Wednesday, April 23, 2014

No non-phonetic words, Shakespeare and St George!

I just got the following comment on my blog posting The English writing system’ (26/04/2014) from Bruce Price, who describes himself as an ‘writer, artist, [and] education activist:
Rudolf Flesch and Denise Eide say that English is 98% phonetic, more or less. They get to this number by conceding every debatable point.
But I think this blog post makes the more profound point that EVERY English word stands for sounds and is therefore phonetic.
I wrote a piece a few years back called "Is English a Phonetic Language? Of course! 100%." (On CanadaFreePress.) I thought this was a better tactical position. If you try to be nice to the Whole Word crew, they'll claim that English is only 20% phonetic.
I try to explain to them that a genuinely non-phonetic word would be something like QG7R pronounced "shuffleboard." Now, THAT is a non-phonetic word. 
But English doesn't have any such words! 

I don’t normally promote comments to full postings but I liked the point Bruce was making so much, I thought it deserved to be more widely read. You can read Bruce's piece here. And well worth the trouble it is too.

I laughed out loud when I read in his posting that someone had actually 'set up a movement to teach Spanish with sight words' and that 'you can this minute find lists on the internet of “English-Spanish Dolch Sight Words.” By this device, kids can be made illiterate in two languages at once'! There's also a lovely rejoinder to those who would campaign to make English spelling 'phonetic'.

So, on St George's Day and the day on which we commonly celebrate Shakespeare's birthday (450, today, by the way), thank you Bruce for getting me at least off to a good start!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Down with miserablism!

Mike Lloyd-Jones’s new book Phonics and the Resistance to Reading is an absolute cracker!

Without in the least patronising his readership, Mike’s panoptic survey of the teaching of reading takes us back to the beginning of the nineteenth century and all the way to the present day.

His story begins in 1807, where, he says, the roots of the resistance to reading lie. He goes on to deconstruct the myth that there had ever been a time in which phonics was taught well, before bringing us into the twenty-first century, where the reading wars continue unabated.
Phonics and the Resistance to Reading isn’t an academic book in the sense that the reader won’t find a plethora of academic references but be in doubt that Mike knows his stuff and his judicious choice of quotations from such authorities as Keith Stanovich, Daniels and Diack, Joyce Morris and Jim Rose demonstrate in no small measure his familiarity with the subject matter and his in-depth knowledge. He shows what a dismal record whole language, look and say and mixed methods of teaching reading have had and why schools throughout the land should be teaching properly structured synthetic phonics.

And, this is a brave book! Mike doesn’t flinch from taking on the arguments launched by the anti-phonics lobby, sometimes with humour – I’m still chuckling at his withering description of many critics of phonics as having had a ‘syllogism bypass operation’ – sometimes with barely concealed anger at the shattering consequences of their resistance. In fact, he likens the phonics resisters to opposition to the provision of education to the labouring classes of the poor in the nineteenth century. ‘The phonics deniers, the anxiety makers and the phonicsphobics are,’ he asserts, ‘consciously or unconsciously heirs to those distant Jeremiahs who warned against the threat of mass literacy.’

That many of these phonics-deniers are most often from the political left is also puzzling. As Daisy Christodoulou put it recently in her book Seven Myths About Education, ‘[i]t is baffling to think about why people in the modern British Labour movement have assumed the same ideas as ultra-conservatives from nearly two centuries ago’. Indeed!

Mike’s book should be compulsory reading for every single student teacher on every teacher training course and if you are a teacher and sometimes feel stumped for an answer when you hear someone churn out those tired old anti-phonics arguments, Mike’s book will provide you with a well argued, coherent retort.

See also Debbie Hepplewhite’s acclaim for Mike’s book here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The death of match-funding

Posting from Perth, Western Australia. 


I thought you might like to know that Pro5, the organisation charged with administering match-funding on behalf of the DfE has just sent us an email to confirm that the initiative has officially been wound up as of 31st March 2014.

They also added the following:
The DfE have provided some key information below, based on an analysis of the match-funding data from September 2011 to the end of October 2013 which showed that: 
  1. A total of £23.7 million match-funding (including VAT) was claimed by around 14,300 schools, 80% of eligible schools.
  2. Approximately 84% of eligible schools with key stage 1 pupils claimed match-funding (around 13,900 schools).
  3. Around 1,260 schools with key stage 2 pupils became eligible for match-funding from January 2013. Of these around 390 claimed match-funding (31%).
  4. Most of the funding (95%) was used to purchase phonics products rather than training.
 We would like to thank you all for your support and hard work from the start of the process in 2011 to date and for making the initiative a success. We would appreciate any feedback (good, bad or indifferent) that you have about the initiative including the procurement and the operational management of the contracts.  Please reply by return by Tuesday 22nd April.
 As you can see, Pro5 hail the initiative as a ‘success’. I don’t! Although I’ve always thought it essential for schools to support the development of pupils’ reading skills through the medium of phonics books and other materials, I've also consistently made the point that it was a huge mistake not to place the emphasis on training. As I have always argued on this blog (here and here), most education officials at government and local authority level, heads and senior management team staff have never really understood the need for a thorough and intensive training in the why and how to teach phonics.

Nick Gibb could have steered the enterprise towards training had he understood more clearly what the problem is and how it needs to be dealt with. He was much too timid and too willing to be guided by his counsels in the DfE and others. as a result, he missed a fine opportunity to make the kind of difference Michael Gove has recently been speaking about: the chance to eradicate the blight of illiteracy within a lifetime. A different approach would have privileged the introduction of RCTs to find out which phonics programmes are likely to yield the most promising results and fund training on the back of the outcomes.

As it is, although those schools that have spent their funding on Dandelion Readers or Sounds-Write readers will find that that their understanding of phonics teaching has been enhanced, the crucial first step should have been training.