes used in the check represent a number of different phonemes. When decoding a real word in the check, the pupil has to select the correct phoneme for the word, for example the ‘ow’ in ‘blow’ should not be pronounced as the ‘ow’ in ‘cow’. However, when decoding a pseudo-word, all plausible alternative pronunciations are acceptable.” Furthermore, “Some of the pseudo-words in the screening check contain vowel digraphs that end with ‘r’, such as ‘ur’. In a small number of regional dialects, the ‘r’ in words with these vowel digraphs is voiced and pupils who speak with these dialects will be known to their teachers. For these pupils, pseudo-words with a vowel digraph ending in ‘r’, such as ‘murbs’, may be pronounced as /mɜːrbs/ instead of /mɜːbs/. These pronunciations are acceptable alternatives in the relevant pseudo-words.”

This information is taken from the 2017 Phonics Screening Check. This information was also in the 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012 Scoring Guidance information package. His lecture was from 2018.

Also, I have tried to find the words ‘plood, pove and nowl’ in any of the UK Phonics Tests from 2012 to 2017. I cannot find them. Where exactly did Hornsby get these words? I know. They’re located in ‘Dyslexia, Speech and Language: A Practitioner's Handbook’, edited by Snowling and Stackhouse. The words are used for error analysis. It seems as though I have also analysed Hornsby’s error-count and it’s quite high!

Hornsby states that the Phonics Test is, “… an appalling test of phonics knowledge, it’s also immoral.” I’d suggest ethically and honestly communicating with teachers is also what a principled educator would do.

6. ‘We cannot teach phonics as if there is a one-to-one relationship between sounds and letters’

Hornsby has the audience undertake a task that focusses on affixes on the word sign: signal, signature, assign and design. He notes that, “The ‘g’ in that word has absolutely no phonological function” [9:49].

Unfortunately, Hornsby does not recognise (or chooses not to tell his audience) that the phonogram 'gn' is code for the sound /n/ at the beginning and end of a base word. In the words sign, assign and design the 'gn' is code for the sound /n/ at the end of the base word. He could have also added other prefixes and compound words such as countersign, overdesign, reconsign, outdesign, reassign, consign and resign, are all from the base word ‘sign’. As noted, the morpheme that is consistent in all of his five words is ‘sign’. Hornsby then states, “It is the meaning that determines how we spell it, how we sound it out, and everything else we do.”[10:35] Regrettably, Hornsby could have shown his audience how to split ‘signal’ and ‘signature’ into their syllabified parts (sig - nal, sig - na - ture) and show them that the 'g' does now have a phonological function as code for the sound /g/. What a wasted moment!

He then focuses on the two sounds of ‘s’ - /s/ & /z/. He informs the audience that, “The spelling hasn’t changed. It’s more tied to meaning!” Well, no, it’s tied to easier pronunciation. Try ‘de|sign’ then try ‘de|zign’. The English world has a preference because of its ease of saying, such as desire and designate. If it is more “tied to meaning”, then we would say the /s/ sound because we would be focussing on ‘sign’.

He states, “We cannot teach phonics as if there isn’t a one-to-one relationship between letters and sounds.” Hallelujah! He’s got something correct! Some sounds may have up to four letters assigned, some phonograms have up to six sounds assigned. But unfortunately, once again, he could have used this moment to explicitly show the important role of phonograms, such as 'gn', and individual graphemes that are code for more than one sound, like 's', but he didn’t.

By the way, when s-i-g-n was displayed, I was confused. It is a word but since it was not contextually presented I did not understand its meaning and, of course, no one in the room could have read that word either because no one knows what it specifically means. Is it about a token, an object, an action, an event, a pattern, a conventional or arbitrary mark, a figure, a symbol, a motion, a gesture, a notice, a trace, a vestige, a musical notation, a part of sign language, an omen or a portent, an objective indication of disease, one from the zodiac, or something mathematical? Whoa. Even with all the combined graphophonic knowledge in the audience, since meaning and/or structure were missing, no one could possibly read it …

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Re: Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talk for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Fri Jul 13, 2018 10:51 am

This comment has been posted via the 'comment' facility beneath the video:

But what about the Australian Curriculum's National Literacy Progression points? They have plenty to say about teaching phonics explicitly as well as the reading of decodable texts, e.g: PKW3 says that the child learns " the most common phoneme for taught, single-letter graphemes (b, a, m) and applies knowledge when reading decodable texts blends phonemes of taught graphemes to decode VC (at) and CVC (bat) words and applies this knowledge when reading decodable texts.

You'll find more in this vein here: ... &scaleId=0

And this question is asked:

Where's your evidence that "synthetic phonics advocates choose to ignore the difficulties manufactured by their phono centric view of English orthography"????

Well - I'm a 'synthetic phonics advocate' and I certainly don't 'ignore the difficulties' involved with the complexities of the English alphabetic code and how they present to learners. In fact, one of the reasons that I design and advocate 'Alphabetic Code Charts' organised on the rationale of sound-to-print (advocated by Professor Diane McGuinness) rather than a print-to-sound approach is precisely because of the difficulties of the variety of letter patterns facing a reader of English, see this print-to-sound document: ... nglish.pdf

But it is precisely because the English alphabetic code is so complex that we need to unpick that code as teachers and present it to learners in a logical and sequential way - and NOT expect, or leave, learners to pick up the complexities for themselves. Why should they have to? It is when learners are not taught the code, or taught it weakly, badly or insufficiently, that the very high percentage of 'dyslexia' results in English-speaking/reading scenarios.
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Re: Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talk for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Aug 22, 2018 7:31 pm

The brilliant Alison Clarke of Spelfabet responds to David Hornsby's talk:

The definition of decoding (or “glamping with David Hornsby”) ... -decoding/
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Re: Aus: Great consternation about misinformation and misdirection in David Hornsby's talk for teachers...

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Fri Apr 19, 2019 3:42 pm

Professor Pamela Snow writes about the work of Melbourne University and David Hornsby: ... me-at.html

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Whole Language Unicorns at home at the University of Melbourne

I was disappointed this week to see that the University of Melbourne, one of Australia’s (and indeed the world’s) most highly-esteemed universities, was promoting the ideas of David Hornsby on the important subject of how we teach children to read. If you haven’t already done so, you can listen to the interview I am referring to (it takes about 25 minutes) here.

I have some familiarity with David’s work, having read publications such as this one and have no doubt about the depth of his commitment to supporting teachers and improving children’s progress in learning to read. It is unfortunate, however, that his key ideas about the role of phonics instruction remain uninformed by the last 20 years of cognitive science research on how best to get all children across the bridge to successful reading, writing, and spelling, in the first three years of school. Instead, David’s ideas are pretty Whole Language unicorns that persist in the imaginations of those who believe that “authentic children’s literature” is the key driver of successful reading. This does not align at all with the recommendations of three national inquiries into the teaching of reading, in the US, the UK, and Australia all of which recommended an explicit focus on systematic phonics instruction as the starting point for novice readers - alongside development of all of the other skills essential for successful reading.

Do follow Pam's selected links and read about what she agrees with, and disagrees with - according to the science on reading instruction.

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