The Sciences of Reading Part 3- The Reading Research Quarterly Executive Summary/Thoughts About Comments Concerning Last Week’s Post
This week I’m wrapping up the topic of the Sciences of Reading and dealing with a couple of issues raised by critics of my first two posts. By the way, collectively, those posts have gotten almost 10,000 views, and their response has been overwhelmingly positive.
First, Let’s see what The Reading Research Quarterly Executive Summary has to say about the Science of Reading. Here is the link.
These are taken directly from the summary:
“As coeditors of RRQ, a leading global journal that provides the latest research and scholarship on literacy, we saw an opportunity to put together a special issue of the journal focused on what’s at the heart of this debate: science. Our goal for this project was never to decide which is the “right” side of the debate but to help us be better consumers and creators of information. The compilation of articles in this special issue, as well as those that will appear in the second special issue in spring 2021, examine SOR through a broader, more inclusive lens. Together, these pieces bring a supportive and critical perspective to the conversations, and identify next steps for the field.”
It goes on to say:
“We started to solicit opinions on SOR and what the term meant to people both in and outside of the field. It quickly became clear that, not only was there no single definition, there was also no consensus as to what has been cited to inform theory, research, policy, and practice in the name of SOR” BOLDING MINE
It also indicates:
“What is important here is that the authors almost universally emphasized that narrow interpretations of SOR (often taken up by the media to make its way into practice, policies, and schools) are problematic. BOLDING MINE Taken together, the articles in this special issue suggest that SOR is both a body of knowledge (defined broadly by researchers and scholars) and an interpretation of that body of knowledge (often defined narrowly by audiences outside the academy). The authors in this special issue push back on the idea that SOR be characterized by support for or opposition to phonics instruction.”
The appendix of this document contains 26 key points to consider. Overall, my takeaway from these points supports the notion that the narrow interpretations of SOR that have found their way into the media are incomplete, sometimes inaccurate and counterproductive. Some things that caught my attention in the RRQ paper include:
” results from six experimental studies to suggest the ‘value of teaching students to use both alphabetic and contextual information in word solving in interactive and confirmatory ways.’ Unlike the position advocated by SOR groups who criticize use of the three-cueing system, Scanlon and Anderson emphasize that “the thrust of our argument is that the use of context can be a valuable assist for word solving both when a student’s knowledge of the code is still developing and when inconsistencies in English orthography result in only an approximate pronunciation of a word.” From section one.
“that the lack of clarity in terminology weakens our understanding of dyslexia. Elliot writes, “Despite the vast proliferation of scientific research, our understanding of dyslexia is marked by serious weaknesses of conceptualization, definition, and operationalization that are not only unscientific, but also result in impoverished practice in schools, social inequity in both understanding and provision for many struggling readers, and ultimately, reduced life chances for millions of students worldwide.” From Section 4.
“Overall, the authors push on the narrow conceptualization of SOR and also suggest that multicomponent language interventions may be helpful, as they “have tended to be more effective in improving reading and listening comprehension than single-component interventions have (e.g., Connor et al., 2018).” From Section 12.
“emphasizes that reading is complex and multifaceted. The authors explore “a confluence of complexity across: (a) theoretical models of reading based on empirical research, (b) emerging information related to the brain and reading, and (c) research findings based on close observations of young learners.” This embracing of the complexity of reading “challenges instructional approaches (e.g., structured literacy) that deny or ignore the multidimensional and networked nature of young learners’ reading processes and/or unique literacy learning trajectories.” From Section 14
“If our goal is to determine how best to teach reading, then we must rely on data that evaluate the effectiveness of teaching, rather than depending solely or even mainly on studies of reading processes or of other non-instructional phenomena, which are then applied to teaching through analogy or logical deduction or from premature conclusions drawn from empirical investigations that do no more than describe or correlate. The role of basic research in shaping instruction quite appropriately lies either in identifying pedagogical innovations that can be evaluated through studies of instruction or in providing evidence that further buttresses or explains the results of such experimental pedagogical study.” From Section 17
“in contrast to the SOR’s instruction of skills in isolation, adaptive teaching emphasizes an approach to pedagogy that focuses on teaching within authentic opportunities for learning, valuing the individuality of students, and connecting their cultural and linguistic strengths (Duffy, 2005; Fairbanks et al., 2010; Gambrell, Hughes, Calvert, Malloy, & Igo, 2011; Purcell-Gates, Duke, & Martineau, 2007; Purcell-Gates, Duke, & Stouffer, 2016). Adaptive teachers are flexible and skilled at teaching reading, using knowledge of reading acquisition and embedding instruction within students’ instructional needs and their rich literacies, cultures, and backgrounds.” Bolding is mine Section 22
All these takeaways from this document lead me to the conclusion that I stated earlier. The pronouncements of SOME, not all, of the SOR folks who indicate they have found the one true path that we all must follow are at best premature and are, at worst. completely misleading and counterproductive. On the one hand it is entirely true that we need to do a much better job of providing all teachers the basic knowledge they need about teaching decoding and especially develop in them a more complete understanding of orthography. On the other hand, however, we can’t discount the decades of work around the reading process/meaning-making part. We must teach students how to use both alphabetic and contextual information in the process of word solving. We must also teach our teachers how to scaffold children into using comprehension strategies- using instructional models based on gradual release. There is no one size fits all solution. LINK
Most of all, we need to learn to listen to one another and learn from each other’s craft. I had one comment about last week’s blog postings & tweets indicating that balanced literacy advocates encourage readers to memorize whole words. She maintained that Kindergarteners taking part in a model video of choral reading were not reading at all. They were simply regurgitating the text entirely from memory. A careful study of the program being used would reveal that the children from that video take part in word work on a daily basis and are using a systematic phonics program. They are not just reading from memory. By the way, they are also encouraged to talk about what they have learned about what they’ve read.
Taking such narrow, inaccurate views about what “the other side” is doing is not limited to SOR folks. I’ve heard some balanced literacy folks intimate that using a systematic phonics approach precludes children from ever doing meaning-making. I visited an EBLI site, which has a strong SOR focus. It uses a form of systematic phonics. I promise you there is more on their minds than simply decoding. Their children do talk about their stories, and EBLI uses a full reading test for their program evaluation. I’ve said before, let’s argue less and talk more. It’s time for ALL sides to do that.
At the end of the day, I believe that the solution to the problem of how to best teach reading doesn’t lie in adopting this program or that one. I believe it lies in creating the kind of teachers that can make effective use of many programs. These teachers should be allowed to adapt what they do to best fit the child. Districts should have a variety of programs to choose from. The final decision of what program to use should be made by the district. They are the ones that know their children best. Mandating one size fits all programs at a state or national level guarantees that some districts will find that there is no program available that fits their children.
I am a firm believer in fitting the program to the child, not the other way around. One of my critics last week indicated that I was guilty of pie in the sky thinking. She intimated that there are too many young, inexperienced teachers and that they would not be able to learn such things. I must respectfully disagree. Districts can and do use mentor teachers to help beginning teachers in that kind of situation. It is time to create the kind of teachers described in section 22. These teachers are “Adaptive teachers (who) are flexible and skilled at teaching reading, using knowledge of reading acquisition and embedding instruction within students’ instructional needs and their rich literacies, cultures, and backgrounds.” It’s time to task those teachers with the job of implementing the programs. It’s time for teachers, not programs, to be the key to improving reading instruction. I think everyone would do well to read and reread The First Grade Studies (Guy Bond & Robert Dykstra, 1967/1997). LINK I’ve talked about them before. It’s been over 50 years since this pioneering comprehensive study first concluded that teachers make more difference than programs. Isn’t it well past time for us to act on that finding?