Saturday, May 02, 2009

More thoughts on cause and effect

I wrote about cause and effect on a previous post. Here are some further thoughts. Every teaching approach to literacy used in schools that doesn't work still probably ends up with about the same 50% of the pupil population being able to read. The practitioners who are trying to teach by these approaches can ALL therefore claim that they do work and that those pupils that can learn to read were actually taught by them! This is probably why the argument between whole word and traditional phonics tuition has continued for so long, with both sides claiming that it is only their efforts that teach children to read, when quite possibly neither do so because neither side has any scientific, causative evidence to support it.
The betting is that when, after ten years from now, the next lost generation, currently being taught in the UK with Letters and Sounds, leaves school 50% of their number will still effectively be illiterate or semi-literate.
Perhaps a good starting point would be to view all research data on the outcomes of any literacy teaching programme by assuming that 50% of pupils will learn to read despite their tuition, not because of it, and to look only for successful teaching practices from within the achievements of the other 50% of pupils who have historically failed to become properly literate.
In order to minimise antagonistic responses to this train of thought, I would like to make it clear that I do understand that the world is full of teachers teaching children to become literate in English who honestly believe that what they teach benefits their pupils. Unfortunately, their beliefs stand to be contradicted by the hordes of illiterate 16-year-olds leaving school every year.
*Note on causality: if pupils' literacy abilities are measured throughout their primary schooling, on average, they will be found to be improving year on year. Also, year on year, they will be growing taller. The variable, number of years attending school, is therefore directly correlated to both the variables of literacy skill development and height. Without knowing anything about the underlying causality, we might erroneously conclude that literacy skill development is a direct result of growing older, eating more, or becoming taller.

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