Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: phonemic awareness

Matthew Effects in Learning

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“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

In 1986, Keith Stanovich published a study entitled Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. The “Matthew Effects” in the title came from Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

The study showed that students who early learned how words are made up of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who were delayed in learning the letter to sound correlation fell farther and farther behind in subsequent years.

This concept of how words are composed of sounds (phonemic awareness) is easily taught to young children, but public schools are not doing it. Instead, for at least 70 years now they have been experimenting with other methods of teaching reading. The result is that about 1/3 of children quickly make the letter-sound connection on their own, another 1/3 will struggle at first but eventually get it and the other 1/3 will be labelled learning disabled. A large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else a child encounters in school, those with poor reading skills fall farther and farther behind as they progress through the school system.

This is a perfect example of a statement I once read: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What children need is a flexible system focussed on results. In learning to read and in learning basic math skills, a child needs to master one set of skills before being pushed on to the next level. The idea of teaching for mastery of the basic skills has long been absent from the public school system

If this sounds like an argument for home schooling, or the old-fashioned one-room school, well, yes, I believe that they are more successful models for results-oriented learning. In any case, parents need to overcome their sense of intimidation by the big school machine and be much more involved in their child’s learning, especially in the beginning stages[First posted three years ago.]

Matthew Effects in Learning

“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

In 1986, Keith Stanovich published a study entitled Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. The “Matthew Effects” in the title came from Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

The study showed that students who, at an early stage, gained a good understanding of how words are composed of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who do not rapidly develop an awareness of the spelling to sound correlation will fall farther and farther behind in subsequent years.

This concept of how words are composed of sounds (phonemic awareness) is easily taught to young children, but our public school systems are not doing it. Instead, for at least 70 years now they have been experimenting with other methods of teaching reading. The result is that about 1/3 of children quickly make the letter-sound connection on their own, another 1/3 will struggle at first but eventually get it and the other 1/3 will be labelled learning disabled. I believe a large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else that a child will encounter in school, those with poor reading skills fall farther and farther behind as they progress through the school system.

This is a perfect example of the quote in my last post: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What we need is a more flexible system that is focussed on results. In both learning to read and in learning basic math skills, a child needs to master one set of skills before being pushed on to the next level. This concept of teaching for mastery in the basic skills has long been absent from the public school system

If this sounds like an argument for home schooling, or the old-fashioned one-room school, well, yes, I believe that they are more successful models for results-oriented learning. In any case, parents need to overcome their sense of intimidation by the big school machine and be much more involved in their child’s learning, especially in the beginning stages.

The joys of English

Earlier this week, the sisters of our congregation had their last sewing day of the winter season. Why is sewing pronounced so-ing and not soo-ing? There is a word in the AV (KJV) Bible that is spelled shew. A lot of people pronounce it shoo, when it really should be sho; it’s just an old-fashioned way of writing show. A shoo is something that I wear on my feet, though to look at the way it is spelled (shoe) it seems like it should be pronounced sho.

These are the little things that trip us up in English. Since the language evolved from a mish-mash of five other languages (Celtic, Latin, Norse, German and French) there are frequent inconsistencies in spelling and pronunciation.

Some folks believe that this makes the learning of phonetics useless in learning to read English. However, 92% of the words in English conform to the rules of phonetics. It is much more effective to learn the rules of phonics for 92% of the words and memorize the remaining 8%, than to attempt to memorize 100% of the words in English. Yet that is the way our public schools teach reading.

The teaching of phonics was abandoned before I started school 66 years ago. Thankfully, my favourite toy was a set of alphabet blocks and through them , with minimal coaching from my mother, I learned to read almost by accident at the age of four.

It is said that roughly one third of children will pick up the sound-letter correlation very quickly, no matter how reading is taught. Another one third will take a year or two longer, but will eventually catch on. The reaming one third will be labelled as having a learning disability.

An article by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail five years ago described a private school in Toronto where children labelled with learning disabilities were quickly taught to read and gained confidence that helped them in other areas of their life. The head of this school says that the children were simply not taught to read in the public system.

There are enormous funds poured into dyslexia research and in developing methods to help dyslexic students learn to read. Some people doubt that there is such a thing as dyslexia; no visual or neurological cause has ever been discovered. This is not to deny that some physical or visual conditions may exist, but most dyslexic students experience dramatic recovery with the teaching of phonics. There is almost no dyslexia among people who speak completely phonetic languages, such as Hebrew or Korean. The massive increase in the diagnosis of dyslexia among English-speaking people occurred after schools stopped teaching phonics.

MRI studies show considerable activity in the left occipital lobe of people who are able to read quickly, smoothly and accurately. It appears that this is the area that stores information about the phonemes that make up language and make this information instantly available when reading. Those who struggle to read are shuttling information between different areas of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, but make very little use of the left occipital lobe. Approaches to reading which does not develop this phonemic awareness are the real cause of reading disabilities.

English has complex, puzzling, often hilarious inconsistencies. Yet learning it is child’s play.

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