Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Saturday, January 23, 2016
A balanced approach is best for teaching kids how to readStewart Riddle, University of Southern Queensland
We all want young children to be given the very best opportunities to become successful, engaged and passionate readers. The teaching of reading is constantly mired, however, in a tired old debate between proponents of “phonics” (sounding out words) and “whole language” (which focuses on meaning and using the context to decipher unknown words).
This argument is an unhelpful and misleading dichotomy given the evidence actually supports a balanced approach to literacy, which goes well beyond being able to recognise words on a page.
What is a balanced approach to literacy?
Systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program.
The panel argued that a balanced approach incorporates phonemic awareness and phonics (understanding the relationships between sounds and their written representations), fluency, guided oral reading, vocabulary development and comprehension.
The report also stated:
Phonics should not become the dominant component in a reading program, neither in the amount of time devoted to it nor in the significance attached. It is important to evaluate children’s reading competence in many ways.
A 2005 Australian National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy supported this balanced approach, with the use of synthetic phonics recommended in the first couple of years of schooling for beginning readers.
Similarly, the UK 2006 reading review recognised:
Word recognition is a time-limited activity that is eventually overtaken by work that develops comprehension.
Of course there are differences in what the balance might look like in different classrooms and across different year levels. However, claims that teachers are using a little bit of phonics and a lot of whole language in Australian schools are wrong. Referring to balanced literacy as a mess of methods simply shows a lack of understanding about how classrooms operate.
A balanced approach provides us with a best-practice model for teaching all students how to read and write across all stages of their education.
Literacy isn’t just about learning how to read
It is important to remember that literacy learning is broad and takes place at all levels of schooling. It’s not just about learning to read in the early years. The current focus on phonics as a fix-all for struggling readers is problematic as it misses the complexities of literacy learning.
Being literate requires a much broader repertoire of skills than simply reading and writing as the decoding and encoding of printed words. The ability to make meaning from texts, ask questions and read between the lines is, in many ways, much more important.
Paulo Freire, the much-respected Brazilian educator, called this Reading the World and Reading the Word. To teach our students to do any less would be the real failure.
What needs to be done
The recent report into teacher training recommends that all student teachers be taught literacy, not just primary teachers.
This is already happening in many universities. For example, I teach a literacy course with students who are studying to be high school teachers in areas such as mathematics, physics, health and physical education. We investigate the literacy requirements of each subject and the teaching of reading and writing within those contexts.
However, just as important is the ongoing professional development and mentoring offered to teachers working in schools. We need to provide all teachers with the opportunities and tools to engage in literacy teaching that goes beyond just recognising words on a page.
The problem is that education research is so seldom used to inform education policy and practice. The seemingly endless cycle of reviews and reforms create a sense of frustration and fatigue, particularly for classroom teachers who are constantly placed under pressures to implement this new curriculum or that new school-wide strategy, improve NAPLAN results, and so on.
It is made worse by ideological divisions in research, where large-scale randomised control trials are assumed to be the only valid form of research, to the exclusion of smaller case studies, ethnographic projects, classroom interventions and other more qualitative approaches. We should be seeking out new ways to explore how children learn to read, rather than discounting different methods for one tried-and-tested approach.
A 2007 review of literacy research in Australia argued:
More effective and forward-looking understanding of literacy teaching is important for researchers, teachers, learners and the societies they inhabit.
The best way forward would be for researchers from diverse fields, including education, psychology and speech pathology, to get together and work in ways that cross over the arbitrary boundaries. Perhaps this would finally get us off the merry-go-round of the reading wars, which really help no-one.
Editor’s note: Stewart will be answering questions between 1 and 2pm AEDT on Wednesday February 18. You can ask your questions about the article in the comments below.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Schools need advice on how to help students with reading difficultiesJohn Munro, University of Melbourne
As students prepare to go back to school, it’s estimated that between 10% to 16% of those aged from five to 16 years will have reading difficulties such as dyslexia and inadequate comprehension skills.
All teaching makes particular assumptions about how students tend to learn. For these students, regular literacy teaching will be insufficient. They need alternative teaching pathways.
Despite numerous policies, such as the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership, and the A$706.3 million spent between 2008-2014 on reading programs to support students, literacy underachievement continues to plague Australian education, suggesting that current interventions are not working for all students. Teachers don’t necessarily know how to teach these children.
The problem is not a lack of research about what works. It is more the lack of guidance for teachers and schools in how to use this knowledge in teaching.
School leaders are responsible for making definitive decisions about educational provision in their schools. They need clear and explicit guidelines on how to choose effective literacy interventions that will work for these students.
Why do some students struggle with reading?
Reading comprehension is a complex process. Students have difficulty comprehending text for several reasons:
Some don’t know the sounds that make up spoken words (phonological and phonemic skills) or have difficulty saying letter patterns accurately (phonic skills). These lead to word reading and spelling difficulties, or dyslexia.
Some lack the vocabulary and other oral language knowledge that scaffolds reading comprehension.
Others have a relatively poor self-concept as a reader. They believe they can’t learn to read and disengage from literacy.
Some students don’t transfer what they learn about reading some texts to other texts.
Any interventions, then, need to cater for this range of differences.
Research suggests that reading comprehension could be improved by teaching:
- explicitly phonological and phonemic skills
- phonic skills
- how to improve reading fluency
- ways to enhance vocabulary
- how to visualise and summarise what a text says while reading, and generate questions
- how to use various idea-organising techniques such as concept mapping to link the ideas in the text.
Teaching the sound patterns and how to say written works is particularly useful for dyslexic difficulties.
Interventions that work
The Early Reading Intervention Knowledge (ERIK) program is an example of how research can be used to develop school-based interventions.
Developed from a large research analysis of the causes of early reading difficulties in the early 2000s, it has been used in grade 1-5 in Catholic primary schools in Victoria.
Students are allocated to one of three parallel intervention pathways depending on their reading difficulty profile; a phonological pathway, an orthographic pathway for students who have phonological skills and difficulty reading letter clusters, and an oral language pathway. Students can move between pathways.
A recent evaluation, available for Catholic Education Melbourne, showed that the three intervention pathways are very effective in improving the reading outcomes of students who underachieve or are at risk of future reading and writing difficulties.
Effect sizes were calculated for eight reading profiles, based on whether the students began with difficulties in one or more of reading comprehension, accuracy or rate. Students with difficulties in two or more areas improved in excess of two years in comprehension and in accuracy. The intervention usually lasted between one and two terms.
Younger students benefited more from the phonological and orthographic interventions while their older peers benefited more from the oral language intervention.
Findings such as these have implications for schools.
How to select the right program for your school
When a school leader is selecting a program to help improve students’ literacy outcomes they first need to ask:
- Does it match the range of ways in which my students underachieve? Students need a program that accommodates their reason for underachievement.
- Does it have multiple parallel literacy learning pathways, and doesn’t assume that one size fits all?
- Does it have explicit teaching procedures for each pathway? How comprehensive and systematic are they?
- Does it provide a means for identifying each student’s literacy learning profile and for deciding the pathway for optimal progress for that student? Or does it assume that all students will best progress by following the same pathway?
- What research supports the effectiveness of the intervention? Does it provide data that show that students of different reading profiles make progress using it?
- Is it based explicitly on an accepted research theory of how students learn to read? Many programs are not based on a rigorously and extensively researched theory.
These are key issues that any school leader who is thoughtfully and responsibly selecting a literacy intervention program in 2016 needs to answer.
Many know their current interventions do not work for all underachieving students. Decisions they make will live with their most academically vulnerable students for years to come. Education providers need to develop clear guidelines to ensure teachers are making appropriate decisions.
Monday, January 4, 2016
There is a condition often referred to as the year four slump which affects a large number of students and their reading ability. Many of these children enter grade four with identified reading difficulties despite having adequate phonic and decoding skills. One reason for this is the increased complexity of sentence structures at this stage and that reading for understanding rather than learning to read becomes the focus.
Working memory also influences the ability to process incoming information during listening or reading. It has a limited capacity for holding information while readers process aural or written meanings, particularly when it is necessary to think about or solve problems while mentally processing the message. One factor that limits working memory capacity is the ability to attend to information that is central to the reader's learning goals. Obviously, if working-memory has a limited storage capacity then it is absolutely imperative that the reader/listener is able to filter and attend to the most important information. One major problem is that many students either attend to unimportant information or mind-wander while reading. Obviously, if readers do not have clear goals and are not motivated to achieve them they will be more likely to take in superfluous information or develop mind-wandering tendencies while reading. Mind-wandering takes place when the reader/listener entertains thoughts that are irrelevant to the task at hand. This will occur in individuals who lack prior experience with the topic or interest.
Self-efficacy influences reading attention effort, reading engagement, and persistence in the face of distractions. It is related to a person's belief in his or her own ability to perform a task at a desired level. As students become more self-aware those with learning difficulties will, most likely, have lower self-efficacy. This will affect the willingness of individuals to develop adequate goals, persist at attaining those goals and allocate attention effort.
How then can we support the student who is affected by this reading comprehension slump?
- Give the student reading material that is at a reasonable level of ease. A rule of thumb is that word accuracy should be around 90-96% accuracy level.
- Develop an interest in the topic, or develop a topic around the student's interest.
- Make sure that the student is familiar with the language and that unfamiliar words are discussed. Adequate discussion before a reading activity is just as important as the reading activity itself.
- Fill in the knowledge and experience gaps before reading e.g. go on an excursion or watch a video and follow-up with lots of discussion. Students can learn a lot from each other if they are given an opportunity to share their experiences.
- Develop shared and clear learning goals. Make sure that the students are taking responsibility for their goals. Readers will generally persist in the face of difficulty if they have a goal that they value.
- Develop self-efficacy by encouraging them to be reflective learners. Always give feedback by relating success to the amount of effort that students expend.
Cho, E., Roberts, G. J., Capin, P., Miciak, J., & Vaughn, S. (2015). Cognitive attributes, attention, and self-efficacy of adequate and inadequate responders in a fourth grade reading intervention. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 30(4), 159-170.
Robinson, M. K., & Unsworth, N. (2015). Working memory capacity offers resistance to mind-wandering and external distraction in a context-specific manner. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29, 680-690.