Interesting artical regarding reading instruction
- Subject: Interesting artical regarding reading instruction
- From: George Cunningham <gkc@LOUISVILLE.EDU>
- Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2002 16:01:02 -0500
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
New professor at UW carries the flag for phonics
7:24 PM 1/13/02
Wisconsin State Journal
Welcome to another round of the reading wars.
The federal education bill signed into law this month by
President Bush includes an ambitious federal commitment
to teaching reading. It's expected to emphasize phonics,
the approach that teaches children the relationship between
letters and sounds. Debate has simmered for years between
phonics advocates and proponents of the whole-language
method, which generally encourages children to figure out
a word's meaning from its context or clues in a story and
Mark Seidenberg, a new psychology professor at UW-Madison,
is ready to lead the phonics troops. He was one of five
experts commissioned by the American Psychological
Association to write a scholarly paper assessing what
psychology and linguistics research says about reading
and instruction. He's also written an article for the March
issue of Scientific American on how reading should be
His message is simple: Whole-language instruction is a
failure, an experiment dreamed up in an ivory tower, peddled
by celebrity educators and inflicted on unwitting children
and parents. Who says so? "An overwhelming pile of research
favoring phonics," according to Seidenberg.
Beginning readers already know how sounds relate to meaning.
When they learn that alphabet symbols represent the sounds
of language, they learn to read, Seidenberg said.
Despite the research, reading instruction "became very
politicized and ideological," he said, with conservatives
lined up behind phonics and liberals espousing
whole-language approaches. The whole-language camp
doesn't trust the science, he said. "You can't base these
things on ideas about intuition," Seidenberg said.
Legislation like the federal bill and similar state efforts
will be helpful, he said, to ensure "at least a reasonable
emphasis on phonics everywhere."
Seidenberg doesn't blame teachers; he blames schools of
education. When he talked to educators in California, where
he taught until last summer, "they thought I was from Mars.
They thought I was the enemy. They were interested in
teaching literature. It's two cultures. The science goes
one way and the ed schools tend to go another way."
Phonics never disappeared, he said, it just got pushed out
of the classroom. Parents turned to private phonics
programs, tutors and computer software. (Critics say phonics
is boring; Seidenberg says watch how long children will
play computer phonics games.)
Parents need to demand phonics instruction, he said, and ask
exactly what it means if their school says it offers a
balanced approach. "I personally think it isn't a political
issue," he said. "It's a question of what's the best way to
teach and making sure educators don't just try out ideas
because they seem clever to them in their ivory towers."
George K. Cunningham
University of Louisville
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