Do You Have Any Pet Peeves about Reading? Here Are My Top Ten (Pt. 1)

  • 09 October, 2021
  • 30 Comments

First, here is my favorite joke about pet peeves:

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

People who ask a question just so they can answer it.

Yep, I’m the punchline. I’m asking this question only so I can answer it. Though I hope this stimulates you to add your own.

Pet peeves are, by their very nature, complaints. Of course, no one wants to hear a lot of whining these days. If they did, they’d be on Twitter or the U.S. Senate.

Given that, I’ve split this rant into two parts. Yep, I’ll provide 5 pet peeves about reading education this week, and the remainder next time.

Pet peeve #1: Balanced literacy proponents who either don’t tell what must be balanced or whose conception of balance is woefully unbalanced.

Many districts brag that they offer “balanced literacy” programs. Balance, according to my dictionary, is a condition in which “different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” That suggests to me that a balanced literacy program is one in which the various elements of literacy are accorded equal amounts of instruction. Or, failing this, that the amounts of time devoted to each is based on something that would suggest they are in correct proportion.

What elements are balanced in balanced literacy?

According to one guide, there must be a balance need be between reading and writing instruction, teacher-directed and student-directed activities, and skills-based and meaning-based approaches (Frey, et al., 2005).

Many schools try to provide 90 minutes of daily reading instruction and 30 of writing. Such a schedule obviously fails to accomplish that reading instruction-writing instruction balance.  

The idea of balancing teacher- and student-directed activities causes me some concern as well because of the research on the issue. Carol Connor and her colleagues found that students are likely to need more of one of these than the other. More learning accrues from explicit teaching than from discovery learning or independent practice (e.g., Foorman, et al., 2006; Gallagher, Barber, Beck, & Buehl, 2019). Rupley, Blair, & Nichols, 2009), at least for struggling students (Connor, Morrison, & Katch, 2004; Connor, Morrison, & Petrella, 2004). Balancing teacher and student-directed activities seems like a good way to hold back some kids, particularly the most disadvantaged. That can’t be good.

Then there is that third balance, the idea of balancing skills-based and meaning-based teaching. I assume that means half the instructional time is for phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, handwriting, and oral reading fluency, and the rest is devoted to guided reading, shared reading, independent reading, writing, oral language and the like. With 2 hours of ELA time, that would give students an hour of skills and an hour of meaning. Given various models of reading, that kind of balance makes sense, but to tell the truth I rarely see that amount of skills teaching in any of the balanced literacy schools that I’ve visited. Despite the balanced label, skills tend to get short shrift in these classrooms.

I hunted up some more recent descriptions of “balanced literacy” on the Internet. One site says a balanced program “strikes a balance between both whole language and phonics.” I’m not sure what they mean by whole language, but an hour of daily phonics instruction would be excessive (NICHD, 2001). That site goes on to indicates that there are 5 components of balanced literacy (read aloud, guided reading, shared reading, independent reading, word study). That suggests neither a time and attention balance or a devotion of time to word study that would be consistent with the research (successful phonics programs typically deliver about 30 minutes of such daily teaching).

            Another Internet site indicates that the balance is of “explicit skill instruction and by the use of authentic texts.” This seems an echo of Michael Pressley’s claim, “Skills instruction and holistic reading and writing are balanced” (Pressley, Mohan, & Fingeret, 2007). Another site calls for a balance among reading workshop, writing workshop, and word work.

            I quit looking at that point. I’m sure if I would have continued, I would have found even more versions of what needs to be balanced in a balanced literacy program.

            From this is should be obvious that balanced literacy isn’t really a thing. It’s a shell game. Given that no one agrees on what the necessary components are or what balance even means, it is just another of those feel-good terms – socially appealing – but with no real meaning. Advertisers like the term because it “counter[s] consumers’ negative emotions” while requiring nothing (Labroo & Rucker, 2009).

            That’s why I get peeved about the use of the term balanced literacy without any meaningful explanation of its meaning. It sounds reassuring to parents, but often just camouflages the fact that key aspects of the literacy program will get inordinate amounts of attention at the expense of other things that could greatly benefit the children’s progress.

Pet peeve #2: Calls to end the Reading Wars.

I love the idea of peace. A world without reading wars would be lovely.

I honestly believed the two years I contributed to the National Reading Panel would help bring an end to those wars more than two decades ago.

The latest breakout of these skirmishes seems attributable to Emily Hanford’s (2018) radio documentary that called out the reading profession for phonics neglect. She showed, through an examination of various surveys and teacher and parent interviews (Joshi, et al., 2009), that many kids weren’t getting much phonics. That led to public outcries, particularly from parents of struggling readers and to state legislation requiring more phonics.

Perhaps the reading field should not have been surprised about the inattention to phonics. We should have been aware of this given the popularity of reading programs (Education Week ) that included no phonics (e.g., Units of Study) or the decoding instruction of which is poorly aligned with the research (e.g., Guided Reading).

The Hanford documentary focused attention on this widespread neglect, and one may have presumed that the professional community would have endorsed the idea phonics that requires a clear place in primary grade reading instruction.

Instead, they seem to have been grieved by the complaints. Professional responses have included claims that teachers are already teaching phonics universally (denial); that this push for phonics is illegitimate because it comes from journalists and parents (anger); that there are lots of other ways to teach reading (bargaining); and now is the time to find some way to end these reading wars (depression).

Many fine scholars have been publishing pieces revealing the importance phonics – along with other aspects of reading that must be taught (Castles, Rastle, & Nation, 2018; Duke & Cartwright, 2021).

These reviews are correct that reading is complex, that there are many skills and abilities that must be nurtured if students are to become readers, and that phonics is only one of these. But pointing that out seems more like a fair warning to not overdo phonics rather than an effort to address its recent neglect in American reading instruction.

Those who profess to want to end the reading wars seem to think the best way to do that is for the pro-phonics people to stand down, so that the anti-phonics people can continue to dismiss the impressive body of research supporting its teaching.

My peeve here is that we need less angst over the wars and more emphasis on what a solid, comprehensive, research-based reading program would look like. Such a program would include a lot more than phonics, but the in the primary grades, phonics and phonemic awareness would get more than the 5-10 minutes often accorded to it.

Pet peeve #3: Educators who seek research to support their actions, rather than to determine them.  

I get far too many letters from school board members, superintendents, curriculum directors, and school principals asking for my help with a new program or policy they have recently adopted. Usually, they have made some decision or choice, and when the time came to implement it, they ran into some pushback.  

Their missives to me ask if I know of any research that could be used to support their action.

This offends me even when I would have endorsed the action they’ve taken.

That they made a sound decision by accident is not heartening.

Educators who must make major decisions that will affect student learning should review the research first and then make an informed decision. Asking a buddy in the next district if their recent implementation went well (e.g., no complaints) is not a sufficient basis for establishing a new policy or buying a major new program.

Putting the research horse before the adoption coach is one way of increasing the chances that we will improve students’ reading achievement (and avoid those surprising pushbacks that often accompany bad decisions).

Pet peeve #4: Teachers who claim that 2-minute individual conferences promote the same depth of thinking as a 20–30-minute group/classroom discussion.

Too many teachers have been led to believe that they can effectively guide students to deep understandings of text or proficient strategy use through brief one-on-one conferences.

There is no research supporting this weird idea. I can’t even understand how anyone might think it could be true.

My hunch is that these teachers have never, themselves, participated in any kind of rich, rigorous discussions of literature or “great books.”

I checked online and across the country there are incredible opportunities to participate in such book discussion experiences. Check with your local university extension program or your public library. These days there are even online opportunities.

When teachers see what a high-quality discussion group can do with a book, and how much it stretches your own thinking, they are amazed. I took part in a film discussion group this summer (thank you, Stanford University) and every week I was staggered by the insights and observations of the teacher and other participants who saw things that I failed to ken.

Brief individual conferences do little more than allow teachers to determine whether the kids have read the text. But they do little to go beyond superficial responses to text. Probing below the surface takes time and it benefits from the diversity of reactions from a group of readers.

Pet peeve #5: Teachers who become enamored with one or another aspect of literacy instruction.

Teachers devote more time to areas of a curriculum with which they are comfortable, and less to those areas about which they know less or care less (e.g., Blank, 2013).

Let’s say Mrs. Anderson loves science. The boys and girls lucky enough to get into her class are going to do a lot of science this year. Conversely, those assigned to Mr. Ferguson may get little more than the occasional foray into the science textbook (perhaps for some round robin reading).

This happens with reading instruction, too. Some teachers don’t teach fluency because it’s too noisy or because teachers may be uncertain about how to teach it. With other teachers, fluency may be front and center.

When a teacher lacks confidence in an area or has antipathy towards some part of the curriculum, it is startling how often it just doesn’t get addressed. It may be in the lesson plans, but it evaporates from the life of the classroom, as other lessons go long and take its place. 

Teachers need to develop schedules that devote attention to all the major components of reading. Not time devoted to different instructional activities (e.g., guided reading, word study, shared reading, conferencing, independent reading) but time aimed at accomplishing specific learning goals (e.g., vocabulary, comprehension, writing, fluency, decoding).

Then teachers need to provide that instruction, even for the less favored goals. If something gets shortened up today because another lesson went long, you redress the difference tomorrow.

Doing that means many teachers will need to teach some things they struggle with. Instead of avoiding what you don’t like, those are the areas where there is a need to bone up; talk to some colleagues, arrange visits to other classrooms, work with the reading specialist, read a book.

But don’t skip what you don’t feel like teaching or that you don’t feel comfortable with.

I’m peeved because that kind of curriculum slighting ends up slighting the students.  

That’s it for today. Those five peeves are what are making me a grumpy old man this week. Next week there’ll be five more.

Feel free to add your own complaints to the comments section.  

References

Blank, R.K. (2013). Science instructional time is declining in elementary schools: What are the implications for student achievement and closing the gap? Science Education, 97(6), 830-847.

Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the reading wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(1), 5-51.

Connor, C. M., Morrison, F. J., & Katch, L. E. (2004). Beyond the reading wars: Exploring the effect of child-instruction interactions on growth in early reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 8(4), 305-336.

Connor, C. M., Morrison, F. J., & Petrella, J. N. (2004). Effective reading comprehension instruction: Examining child x instruction interactions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(4), 682-698.

Duke, N. K., & Cartwright, K. B. (2021). The science of reading progresses: Communicating advances beyond the simple view of reading. Reading Research Quarterly.

Frey, B., Lee, S., Tollefson, N., Pass, L., and Massengill, D. (2005) Balanced literacy in an urban school district. Journal of Educational Research, 98(5), 272-280.

Foorman B.R., Schatschneider C., Eakin M.N., Fletcher J.M., Moats L.C., & Francis D.J. (2006). The impact of instructional practices in grades 1 and 2 on reading and spelling achievement in high poverty schools. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 31, 1–29.

Gallagher, M. A., Barber, A. T., Beck, J. S., & Buehl, M. M. (2019). Academic vocabulary: Explicit and incidental instruction for students of diverse language backgrounds. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 35(2), 84-102.

 

Hanford, E. (2018, September 10). Hard words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read? Minneapolis, MN: American Public Media. https://www.apmreports.org/story/2018/09/10/hard-words-why-american-kids-arent-being-taught-to-read

Joshi, R. M., Binks, E., Graham, L., Ocker-Dean, E., Smith, D. L., & Boulware-Gooden, R. (2009). Do textbooks used in university reading education courses conform to the instructional recommendations of the National Reading Panel? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42(5), 458-463.

Labroo, A., & Rucker, D.D. (2009). Balance in advertising. Kellogg Insight. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University.

Pressley, M., Mohan, L., Raphael, L. M., & Fingeret, L. (2007). How does Bennett Woods Elementary School produce such high reading and writing achievement? Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(2), 221–240.

Rupley, W.H., Blair, T. R., & Nichols, W.D. (2009). Effective reading instruction for struggling readers: The role of direct/explicit teaching. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 25, 2-3, 125-138.

Comments

See what others have to say about this topic.

Harriett
Oct 10, 2021 05:01 PM

Jeff, maybe we can apply what Churchill said about democracy (that it's the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried) to phonics: that it's the worst way to teach grapheme-phoneme connections, except for all the others that have been tried. I highly recommend Mark Seidenberg's series on the phoneme, especially Part 3 where he expresses concern about overcorrection in the science of reading movement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adeSgFJ6fkQ&t=9s

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 10, 2021 10:39 PM

Rebecca-
No, you are right, but balance does require either equal weightings or appropriate weightings. Those who propose balanced literacy are not consistent with research as to either what the components are or what appropriate weightings will be. In my schools, we weighted word reading, fluency, comprehension, and writing in equal proportions... we did that because the research supports the idea of providing explicit teaching in each. Balanced literacy proponents usually try to limit explicit teaching and don't worry much about the value of particular components (thus, the many teachers these days who say they don't teach phonics because they are in a balanced literacy school). Yikes.
tim

VLC
Oct 11, 2021 01:48 PM

Pet peeve: no time/space to figure out the applied value of works like Castles, Rastle & Nation (2018), although Tim sure tries. Researchers often miss factors that are critical for teachers such as assuming "an optimal sequence" for phonics. Practitioners do this too, mistaking a program sequence or that of a particular method for evidence based.

Castles et.al. seek to fill the gap between research on reading and public understanding. Is their use of "balanced" in their abstract just the original meaning of the word, not the same as Tim's usage? I'm thinking "balanced literacy" is from the US? Did it go across the ponds to the UK and Australia?

Castles et al could be interpreted as supporting most current practices including mixed phonics and sight word teaching . Their view, as Tim has also maintained, is that evidence is not yet sufficient to support synthetic phonics over analytic, for example. They aren't wrong but it's easy to see how every "side" draws strength from this article's attempt to be objective.

And then there's: balanced for which child? What if the article's stated assumptions are not the case? I know the literature equating instructional needs of dyslexic readers with low-income students. Having worked with both populations I also see differences that could support stronger methods for inexperienced, typically poor, students. (Sub-pet peeve I wish we could stop conflating these different populations as "struggling.") Here are some of the prerequisites that Castles et. al. say their conclusions rely on:
if words are already familiar in oral form
children have adequate vocabulary
how much experience on school arrival matters
typical reading development

Thx.

KS
Oct 14, 2021 12:13 AM

Dr. Shanahan: My pet peeve is slick marketing by companies promoting reading curriculum and Teachers Pay Teachers. It is difficult to know who to trust when you are a busy teacher trying to 'balance' (I just had to use that word) all that goes in to teaching and stay current on research. The 'quick activities' of TPT and the promises of programs are seductive - and the only real way to know the truth is to turn to trusted sources. I've made a 180 in my understanding of reading over the past - and partial thanks are due to you. You are never vague! I'm having angst over a recent program that we are being trained in. I won't say the name of it here - but the overarching idea is 'concept imagery'. In the manual for this program there are no references to the work of others (not a good sign) and when I try to find evidence online of it's efficacy I find very little information. In fact, if a person googles the term 'concept imagery' the links are back to the company itself or to a person who represents that company. So question one - do you have any suggestions how we can stay abreast of current research (besides journal articles, online sources, podcasts, blogs, etc) - teachers can get lost out there! And question two - is 'concept imagery' a real term?

Jill
Oct 14, 2021 04:19 AM

Harriet

Thank you for the link to Mark Seidenberg's blog post! It was very interesting and got me thinking about possibly adding print to some parts of my Heggerty lessons with my first graders each morning.

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 14, 2021 01:47 PM

Kim--
Keeping up with the research is almost impossible for practitioners because of its extensive amount and the wide scope of this activity. This website is my attempt to help teachers with that.

As for concept imagery... there is certainly a research base showing the value of visualization in reading (I wrote a recent blog entry). Nevertheless, the approach taken to that in the program you mention has not been evaluated by research as far as I can tell (and, its design is not very similar to those approaches research has affirmed). This would not be something that I would be teaching myself because of that.

tim

Tricia Christopher
Oct 16, 2021 12:15 AM

Teachers Pay Teachers materials representing themselves as quality ELA curriculum. It's a travesty.

Jeffrey Bowers
Oct 10, 2021 04:15 PM

Tim, I agree with you that we should not rule out the effectiveness of phonics based on the finding that there is little evidence that policy changes have altered standardized reading outcomes. The outcomes measures may just be too blunt an instrument to measure improvements. Nevertheless, the reading outcomes in England are often taken as evidence in support of phonics. This is not justified, and indeed, when pushed, people resort to excuses why reading outcomes have not improved (e.g., phonics is necessary but not sufficient).

The other source of evidence comes from experimental studies summarized in meta-analyses. And again, I’ve shown that there is almost no evidence that phonics improves reading outcomes (other than a few reports of short-term benefits on decoding measures themselves). Again, this does not rule out the possibility that phonics is necessary and that the studies were just too small or flawed to pick up real effects. But again, it undermines the claim that there is strong evidence for phonics.

Despite the lack of evidence for phonics, people still use the “science of reading” to claim that the evidence for phonics is strong, to the point that it has been legally mandated in England for over a decade and similar requirements are being introduced in the States, Australia, etc. I don’t think there is good scientific grounds for this, but more importantly, it blocks looking for possible alternative approaches that might be better.

Katie Che
Oct 09, 2021 01:22 PM

Agree with all of these pet peeves. Thank you for your thoughts - and the sources to back them up.

Grace Vyduna-Haskins
Oct 09, 2021 03:12 PM

All of this needs to be said --- LOUDLY. Thanks so much for pointing it out
!

Barney Brawer
Oct 09, 2021 03:23 PM

The next 5 ???

Victoria
Oct 09, 2021 04:21 PM

I have to admit that I agree wholeheartedly with these pet peeves. Especially the one about people focusing on what they feel most comfortable with. Each school subject and part of reading process is important and if it’s not incorporated will leave a hole in the students’ knowledge base which expands each year something is skipped or glossed over. This is what I believe has caused a lot of reading imbalances in students.

Jeffrey Bowers
Oct 09, 2021 04:21 PM

My pet peeve is that researchers continue to claim there is strong evidence that systematic phonics is essential when the empirical evidence does not hold up to scrutiny, and when researchers are unwilling to respond to critiques. Well, to be fair, Buckingham (2020) as well as Fletcher et al. (2020) did respond, but both responses are full of straightforward errors that I’ve pointed out. For example: doi.org/10.1007/s10648-021-09602-z But that is when the discussion has stopped, and no attempt to address problems I’ve highlighted, apart from dismissing the claims. This is not unique to reading instruction, as Dorothy Bishop is nicely shown in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQGD_Uw-Bj8&t=2s But this is an extreme case where politics as taken over, and evidence is most often used as a weapon, not as a way of improving our knowledge.

If you want to learn more about the state of the evidence and the state of the responses to my critique, check out the following for a start: https://jeffbowers.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/blog/key-lesson/ Would be great if Shanahan or another researcher would be willing to discuss the evidence for phonics with me, something like the debate I had with Kathyn Garforth https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/reading-wars-debate-featuring-dr-kathryn-garforth-dr/id1448225801?i=1000512993070 Seems like it should be welcome given I’ve published my critique of phonics in the some of the top journals in education (Educational Psychology Review) and psychology (Current Directions in Psychological Science). For starters, what should we make of my published analysis showing that the legal requirement to teach phonics in state schools in England for over a decade has not led to any measurable improvements in reading outcomes as measured by the international PISA and PIRLS test or the SAT tests in England? Surely, this analysis should be addressed by anyone trying to implement something similar elsewhere.

Miss Emma
Oct 09, 2021 04:33 PM

Thank you for sharing some ‘peeves’ and inviting us to share.

I’ve never really explored what ‘balanced literacy’ meant as I find labels confusing - ask people to define ‘phonics’ and you’ll get lots of responses, generally relating to instruction. So I hear ‘balanced literacy’ and had presumed a type of messy attempt to continue to use three cueing and memorisation of whole words with some explicit (intentional) phonics instruction. Reading this blog I’m glad I didn’t waste my time trying to find out. However I do think asking teachers what they’re doing and why helps us understand their motivations - we can’t shift behaviours without understanding beliefs.

One PP of mine is when teachers who are already using my tools and strategies, getting great data (internally and also using standardised testing) THEN ask for research to support their choice - usually by folks questioning their choice, and disregarding their results. I ask them to think of why they choose my approach in the first place - for many it’s because they watched me in action and spoke to other schools who had data showing the shift, and as they did a pilot /trial. But they would also have had access to the training in which we go over reading theory, NRP report etc before they even get started. So why now go looking, to justify their choice, when they have their own evidence? After choosing to do something then use your tracking and data collection - and if you can’t show growth (effect size etc) then look at that. Why can’t you support your own evidence, as action researchers? My pet p is that teachers don’t feel their evidence is worthy of recognition. That’s why they go searching for research to support their choice - 2 years into their journey! ???????????

When I hear from folks insisting that the ‘reading wars’ should be over my pet peeve is that they claim the arguments should be over, as if a simple ‘phonics v whole language’ debate. But it’s not. Which teachers are getting great outcomes regardless of where teaching? How are they teaching phonics? (And the other elements)
In the UK synthetic phonics has been mandated for over a decade. 27% of kids (2019) didn’t go into high school able to read at expected levels - and these kids were ‘phonics’ tested. Is it really that teachers are not teaching synthetic phonics well - or that phonics, taught differently, could be more effective.
We have data from schools using synthetic phonics programs who dropped them to use my approach, and so same teachers, socio economic area - just a shift in how phonics taught. Why the huge improvements? Looking at how phonics is taught and comparing phonics programs would be useful. The narrative tends to be around teachers not teaching phonics systematically. How about looking at what happens when teachers who are teaching phonics systematically start using different techniques and tools. It may be a shift towards differentiation. Or the phases - starting with explicit phonemic awareness instruction rather than from ‘letter sounds’ from day 1, or starting at the phoneme level rather than syllables, onset and rime etc. So my PP is when we’re not digging deeper. It might also help teachers who have had bad experiences with phonics realise perhaps it wasn’t that the kids didn’t thrive when mapping phonemes to graphemes, and so ‘need to memorise whole words, and use the cues’ instead - maybe it was the way they were teaching phonics or the programs they used.

Another PP is when teachers wait for kids to fail (instructional casualties) rather than teach every child as if dyslexic from day 1, and offer an early intervention. When the child fails many also blame the child rather than their instruction, and are looking for an assessment or diagnosis because they can’t think why else the child failed. I work with high school students who learn to read and spell - in a relatively short period of time - and ask ‘why was I not shown this in primary? I felt really dumb. They realise it’s like trying to play a PlayStation game on an Xbox. They don’t fit. They needed the instruction that ‘fit’ with their brains. If kids aren’t learning, shift the instruction.

I, too, could go on.

Harriett
Oct 09, 2021 05:55 PM

Jeff, you ask: What should we make of my published analysis showing that the legal requirement to teach phonics in state schools in England for over a decade has not led to any measurable improvements in reading outcomes as measured by the international PISA and PIRLS test or the SAT tests in England?

One answer is that phonics is necessary but not sufficient to promote reading outcomes, and if you're not helping kids make sense of the text they've decoded (extract meaning), being able to read the words in that text simply isn't enough--necessary, but not sufficient.

Just yesterday I read Pete's research on a third grade intervention study using Structured Word Inquiry that he conducted with Robert Savage and others. I teach a third grade class once a week, and each year since Pete first posted on this blog in 2017 I have done a better job teaching morphology. But it supplements, not supplants, my phonics teaching. And with this year's third graders having missed most of second grade due to distance learning, the gaps are glaring, so I'm doing more phonics instruction than ever before with this age group.

As you know, many of us are waiting for you and Pete to do a study that uses SWI instead of phonics right from the beginning with non-readers because those of us who have taught kindergarten and who have watched the videos of Pete doing this teaching for beginning readers using SWI remain unconvinced that it is a better method than phonics instruction. Hope this study comes soon so we can put an end to this skirmish over how best to tackle code knowledge for beginning readers.

Mabel
Oct 09, 2021 07:23 PM

Hmmm! Pet Peeve # 1 has challenged my mind to think about the fact that the proponents of Balanced Literacy do not actually give us clarity on what should be balanced. I had never thought about it that way; and perhaps I wouldn't have. Thank you!

Mabel
Oct 09, 2021 07:23 PM

Hmmm! Pet Peeve # 1 has challenged my mind to think about the fact that the proponents of Balanced Literacy do not actually give us clarity on what should be balanced. I had never thought about it that way; and perhaps I wouldn't have. Thank you!

Debbie Meyer
Oct 09, 2021 07:53 PM

After not learning to read in a public progressive school with haphazard instruction delivered by TCRWP trained teachers, my child went to the Windward School for Dyslexic Students. There he got a balance of 45 minutes reading instruction, 45 minutes writing instruction and 45 minutes of OG skills. He also had science, social studies, arts and phys ed. Homework was to practice the skills he was taught.

Jeffrey Bowers
Oct 09, 2021 08:55 PM

Hi Harriett, I would have thought that “necessary but not sufficient” would have improved reading outcomes for children who were not previously getting the necessary phonics. But in any case, no one can claim there is good evidence for phonics, and at the same time, explain away the poor evidence on the basis that phonics is necessary but not sufficient.
Another pet peeve of mine is researchers responding to my critique of phonics by challenging the evidence for SWI. Apart from the fact that I’ve made this point many times (my critique of phonics is used to motivate more research on SWI), the efficacy of SWI is irrelevant to the efficacy of phonics. The science of reading should address concerns about the evidence for phonics.

You say you are waiting for me and my brother to compare SWI to phonics from the start of instruction. I expect you will not get such a study from me because it would probably be illegal to test an alternative to systematic phonics in English state schools (certainly you would not get funding for such a study). At this point, such a study will have to be carried out in another country. Although the one study that was carried out (in England some time ago by Devonshire) found SWI more effective than phonics in a randomized controlled study with children ages 5-7. More research required of course.

LEAH FALKOWSKI
Oct 09, 2021 09:41 PM

How are we going to motivate teachers if their pet peeve or weakness is in reading instruction. Is whole language or balanced literacy teaching more important? I think you need both types of instruction. I like this point listed in the article that states.

“Doing that means many teachers will need to teach some things they struggle with. Instead of avoiding what you don’t like, those are the areas where there is a need to bone up; talk to some colleagues, arrange visits to other classrooms, work with the reading specialist, read a book?

Harriett
Oct 09, 2021 11:28 PM

Clearly, Jeff, this is not the right forum for a discussion about the evidence for and against phonics. But I do feel the need to clarify something. You say: "But in any case, no one can claim there is good evidence for phonics, and at the same time, explain away the poor evidence on the basis that phonics is necessary but not sufficient." I was attempting to "explain away the poor evidence" based on the evidence you gave me: PISA, PIRLS, and SAT. My understanding is that these do not test word recognition but rather meaning: vocabulary and passage comprehension. I have received students in my intervention sessions who cannot decode. Teaching them phonics addresses this deficiency. But unless we address the other components that lead to good 'reading outcomes', these students will not show progress on assessments like the ones you've listed, though they will show progress in word reading. That's why I say necessary but not sufficient.

Mary
Oct 10, 2021 12:34 AM

Thank you for your comments on “balanced literacy”. I guess the reason I don’t understand what it means is because no one else does either.

Sam
Oct 10, 2021 02:20 AM

Pet Peeve:
For everything currently known and understood about reading, particularly emergent reading (K-3), there should be an open source english language arts curricula available to ALL schools. Districts should be able to order free copies of all the needed and necessary resources from the federal government and not have to pay anything, particularly curriculum publishers. No publishing company should be making money on the one aspect of education that all the rest of a student's education rests upon; reading. Imagine how much money a district could save and spend on other needed expenditures. My district of 23K students is looking to spend 7 MILLION dollars on K-5 ELA curriculum/materials which includes professional development to learn how to use the curriculum. Imagine all that saved money going toward school psychs, nurses, mental health counselors and the needs of struggling students. #OpenSourceReadingCurriculaNOW

Mat
Oct 10, 2021 03:34 AM

What a great article, thank you! Regarding Pet Peeve no. 4, do you think reading conferences across the board are pointless or what about reading conferences during silent reading where teachers can check in with students about their reading progress & goals, book choices, listening in to their fluency, checking their book logs etc. This to me feels quite different than a conference where you are engaging a student about the particular book and how meaning is being created.

Obviously if this was the only form of feedback from a teacher, that would be insufficient but would this type of feedback during silent reading sessions be good in addition to group/whole class instruction?

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 10, 2021 12:16 PM

Mat-
Of course, it is fine to talk to kids individually about what they are reading. We just shouldn't expect this to have any real impact on their reading comprehension. The teacher may or may not find out about a problem that way. But, again, the trick is to teach as powerfully and efficiently as possible. Thus, when one group is reading silently, it might be a great opportunity to switch over to the other group to get some insight from that group of students. The teacher certainly can grab an opportunity to listen to kids' fluency, but why not do that while the whole class is working on fluency through something like paired reading? Again, talking to individual kids briefly can keep things moving smoothly in a classroom -- they just aren't the greatest teaching or diagnosis opportunities.

tim

Jeffrey Bowers
Oct 10, 2021 04:15 PM

Tim, I agree with you that we should not rule out the effectiveness of phonics based on the finding that there is little evidence that policy changes have altered standardized reading outcomes. The outcomes measures may just be too blunt an instrument to measure improvements. Nevertheless, the reading outcomes in England are often taken as evidence in support of phonics. This is not justified, and indeed, when pushed, people resort to excuses why reading outcomes have not improved (e.g., phonics is necessary but not sufficient).

The other source of evidence comes from experimental studies summarized in meta-analyses. And again, I’ve shown that there is almost no evidence that phonics improves reading outcomes (other than a few reports of short-term benefits on decoding measures themselves). Again, this does not rule out the possibility that phonics is necessary and that the studies were just too small or flawed to pick up real effects. But again, it undermines the claim that there is strong evidence for phonics.

Despite the lack of evidence for phonics, people still use the “science of reading” to claim that the evidence for phonics is strong, to the point that it has been legally mandated in England for over a decade and similar requirements are being introduced in the States, Australia, etc. I don’t think there is good scientific grounds for this, but more importantly, it blocks looking for possible alternative approaches that might be better.

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 10, 2021 12:21 PM

Leah--
I don't think there is a place for whole language or balanced (literacy or basic skills or explicit teaching). I think the focus should not be on some philosophy but on what it is the students need to learn. If teachers organized their efforts around the components of literacy that they were trying to teach (and relied on research both to identify what those components were and how they are most powerfully and efficiently taught), we'd be in a much better place.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 10, 2021 12:26 PM

Barney--
Next week. Part II

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 10, 2021 12:32 PM

Folks, for those of you who are citing the fact that government policies around phonics have not led to any measurable improvements in reading... I'd be more circumspect about making too much out of that. Educational policy is typically not set in a vacuum (in studies one tries to limit the changes that are made at one time -- in policy, you kind of throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks). That's why I have been careful not to over claim on the basis of my experiences as Director of Reading in the Chicago Public Schools. Perhaps particular parts of what we did the sources of our success or maybe it was something else.
However, if you do trust those policy experiences as the determiner of what works, then please look at the American experience as documented by NAEP data from 1971-2018. Fourth grade reading has ebbed and flowed in response to the emphasis on phonics during various periods in that span. In other words, there are many more data showing benefits of phonics instruction than the opposite. Again, I think great care should be used in drawing such conclusions from such data.
tim

Rebecca Jordan
Oct 10, 2021 12:41 PM

I am disappointed that you have given no nod to the idea that balanced does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split as you imply. 50/50 split between any of the constructs you mention is inappropriate for all the reasons you mention. Castles, Rastles, and Nation who you cite explicitly call for an end of the reading wars and for a re-envisioning of what balanced truly means. I highly recommend their article to anyone interested in an in-depth treatment of this topic.

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Do You Have Any Pet Peeves about Reading? Here Are My Top Ten (Pt. 1)

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