April 13, 2007

Debate Afterthoughts


I'm back from a much needed break.

First, let me point out that I relied on three main references for my posts.

1. How Psychological Science Informs the Teaching of Reading

2. Successfully Decoding Unknown Words: What’s the Teacher’s Role?

3. Direct Instruction Reading, Fourth Edition

When I write "relied on," I mean "stole heavily from." I sacrificed lengthy quotations, block quotes, and a thousand ids. for readability. The people who wrote these articles are the experts, not me.

The How Psychological Science Informs the Teaching of Reading article is a very even-handed piece that everyone who wants to learn how humans read should take the time to go through. Reading is much more than phonological recoding and it's easy to see how teachers, like the whole language teachers, who aren't up to date on all the latest research might misunderstand what is going on when a person reads.

There are many more good articles on reading that I didn't reference due to timing. Some were referenced in the comments section. If anyone else has any good ones, leave a reference in the comments.

My tactic in the debate was to try to explain what is really going on when we read, rather than to get into a research pissing contest. That would not have been productive, in my opinion. half of the debate would have then consisted of my having to point out that that while much of the whole language "research" has all the trappings of research, it really isn't research at all, but someone's opinion.

I am surprised that more whole language advocates didn't chime in during the debate. They still haven't chimed in over at the tawl list. It's like they don't want to confront a viewpoint that is in opposition to their belief system. I suppose if someone told me that the laws of thermodynamics were all wrong, I'd be a little upset too.

I am not surprised how much the commenters who did chime in relied on anecdote to support their beliefs. There seems to be some mythical poor reader that is absent from the research. A reader with poor decoding skills, but somehow can read if he attends to the other whole language cues. I think a good experiment would be to round up all these identified by whole language teachers and thoroughly test their reading ability. I am willing to bet that all those people are poor readers with underdeveloped decoding skills.

Another popular point brought up is the "what's wrong with teaching more than phonics" argument. These commenters clearly didn't read my posts. The problem with teaching these alternate cues is that they are not used by skilled readers for word identification and they confuse beginning readers. More on that later.

I think that wraps up my post debate points.

Hopefully Edspresso will fix all the links in my posts that they broke. Here they are just in case they don't.

There are still a few loose ends I want to tie up. I'll do that in a new post.


That went rather swimmingly.

I'm too beat to write any more just yet, but I still have a few loose ends to clean up. A few unanswered questions. Maybe later today, maybe tomorrow.

Looks like with Edspresso under new management that a wrench may be thrown into the moderated comments at Edspresso so feel free to leave your comments here.

I'll be back.


Denever said...

Edspresso isn't making it easy to read your half of the conversation, either.

Even with text size set smaller than I can reasonably read on my laptop, your comments on that site appear sliced in half, like one long can-you-guess-content-from-context example. I'm going to have to copy and paste them into another program in order to read them.

Creech's posts appear intact - a different kind of whole language, apparently.

BeckyC said...

I give Creech credit for stating right up front that whole language is a belief system, and that she doesn't care for tossing numbers back and forth.

Oh, and that she was not and never will be a teacher-pleaser:

I wasn't one of those wide-eyed little girls who admired her teachers all through school and always tried to please them.

But in the end she quotes Marilyn Adams admiringly,

At the same time, the whole language movement should properly be seen as a core component of a much bigger broader more general educational revolution that is happening.

This is about revolutions and social change, and big ideas that drive beliefs that are tightly held in the face of hard evidence -- evidence offered in pursuit of objective truths about reading instruction that should apply to all children.

Thanks for all your hard work, Ken.

Instructivist said...

I tried to post the following at edspresso but the system seems to be down and posting is impossible:

Considering that Ken is an opponent of the psychotic guessing game and MAZE nonsense, it's ironic that Ken's last post appears in hyper-MAZE format (half of the column cut off vertically).

On the other hand, this could be a sneaky way of exposing the whole language fallacy of guessing words from whatever context is left.

Anonymous said...

it's Liz from I Speak of Dreams.

Ken, thanks for all your hard work. I agree, it went swimmingly.

I think I'll try to take some time next week to respond to some of the comments from the dedicated whole language teachers.

ms-teacher said...

I think you did wonderful. This debate and more specifically your posts has made me even more committed to DI. One of my goals this summer is to try to re-do some of our history curriculum to more closely resemble a DI format.

TurbineGuy said...

Sorry I was absent from the debate but I was away on vacation in Florida. My thoughts...

It was the debate that wasn't a debate. Quick thoughts...

It was a debate between whole language and phonetics... not wl and "DI"

She sucked at representing mainstream WL... she gave away way to much and in the end wimped out.

I so recognized some of your arguments...

You were way to nice... she didnt deserve it, but kudos for holding back.

allenm said...

I think she let the cat out of the bag right at the start by referring to WL as a philosophy.

A philosophy doesn't need proof and doesn't have to generate results. All a philosophy has to do is gather adherents and all that's required to gather adherents is the assurance that belief is proof of superiority.

WL teachers are superior to phonics teachers because WL teachers inculcate a lifelong love of reading in kids. You don't have to ask, it's one of the first assertions out of the mouth of a WL adherent. The phonics teacher, as the WL adherent tirelessly explains, ruthlessly forces a mind-numbing, soul-destroying mechanical skill on kids which results in kids who are able to make the appropriate noises when perusing a printed page but don't understand the words coming out of their mouths.

Mind-numbing, soul-destroying on the one hand, a lifelong love of reading on the other. Not tough to make a choice about which is better.

Related to this, it struck me that one of the primary criticisms leveled by whole language proponents against phonics is that a child instructed in phonics may have the ability to sound out words but that ability comes at the expense of comprehension.

But that only makes sense if phonics reduces comprehension of the spoken word during reading.

WL proponents don't make the claim that phonics-instructed kids won't understand a passage read too them. Only that the kids won't understand the same passage when they read it themselves. Seems to me that such a claim could be proven easily yet I've never heard of any research to verify the effect.

geraldine carter said...

Very interesting point, Allen.

Thank you, Ken, for arranging this debate - much appreciated. In the UK it is very hard to get WL and Reading Recovery people to debate the issues atall. gc (Reading Reform Foundation UK)

ms-teacher said...

I agree with you, Rory, and it's one of the things I noticed during the debate. WL people seem to imply that DI is only about phonics, which in reality it is so much more.

Also, one of the things the WL people kept bringing up was the idea that kids were being taught nonsense words in phonics based programs. Does anyone know where this idea originates from?

CrypticLife said...


I’m glad I never had you for a teacher.

(This one IS intentionally snappy)."

Heh, heh, cute Nancy.

Actually, she'd like me a lot better if she was my student. I am quite kind towards those who need aid, just not towards those who hold themselves out as pundits without support.

Anonymous said...

Quick note to you, since I couldn't find a way to e-mail edspresso. On Thursday's entry, your link to the list of strategies in whole language is broken. They've really mashed up the URL - I had to delete stuff in three places to get to the right page. It's such an instructive link that I thought I'd point it out.

harriska2 said...

I think the WL thing that DI is about reading nonsense words comes from DIBELS. They seem to forget that there is a whole reading comprehension part to that test.

BTW, thank you to those that made the Reasoning and Writing program. My son passed his 4th grade state writing assessment probably due to the program (even though he is 1 year behind in the program).

Also, thank you to the Reading Mastery people. My son seems to be enjoying the Great Brain and Whales on Stilts. I think he likes reading but you wouldn't know it from the WL advocates that insist Reading Mastery is too structured and not fun.

Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Liz from I Speak of Dreams.

Also, one of the things the WL people kept bringing up was the idea that kids were being taught nonsense words in phonics based programs. Does anyone know where this idea originates from?

If you want to know if a kid has really learned decoding (rather than relying on a bank of memorized words) you have to challenge the kid with decodable words in his mastery range. So, for example instead of testing with "can", "feet", and "dog", you'd provide "lan", "deet" and ""pog". The latter are of course, nonsense words (for 1st graders, anyway; all may signify for adults or older children).

Oh, the horror. They aren't authentic.

dweir said...

Thanks for taking this on. The links alone are great, but it's your analysis that is the real treasure.

The fuzzy math folks should be against WL. A student who cannot read stands no chance in today's language-based math programs.

CrypticLife said...


I think the fuzzy math and WL people share the same values in teaching, which overrides any consideration of the effect on students.

dweir said...


That was my attempt at sarcasm. I won't quit my day job! :-)

CrypticLife said...


Ah -- sorry, it just made too much sense to me that actually, the fuzzy math people SHOULD be against WL.

While I'm not an edu-blogger, I have started monitoring the WL archives more thoroughly. I was rather depressed to see a bit of "logic" on their boards, which I note at my own (recently begun) blog.