Saturday, November 13, 2010

PLENK2010 Education Controversy

PLENK2010 Where do you stand? Are you for Phonics? Or are you for Look-Say? Are you for Whole Language? How about Organic Development? I can tell you that each plays a part in learning to read, and they are not competing methods.
I have studied the Reading Recovery method which depends mostly on modelling for the learner. It was designed in New Zealand where they teach reading by phonics in Kindergarten. The Kindergarten teacher is to identify those children who will require RR classes in Grade 1. The RR book begins by telling the teacher, that if the child has not learned to read by the traditional methods, the RR teacher must teacher the RR student the sounds of the letters; you just can't get away from the Code.
Where the competition comes in is that the publishers of text-books want to sell their new lines of text books. If they can convince a school board that their texts provide the latest best methodology for teaching reading and that those old text books are so much trash, they get the sales.
How are new texts developed? How are curricula developed? Well, there is a lovely, and sometimes not so lovely, minuet among the publishing houses and the Ministries of Educations who approve the texts to be used in the classrooms. What should be on the curriculum? Well, what is in the available books? What should be in the new text? Well, what has been on the current curricula?
When I began teaching, I was surprised to find that the history text I was to teach from was the same one I studied when I was in that grade some fifteen years before. Were there no new texts? Then I learned why. The classroom book budget was just enough to buy one complete new set or to replace all of the worn-out/missing volumes from the old sets. The teachers usually chose to replace the missing volumes so that every child would have his own book in every subject. It was a system perfectly designed to preserve the status quo. Perfect for a world in which the Board Instruction to Teachers (one per school) outlined the Christian values to be taught, including modesty and frugality. A few years later frugality had fallen off the list.
And Look-Say? Well that was a system designed for teaching reading for the deaf for whom phonics does nothing. About the same time Dr. Seuss was commissioned to write some books using the Dolch List of Sight Words to compliment the new system, and voila a whole new way of teaching reading. Of course it works because there are some arbitrarily-spelled sight words that children have to learn, but you don't throw out the CODE. They are both needed. One without the other makes for an incomplete reader. But the controversy fueled sales!

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