The Reading Debate
Video of Jennifer Buckingham’s address to an Australian forum following significant media attention for her report (with Kevin Wheldall and Robin Beaman-Wheldall), Why Jaydon Can’t Read. Buckingham summarises succinctly the massive funding for literacy education in Australia and compares this with the poor results in student achievement. She goes on to examine the key components of effective reading instruction and argues that, given the scientific evidence, the only reason for not implementing effective programmes is ideology – how people believe reading ought to be rather than how it is.
This comprehensive article discusses the origins, prevalence and erroneous conception of the so called 'Three-Cueing System', which promotes guessing rather than teaching a systematic knowledge of the written language code.
Kerry Hempenstall summarises key aspects of the controversy around whole language versus phonics methods in beginning reading instruction. He argues for the evidence of scientific research to be given greater emphasis.
Whole-Language High Jinks – How to Tell When ‘Scientifically-Based Reading Instruction’ Isn’t (Moats, L January 2007): Thomas B Fordham Institute
Louisa Moats outlines how to discriminate between reading programmes which are scientifically-based and those which use the jargon, but are actually based on ineffective practices. Essential reading when choosing a reading intervention.
Joseph Torgeson summarises two decades of research on what is required to ensure effective early reading instruction for all children. He argues for improved teacher skills, improved practise for identifying children at risk of reading failure, and improved resources for teaching all of these children systematically, explicitly and successfully.
This report questions the effectiveness of Reading Recovery, an international popular reading intervention based on whole-language principles. The authors assert that not only are there serious problems with the methodology of Reading Recovery, but there is also strong evidence that it fails to help the children who need the most support in reading.
This lucid summary of the state of literacy education in 2009 highlights issues still not yet resolved: the lack of a systematic, good-quality evidence base for interventions, especially at secondary school; and the need to establish much more thorough professional development on reading development and how to intervene successfully with struggling readers. Such professional development should be made available to English teachers, teachers of other subjects, and LSAs.
Tom Burkard sets out the appalling statistics for continuing literacy failure after the Literacy Hour was introduced in 1998, showing how the National Literacy Strategy was itself a component in this failure due to its roots in whole language concepts of reading (not to mention some suspicious tinkering with statistics).
A news report from 2005 contrasting the success of synthetic phonics in Clackmannanshire with the lack of progress under the Literacy Hour. A key question is how much the classroom has changed since.
A good example of how mixed messages come from confused ideas about phonics teaching. Exactly when students should be taught more varied and complex aspects of the alphabetic code, some practitioners eagerly want them to begin to use ‘visual memory’ and look for ‘context clues’. Muddling up phonics instruction with other (failed) methods is the likely explanation for poor scores on the phonics screen (which assesses the effectiveness of the teaching, not students).
Dr Hempenstall summarises the position taken in the reading debates. This overview provides an excellent perspective not only on the key issues but the arguments and philosophical positions which sustain them.
The authors contend that literacy is much more complex than just learning to read, that the government’s policies on literacy are too narrow, and its treatment of professionals too heavy-handed. The weight of material cited is firmly on the ‘socially constructed’ approach to reading that is associated with whole language and constructivism.
This short paper form 1996 outlines the problem of falling standards and attributes it largely to a ‘mixed methods’ or ‘balanced’ approach, combining phonetic methods with context clues and guessing. The challenge for teacher training is clearly set out. It is interesting to reflect on how much (or little) progress has been made since the time of publication.
This site has extracts from Jeanne Chall’s landmark work, where she researched and articulated contemporary issues in how to teach beginning reading. Chall pointed out that the issue was already a long-standing debate, but one which was increasingly influenced by non-practitioners. She concluded that a code-based approach worked best for beginning readers, particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and that this approach ultimately gave more success in reading for understanding.