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teilo said 6 months ago:

I came from a big family, and I have 6 children.

I have taught all my children to read using McGuffey. I helped many of my siblings learn to read. Much of the discussion around phonics is missing the point.

It is a caricature to say that "phonetic" reading is completely phonetic to the exclusion of sight reading. This is binary thinking. Nobody teaches it that way.

The goal is not and never was to read phonetically ever after. In fact, from very early on, the concept of "sight words" is introduced. The phonetic method is a bridge and a tool to internalize words. The goal is to recognize words effortlessly, without thought.

So what is the difference between the old phonetic methods, the later sight methods, and the modern (debunked) contextual methods?

It's all about where you start. The phonetic method uses phonics as its foundational concept. You begin with the sounds, and you learn the exceptions as you go. But even the exceptions are aided by phonetics. Most "sight" words still have enough of a phonetic component to clue the reader into what's going on.

Sight reading, on the other hand, assumes the reader will pick up enough phonics as they go along, contextually. But with this method, everything must be learned by rote. The "bridge" of having phonetic tools at your disposal is not taught.

Now some children are simply sight readers, and do poorly with phonics. Not all minds are alike. But even sight readers benefit from having a foundation in phonics.

butteredpopcorn said 6 months ago:

Thanks for your thoughts and observations.

I may be one of these “simply sight readers”. I supposedly taught myself to read at an alarmingly, insufferably young age. I have no memory of learning to read whatsoever, only the before and the after. We had a complete set of McGuffey readers lying around (thanks for mentioning these, brought back memories!) but by the time I was looking at them I could already sight read and thought the phonics stuff seemed somewhere between too obvious, too detailed, and too boring. The first word my parents noticed me identify was a pretty bizarre proper noun and not phonics-friendly at all.

My best guess is that since everyone in my house could read, and clearly enjoyed it, and did it all the time, I had plenty of readers to study in action and lots of motivation to watch them. Kind of like when you see a little crawling toddler staring at an older kid who’s running, totally stunned with jealousy... calculating, calculating... From before I could read, I remember asking “what does that say?” a lot. Making them read me sentences on demand. I’m a very fortunate person.

I’d be interested to know how network effects helped your six children and many siblings, on top of the dedicated instruction. Seeing you reading casually, knowing you enjoyed it, seeing their peers do it.

LeonB said 6 months ago:

Some kids have a great grasp on diction, go on to be early readers, and basically teach themselves to read. Any approach will work with them because they “just get it”. These are the kids who have an articulate voice even when 2 years old.

When trying to prove any technique, a teacher will grab one of these kids and show off how good they are and say it’s due to (insert any technique here).

I had one kid like this. As parents we patted ourselves on the back and thought we’d done something right.

My other kid is more typical or below typical and the style of learning makes a huge difference. Without that high articulation, they need a lot of work to understand phonics. Any system that leaves this out will only work for the kids who would’ve mastered reading anyway.

teilo said 6 months ago:

Network effects work for some children, but not for all children. And it's not just a matter of birth order. Children are simply different.

Not all children learn the same way. Some are more visual. Some are more abstract thinkers. Some want to rush ahead and learn more from context, and you have to push them to slow down and pay attention to what they are reading or they make serious mistakes. Some naturally take to phonics. Others don't. But I would argue that the ones who became excellent readers without any formal phonics training have an intrinsic understanding of phonics in the same way that some people have an intrinsic understanding of mathematics.

I would venture to bet that even though you were not taught phonics and taught yourself to read at an early age, that today you are perfectly capable of sounding out a word you have never seen before.

madamelic said 6 months ago:

Not the person you replied to, but I can confirm network effects works.

My little sister is the baby of the family out of 4 and is excellent at everything to do with words. My mom's favorite story is when my sister was very young (I think 3 or 4) asked if the woods near our house had brambles.

No one had ever said that word to her... she read it from a book and figured out what it was by herself.

shkkmo said 6 months ago:

Reading the article, the thought I kept having was: "But I do all of these!".

It seems to me we should be teaching all of these tools. It makes no sense to give people just one. Some tools work better in some situations, and some tools work better for some people.

Phonetic reading is very useful when learning many foriegn langues.

Contextual reading is always useful for learning new vocabulary and knowing when to look up a new word or skip and back-fill meaning as you get more context.

Sight reading seems like it should be the goal, so why not also teach it directly alongside those first two techniques for when the going gets tough?

dpark said 6 months ago:

> Contextual reading is always useful for learning new vocabulary and knowing when to look up a new word or skip and back-fill meaning as you get more context.

If you don’t have phonics down well, you cannot actually learn new words from context. If you cannot “sound out” the unknown word in your head, then no amount of context is going to allow you to actually learn the new word.

Context is a great tool for understanding what a new word means. It is useless for telling you what a new word actually says.

simtel20 said 6 months ago:

I had a friend who went back to grad school in the late 90s. She decided to become a teacher and got into teachers college at Columbia. Within a month, her English literature degree got her focusing on teaching English to grade school, and somehow almost every conversation we had at the time segued into how stupid phonics were and how whole reading and love of reading was clearly superior and... Well it resembled talking to a cult convert.

It seemed that exclusively at TC in NYC phonics were roundly rejected, and whole reading was the only acceptable approach for future teachers to learn about (vs. friends who attended Hunter/CUNY, and NYU grad schools for education where this exclusivity wasn't taught). I'd love to know that they've stopped this harmful practice at Columbia TC considering how prestigious it is.

neilkakkar said 6 months ago:

According to the article, because teaching them together negates the effects. Phonics seem difficult at first, and given an easier option, the children wouldn't develop this, leading to losing this ability.

rayiner said 6 months ago:

It’s more like giving kids a proper, but hard to use tool, plus a crutch.

SamReidHughes said 6 months ago:

Having been taught with phonics, or at least having seen my classmates taught this way, I'd never imagined the world could be this fucked up. If you're going to teach this way, why not throw out the language and write with Chinese characters? The Japanese have a whole set of phonic letters that they use to teach kids.

If a kid can't sound out supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, fire his teachers. "Sound out." Now there's a word I haven't heard in a long time.

musicale said 6 months ago:

The vast majority (some 80%) of Chinese characters are phonetic-semantic compounds, that is they contain both sound elements and meaning elements.

So it's actually very useful to study phonetic groups in when learning Chinese characters!! Even when there are tone or vowel shifts, the phonetic groups can really help you match a character to its sound.

It's kind of like the situation where English spelling usually diverges from an exact phonetic representation, but it still provides an approximation of the actual pronunciation of the word which is enormously helpful in matching it to its spoken form.

SamReidHughes said 6 months ago:

A funny story about that. When I was a kid, I had two different words in my head: one which was pronounced "muh-sheen", and another which I found in The Way Things Work, that was spelled 'm-a-c-h-i-n-e' and pronounced "match-ayn" (rhymes with chime). That's what I got from sounding out the word. I had two parallel concepts in my head growing up, one rather technically oriented that involved inclined planes and levers, the other being machines like toasters, or whatever was on This Old House, probably. This ended when one day, I read something else that used the word and realized, rather excitedly, that there was no such thing as a match-ayn.

mxcrossb said 6 months ago:

Even if phonics are not used when reading, they still have an advantage for writing. Rarely in my adult life have I found myself sounding out a word in a book unless it is deliberately ridiculous (as your example). But I definitely sound out words when trying to spell a word.

dmoy said 6 months ago:

I still occasionally sound out words (incorrectly) when I stumble on a word that I finally realize I've gotten wrong in my head. Like I'll know the word, know what it means, but have imagined the wrong pronunciation in my head, only to have it suddenly dawn on me that "Hey, that synonym for this word you know that sounds a bit different, what if it's aactually the same word". Then I'll go look it up in a dictionary, realize I still don't know pronunciation guides, type it into Google or whatever to get audio, and confirm, yup, I'm a dumbass I've been thinking those are two different words for decades.

This happens to me about once every other month. Millions of words, I don't expect it'll ever stop happening.

Bonus points when the word is like only 6-7 characters long, feel extra dumb those months :P

benj111 said 6 months ago:

Ha Ha yes.

I find this with a lot of niche things I only ever read about, open source names seem to be the worst.

Gnome is allegedly pronounced with a hard G. I've never heard that said in the wild. And I have no idea how anyone else pronounces XFCE.

pbhjpbhj said 6 months ago:

Nginx I still pronounce as "en-jinks" to myself and have to be guarded to remember to say "engine-ex".

MySQL had never been "my see-kwull" to me but always "my ess-queue-ell".

Then there's Linux ...

benj111 said 6 months ago:


That's how I thought it was pronounced too. NginX could maybe have provided a hint...

ThePadawan said 6 months ago:

Welcome to the enjinks club :).

The reverse is also happening to me - it has become very hard to see furniture advertised as latex, and read lay-tax, not la-tech.

pbhjpbhj said 6 months ago:

Um, don't tell me LaTeX isn't "lay-tex"?

detaro said 6 months ago:
skolsuper said 6 months ago:

Quinoa Cliquey Segue ... I had the exact same experience with these three and probably more. I'd love to see more examples if you have any

williamDafoe said 6 months ago:

My brother in law was taught to sight-read (recognize words on sight and not to analyze phonemes) and he always struggled and regretted it!!!

Phonics is the #1 advantage of ALL western languages. The idea that teachers would not leverage the #1 advantage of the entire language just shows how foolish our teacher education system can be!

Don't let teachers screw up your kids with educational FADs! We didn't! We taught our kids at 3.5 - 4.5 to read using phonics before kindergarten! We used:

http://www.headsprout.com .

Our kids loved it! The risk of these FADs damaging your child's entire education would make this program cheap even if they charged $1000 (it's $200 - a small 10% increase over the last 14 years!)

pbhjpbhj said 6 months ago:

My oldest was in the vanguard of phonics in our local schools in the UK. His spelling is terrible because he spells things phonetically, which simply doesn't work in English.

rbobby said 6 months ago:

> His spelling is terrible

There's a fix for that... MS Word and browsers :)

Word's little red underline dramatically improved my spelling. Words that I would habitually misspell would annoy me with that little red underline. I'd concentrate on the word and the correct spelling and eventually I stopped misspelling it.

My favorite example... their... almost always I'd write "thier" (the few times I'd write "their" I'd doubt myself and switch it to "thier"). Nowadays I almost never misspell it (it also helps me sometimes to think "the IR").

Without Word's instant spell checking I'd still be a bad speller who'd spend too long running the spellchecker.

googlesux said 6 months ago:

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nyCA said 6 months ago:

How about giving kids books instead of a stupid app? Talking about damaging kids...

WalterBright said 6 months ago:

Phonetic spelling is probably the greatest invention in written languages since paper.

I am constantly amazed that teachers on the front lines fail to recognize this. I'm saddened that UI designers keep replacing phonetically spelled words with icons and emojis.

jcranmer said 6 months ago:

> Phonetic spelling is probably the greatest invention in written languages since paper.

Paper dates to about 100 AD. The Greek alphabet, which is the first full alphabet (that records both vowels and consonants), dates to about 800 BC. Therefore, phonetic spelling predates paper by at least 900 years. Possibly older, if you want to count later cuneiform (which is mostly a syllabary) or Egyptian or Phoenician (abjads, lacking vowels) as phonetic spelling.

WalterBright said 6 months ago:

Papyrus dates back much further.


jacobolus said 6 months ago:

Akkadian was written with phonetic cuneiform from maybe 2500 BCE.

AdieuToLogic said 6 months ago:

> Phonetic spelling is probably the greatest invention in written languages since paper.

> I am constantly amazed that teachers on the front lines fail to recognize this.

Some have. One system which embodies what you desire in interactive multimedia form is:


voldacar said 6 months ago:

>For example, a child who says "horse" when the word was "house" is probably relying too much on visual, or graphic, cues. A teacher in this case would encourage the child to pay more attention to what word would make sense in the sentence.

WTF? Wouldn't you just tell the child to slow down, look at the letters that make up the word, and speak the word out loud? This makes zero sense whatsoever

benj111 said 6 months ago:

This doesn't seem that unreasonable.

I remember getting my bs and ds mixed up, that isnt going to be helped by spelling out the word.

Then theres the fact that English isn't a 100% phonic language. Spelling out 'knife' isn't going to get you to the correct pronunciation.

I could see this being applied to a slightly older child that has already learnt the sounds and is starting to recognise them as whole words. It seems to me that it's formalising what readers already do. You barely read each word, just scanning, inserting the word that fits in context. If there was a one page essay on houses, I doubt more than half (?) of people would notice the 'horse' in the middle of it.

jdm2212 said 6 months ago:

Yup! And that sane approach (look at the letters that make up the word, and speak the word out loud) is phonics.

voldacar said 6 months ago:

It's staggering to me that something so simple and obvious even needs to have a specific name like "phonics". That's just called reading lol. It's so bizarre how these people get put in positions of power over our educational system

jdm2212 said 6 months ago:

According to my parents (who were actually alive then), there was a backlash against more traditional educational approaches (particularly anything involving memorization) in the '60s. Education reoriented towards teaching students to be creative and think critically rather than accept received wisdom. Whole language caught on as part of that -- teach kids to _think_ rather than just follow an algorithm. Unfortunately in this case the algorithm is a fundamental necessity needed for higher level work.

Edit: commenter below links to Tom Lehrer's New Math, and yeah the crap they made me do in math class ("write a paragraph reflecting on what you learned about multiplication") is also an instance of this 60s reaction against rigorously and uncritically learning foundational material so you can do meaningful critical thought once you've mastered the basics.

csa said 6 months ago:

> According to my parents (who were actually alive then), there was a backlash against more traditional educational approaches (particularly anything involving memorization) in the '60s.

Yeah. This was the cognitive revolution after a long period of (excessive, imho) behaviorism.

The pendulum swang too far in the other direction in some cases.

thundergolfer said 6 months ago:

I just read Why Knowledge Matters by E. D Hirsch Jr and in that book he does contend that this sort of thing happened around the 60s in the USA and also prominently analyses France’s adoption of similar practices in around 1980-90 that had the same negative effects on math and literacy.

thaumasiotes said 6 months ago:

> the crap they made me do in math class ("write a paragraph reflecting on what you learned about multiplication")

Shockingly, this has come back into style. My brother's high school math classes have been of this type for the past couple of years.

kevin_thibedeau said 6 months ago:

Tom Lehrer's take on this matter:


eukaryote31 said 6 months ago:

English is NOT an easy language to "just read". Compared to many other languages, it is very very hard to tell how a word should be pronounced from its spelling owing to the sheer irregularity. Just because you, as an adult who has spent decades reading English, find it easy doesn't make it easy for children.

tylorr said 6 months ago:

I believe there are some languages that are not phonetic, you cannot read them by sound out the parts of the word.

csa said 6 months ago:

Can you name one that does not have a phonetic system as well?

Note that Japanese has kana, and Chinese has pinyin and bopomofo/zhuyin.

Other than that... ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics?

Please let me know if you are aware of more.

voldacar said 6 months ago:

I'm not the parent, but the ancient sumerian cuneiform script comes to mind.

Egyptian hieroglyphics did have a set of phonetic glyphs as well as the more complex logographic ones

tuomosipola said 6 months ago:

Yes. Egyptian hieroglyphs have a full set of consonants, so you could write it that way. They just didn't because of historical spelling.

As you said Sumerian could be an example of totally "three step cue" system.

Grue3 said 6 months ago:

Chinese didn't always have pinyin... and Japanese didn't always have kana (it used to be spelled exclusively with Chinese characters, though some characters were used phonetically, and kana resulted from the simplification of these characters).

said 6 months ago:
adrianN said 6 months ago:

at least in classic chinese the pronunciation of the script differed by region. several mutually incomprehensible languages shared identical textforms,as far as i understand it.

milesskorpen said 6 months ago:

I think the point here is that reading & understanding what the text is trying to communicate is more important than any specific word. I think that’s reasonable.

yorwba said 6 months ago:

> look at the letters that make up the word, and speak the word out loud

This is harder than it appears. "House": [h] [ɒ] [ʊ] [s] [iː] (or whatever pronunciation they teach in phonics) ... [hɒʊsiː] isn't an English word. Or maybe it is, but you don't not it yet, because you're just beginning to learn to read and there are many words you don't know. But probably it's some word that sounds similar. "Horsie" [hɔɹsi]? Pretty close, that's probably it.

Of course there are additional rules that can help disambiguate (e.g. "e" at end is frequently silent), but a beginner isn't going to know them all. So telling them to think about whether the word they came up with fits with the context and using pictures to help with error correction isn't terribly wrong. Having the teacher intervene when the kid misreads something may be better, but it requires the teacher to be present in the first place.

Where the three-cue method fails seems to be in the order of presentation. By showing them the picture first, the kids learn to guess the text without reading at all. If the book is full of sentences like "Look at the X." next to a picture of X, you don't need to be able to read to figure out what the text next to the caterpillar is going to say. According to my flawed understanding of cognition, this is going to condition the kids to think that the picture is a more reliable predictor of what they have to read out loud than the letters on the page, so they're going to focus their attention on that.

If on the other hand the picture were on the next page, you could still use it to confirm you read correctly, while guaranteeing that the predictor-predicted relationship doesn't draw attention to the wrong place.

fanf2 said 6 months ago:

“Magic E” and “silent E” are nearly the first non-phonetic spellings that children learn in Britain, while they are learning the alphabet. And diphthongs come right after. “House” is a word they learn pretty quickly.

yorwba said 6 months ago:

Sure, for each individual case they can learn some rule or exception for that specific word. But it takes some time to learn them all. "Check whether what you just read makes sense in context" is a general rule that can be applied to discover mistakes.

I wasn't suggesting that "house" vs "horse" is a particularly difficult distinction, but rather that just looking at the letters is not enough. Kids really do need those additional rules, and until they've learned them, some kind of error correction is necessary.

ajuc said 6 months ago:

It's very funny looking at this discussion from a mostly-phonetic writing system POV.

In Polish the system is regular (even the exceptions) and nobody considers trying to teach kids not to exploit that. You just remember how each letter sounds and then the dozen of so special combinations (which are still mostly regular). And you can read.

Yes you learn to read slow at first, and then you develop fast reading by yourself, it's natural and comes with reading a lot. I don't know anybody reading sound-by-sound past the age of 10, and usually kids learn to read whole words after they read their first long book (traditionally it's "Kids from Bullerbyn" here).

I wonder how much longer it takes to teach kids reading such complicated writing system like English. Here it takes about 1 year, usually when they are in the first class of school.

Avamander said 6 months ago:

Now imagine having a language like Estonian (or Finnish) as your first language, basically every letter has one sound corresponding to it, the length of any vowel is signified by how many there are and stress is always on the first syllable.. Exceptions are incredibly rare, one can count them on a single hand.

The concept of a spelling bee made literally 0 sense to me until I had to actually learn English.

CarVac said 6 months ago:

Imagine a spelling bee of all the European languages where you have to determine what language a word is and then spell it...

That's an English spelling bee.

danaris said 6 months ago:

That's actually very much what spelling (or pronunciation, going the other way) is like in English, because there are rules for spelling English words—it's just that there are several sets depending on which language we mugged the word from.

wbl said 6 months ago:

Not just European: a few Hebrew words and the rare Inuit loanword can also make it.

ajuc said 6 months ago:

In Polish stress is always on the second-last syllable and all sounds have the same length, there's no concept of long sounds ;)

But we do have 3 sounds with multiple letters possible (ó/u, ch/h, rz/ż or sz) so we have something like a spelling bee in schools, just the other way - teacher reads a story and kids have to write it down correctly.

It's so damn close to a fully phonetic system that it frustrates me we didn't go the last few miles and made it fully phonetic when the last reform happened ;)

skolsuper said 6 months ago:

Thai also: there are 19+ vowels but they all sound only one way wherever they appear. Sometimes if I don't know how to pronounce a brand name, I'll try to find their Thai packaging and read it there.

Unfortunately they do have some loan words from Sanskrit that are irregular, and the system for writing tones is needlessly arcane (there are 3 arbitrary classes of consonants that you just have to memorise, and the tone markers change meaning depending on class)

tuomosipola said 6 months ago:

Same here. This whole discussion is funny and absurd. Finnish is really phonetic in its spelling (there are about three exceptions that come to my mind right now). There's also not that much historical baggage, so reforms have been possible.

We rote-learned French spelling at and early age and I can still read French.

English, on the other hand, has one of the most difficult alphabetic spelling systems. I have used English for tens of years and I still have problems pronouncing a word now and then. One of the problems being that English doesn't indicate stress (which native speakers automatically know).

jnwatson said 6 months ago:

That we have spelling tests and spelling contests through secondary school is indicative that it takes roughly forever.

ajuc said 6 months ago:

That's only about writing, not reading. And it's exactly because our system is only simple one-way (letters->sounds), but not the other way (1 sound can be represented with many letter combinations so you have to learn rules and exceptions to write correctly).

You never ask kids "read this word" or "how is this word pronounced" because that's always obvious.

I would prefer if we fixed our system the other way as well, it wouldn't take much, we can start by removing rz, ch and ó and replacing them as needed with ż/sz, h, and u. Suddenly we have like 1 year at school free to teach other actually useful stuff :)

It's not like it's impossible - we already had orthography reform in early 20th century and another minor one in 90s.

jfk13 said 6 months ago:

> You never ask kids "read this word" or "how is this word pronounced" because that's always obvious.

Except when it isn't. Colonel? Yacht? Victuals? Boatswain?

Of course, we shouldn't forget Mark Twain's proposal: https://www.plainlanguage.gov/resources/humor/spelling-in-th...

nkoren said 6 months ago:

Wait, WTF? I'm 43 years old, have been reading at a college level since I was 7, scored at the 100th percentile in the language component of the GMAT, and that's how you pronounce "victuals"?!? How did I miss that?

Point well made!

ajuc said 6 months ago:

Sorry I misunderstood the previous post I thought it disagreed with me about Polish. We do have spelling tests in Polish too, but only one way not both ways like in English.

We have tons of Latin, Greek, German, French, Italian, English loan words but we transcribe them consistently with the rest of the language: inżynier, wiktuały, donżon, jacht, komputer, opcja, pałac, skwer, hipermarket.

Kids don't need to know which language it came from, the pronunciation rules are the same.

You might say English is late-binding and Polish is early-binding language when it comes to phonetics - we decide how the word is pronounced and change the spelling when we adopt a word to out language, you do it each time you use the word :)

jfk13 said 6 months ago:

Ah - looking back up the thread, I can see it's not always clear which language was in focus. The mention of "spelling tests and spelling contests through secondary school" immediately made me think of the American tradition of "spelling bees", so I missed that you were referring to Polish... sorry!

DanBC said 6 months ago:

> Except when it isn't. Colonel? Yacht? Victuals? Boatswain?

None of those are Polish words.

said 6 months ago:
ianbicking said 6 months ago:

I sometimes wonder if we need a better phonics. Doing it by letters feels crude, it requires a big gestalt moment when the kid puts the sounds together, and overemphasizes our very malleable vowels.

Something based more on syllables would seem better to me. Consider a simple work like “back”: kids sound out buh-ah-kuh which is a completely crazy version of the real word. You can’t say a B without a vowel, but instead of using the actual vowel (a) consonants usually get an “uh” added to them.

Learning syllables means learning maybe 5-10 times as many sounds, but then it’s also easy to add “ing” and “sh” and all the many combinations of letters that can’t be individually decoded.

The second problem is the kid has to pick out those letter combinations even though words are just a stream of letters. I wonder if it would be supportive to write the words in multiple colors to show the internal structure?

I feel like this must all exist already in some curriculum...?

rossriley said 6 months ago:

Modern phonics teaching introduces digraphs and trigraphs at an early stage of the process, so children learn to recognise these. My partner is a specialist phonics teacher and places a dot underneath each digraph, trigraph or individual letter sound so that they can quickly recognise the components.

So boil will have a dot under b, one under o-i and one under the l.

They can then spot that oi is a digraph; in the early stages they do this by saying out loud, an o and a i make 'oy'

ascorbic said 6 months ago:

They also learn "split digraphs" like "a_e", so they know the different between e.g. "fat" and "fate". I was amazed by how quickly my kids picked this stuff up when they started school (at 5). They were both reading and writing full sentences before the end of the first term. Phonics is a great system.

ebalit said 6 months ago:

In french, the phonics method is called "syllabic". It's also called "B.A. BA" as it is generally the first pair that is learned.

"B.A BA" is also used as synonymous of the basics knowledge of any domain, equivalent to "101" in english.

It seems to me that reading with syllabic is the first time we learn how to solve a problem by decomposing it into many simpler subproblems. This seems like a great teaching in addition to being able to read.

teilo said 6 months ago:

This is already being done. In fact, that's central to almost any phonics course. Phonics isn't about letters in isolation. It's about letters in context. You start with the basic sounds, and quickly move onto letter pairings / groupings and how they effect the sound.

To use your example, the -ack suffix is shown with a whole bunch of words on a single card to make the idea plain: back, sack, pack, black, tack, etc.

So what you suggest is quite common in home and private school curriculums.

taneq said 6 months ago:

> Consider a simple work like “back”: kids sound out buh-ah-kuh which is a completely crazy version of the real word.

It doesn't sound the same but there's a clear pathway from "buh-ah-kuh" to "buahkuh" to "back", and it's one you can follow from arbitrary words.

Sesame Street was teaching kids to sound out words like this back in the 80s. Has everyone in the U.S. education system forgotten these guys? https://youtu.be/chHz3bo3f1U

SPascareli13 said 6 months ago:

Some languages are more based on syllables than English, like Portuguese for example.

When I was first learning English, being a portuguese speaker, I thought it would be easy to learn english, I just had to know the english syllables and translate words syllable by syllable. To my dismay, not only that doesn't work, english barely has a concept of syllables that makes any sense.

So I wonder if languages that are have more phonetic writing like Korean for example, have better readers than other languages.

DanBC said 6 months ago:

> You can’t say a B without a vowel, but instead of using the actual vowel (a) consonants usually get an “uh” added to them.

Sure, but you can do better than a long buh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwTkcfKRj00

Note that this short-b sound is only introductory. Children soon move past that to pairs with the other letters.

Marsymars said 6 months ago:

Reading is both one of the great pleasures in my life, and an invaluable tool for acquiring new knowledge. It horrifies me to think that millions could be denied those pleasures and tools because of easily-remedied educational failures.

LocalH said 6 months ago:

Nobody gives a shit about things like that. They're too busy worried about left vs right politics, or religion vs secular belief, or any host of other relatively unimportant issues, to even notice this happens. I'd imagine this is worse in the US as well, given the large cultural adversity to intelligence in the first place.

wahern said 6 months ago:

A couple decades ago phonics was a huge issue in the culture wars. For people of a certain age and political bent phonics represents a dumbing-down of early education; a concession to lower-class kids and especially of minorities. As I recall (as an adolescent observer) the debate overlapped with the controversy regarding ebonics, with which phonics might be somewhat conflated in people's minds.

If there's an analog today it's Common Core, or something related to Common Core. It doesn't lend itself as well to us vs them politics, though, as it's mostly a constellation of issues about which everybody has something negative to say. And I think that's true more generally--K-12 education is a quintessential political talking point. Everybody has strong opinions, they're just all largely the same uninformed opinions. It takes effort to keep people split along party lines, so you don't see the same persistent talking points across the years. Take vouchers--briefly a strongly divisive issue along party lines, but now a very muddy topic. People still have strong opinions, there's just no simple narrative for the media to play on.

LocalH said 6 months ago:

To me it speaks to this desire people have to have input in a field that they don't know or understand. Somehow, when it comes to education, people feel like they have a right to decide how their kids are taught, even though they know nothing about efficient and non-damaging teaching methods. They don't like change as well, many of them probably say "that's how I learned to read, so it's good enough for everyone".

I used to be naive and think that everything should go to popular vote. Now I realize how infeasible and futile that would be. It would end up being an unmitigated disaster as people fight over everything instead of just a few hot-button issues.

fiblye said 6 months ago:

That chart for reading proficiency among 12th graders is rather... shocking.

Is there similar data for other countries available? It'd be interesting to know if this is an issue unique to America (among developed nations), shared among English-speaking countries, or if it's a problem equally distributed across the world.

csa said 6 months ago:

Ehhh... it uses some terms of art that might be slightly misleading to those not familiar with the field.

The chart specifically lists “proficient” and “advanced” at 12th grade. What do those words mean?


For “proficient”, the “inferences” and “interpretative statements” components will rule out most readers.

For reference, these are some of the skills that higher level SAT and GRE reading questions attempt to evaluate.

The way one could (somewhat crudely) relabel that data is “what percentage of 12 graders could plausibly read college-level texts”. Interestingly, the college attendance numbers match these percentages fairly closely.

phkahler said 6 months ago:

I like to recommend a kids video called "The Letter Factory". Start around. Age 3. Then move on to "The Word Factory". The 3rd in the series is not nearly as good in my opinion, but those two gave my kid a great start on reading. And they're fun.

mkagenius said 6 months ago:

Nobody teaches to picture the story though. Mostly what we read are some actions, almost always. Actions need to mentally pictured to get involved and have a superior understanding. Without lack of this skill, we are distracted by our vision.

Half the time my brain is thinking of other things while I am reading something. There is too much distraction in your while you are reading something. Even your own eyes will give you unnecessary visuals like "wow look at the font and the color and how the corners of the phone is rounded, the url of chrome changed to a new round url bar" "https is just a symbol of lock in black color"

viburnum said 6 months ago:

My kid’s school did mostly phonics with a fair amount of sight reading for common words. What a weird thing to be an absolutist about.

rossdavidh said 6 months ago:

So, it all makes sense, but by this theory, it seems like the english words "through" and "tough" and "benign" should be really hard to learn, compared to "true" and "stuff" and wine". Also, English ought to be harder to learn to read than, say, German or Spanish. But I don't know of any evidence that English-speaking countries have lower literacy than Spanish- or German-speaking countries.

I don't mean that phonics isn't useful, but the idea that having multiple strategies can kill your ability to read sounds fishy.

wahern said 6 months ago:

I think the point is that for early readers three-cueing (MSV) is counter-productive as it neglects the skill of identifying the words themselves. Reading must come before reading comprehension. Just like you have to memorize numbers before you can do basic arithmetic, or learn algebraic notation before you can learn algebra--that is, algebra as a tool for exploring and applying higher-order mathematical concepts.

It seems to me that MSV is precisely the method that illiterate people use to fake literacy. Likewise for people who've developed a very minimal foreign language proficiency--they can get by in certain contexts but they're not in a position to constructively build fluency. If MSV were sufficient alone such people (and I include myself when it comes to foreign language proficiency) wouldn't be stuck at a dead-end.

MSV is obviously an essential skill, just not for acquiring foundational literacy. For one thing, early readers already understand the vocabulary. At that age they wouldn't be reading words like "benign" or even "tough"--some children might not fully understand them, but in any event learning to identify and distinguish such words is unnecessary at that stage. The primary task is to teach them how to identify enough of their existing vocabulary on the page that they can read sentences, paragraphs, pages, books, etc--enough to support basic narratives and concepts, especially unfamiliar ones. Only once they can read proficiently can reading become an independent channel for language acquisition and comprehension, where higher-order reasoning skills like MSV can be constructively applied, including toward furthering their literacy.

WalterBright said 6 months ago:

"through" and "tough" aren't hard, because by the time the reader is exposed to them they are well trained in phonics and are able to handle exceptions to the rules with little difficulty.

I learned to read with Dick+Jane, but was taught phonetic reading.

I remember looking over my mom's shoulder while she read books that were just walls of text. I couldn't read, and thought reading was some magical skill. It was pretty exciting to learn to read and then I could read anything. It was like someone turned the lights on.

jdm2212 said 6 months ago:

Anecdata: As long as I knew her, my ex had the difficulties described in the article. She blamed how she was taught to read in school -- specifically not having been taught phonics. I figured that was nonsense, and blamed a peculiar-to-her learning disability.

At some point I read Steven Pinker's "The Language Instinct" (which is 20+ years old at this point!), which describes all the research on learning to read... and which pretty conclusively proved to me that my ex was right. For at least some subset of kids, not learning phonics leads to a lifelong reading issues.

AdieuToLogic said 6 months ago:

While phonics certainly are important to reading comprehension, IMHO a teaching technique which the article does not address is described in:

Reasons to Teach Word Stems and Roots[0]

0 - https://mrsrenz.com/reasons-to-teach-word-stems-and-roots/

gamedori said 6 months ago:

That is a useful system for middle readers with limited volcabulary to jump into high school / professional reading, but not so good for very early readers. Note how all the grecoroman stems are defined in terms of germanic words, which are phonetic.

The article is concerned with students who find words like "rabbit" challenging, not with students figuring out "neologism".

AdieuToLogic said 6 months ago:

Point taken.

Perhaps this comment[0] I posted earlier more directly addresses the article's intent in how to help teach reading skills.

0 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20791015

felipemnoa said 6 months ago:

>>and which pretty conclusively proved to me that my ex was right

I wouldn't make a conclusion on just one data point.

jdm2212 said 6 months ago:

I ultimately agreed with her based on reading about the research, which is at this point 30+ years old -- and popularized 20+ years ago.

taneq said 6 months ago:

> the idea that having multiple strategies can kill your ability to read sounds fishy.

That's not the idea. The idea is that not understanding the basic building blocks of your language can kill your ability to read. I find it mind-boggling that this is at all controversial.

mxcrossb said 6 months ago:

In the article they mention an experiment where they showed readers words in and out of context, to determine whether cues are important. It seems they could repeat this with phonetically simple and phonetically difficult words, and see if there is a difference.

gumby said 6 months ago:

Indeed phonics make English spelling harder as English spelling is more etymologically conservative than it is phonetic.

It was fascinating watching my kid learn to read: his school hired a native English speaker to teach English, using phonics. He preferred reading to almost any activity, but not in English (though we had plenty of books in that language) until I switched to reading with him only in English for a few months. The phonics led him down a false path.

trdtaylor1 said 6 months ago:

Not in my personal case. My school didn't teach phonics, through 6 months of remedial tutoring with phonics I was able to go from being deemed a potential special ed student to being the most 'gifted' one. My full ride scholarship through academics stems from the course correction my parents made to the phonics path. I will be teaching my own children phonics with followups on the non-phonetically standard words.

RandomBacon said 6 months ago:

Anecdote: My mother told me I was taught to read using phonics.

I don't remember learning to read except one very brief memory where I was trying to read Sam Who Never Forgets.

However in 4th grade I was reading at a 12th grade level, and I was reading 300pg novels in 2-3 days while classmates were reading short kids books.

Phonics aparently worked very well for me. Though I'm not always that good with spelling.

jdm2212 said 6 months ago:

This was my experience also. My mom taught me phonics at home, while my peers learned whole language at school. And (quite possibly as a result) I was reading much longer books at a much earlier age than my peers.

musicale said 6 months ago:

English spelling is so dreadful that we actually have spelling competitions for students up to the 7th and 8th grades! For example, the US has a National Spelling Bee where (I believe) the winner receives personal congratulations from the president.

Dyslexia (or at least diagnosed dyslexia) is also much more common in the English-speaking world than in countries with more phonetic writing systems.

wallace_f said 6 months ago:

>a third of fourth graders can't read at a basic level

Academia/education in America needs to move past this "can't fail" philosophy.

Bad schools need to fail. Good schools need to grow.

jumelles said 6 months ago:

What does "fail" mean? What would happen to the children who attend a school that has "failed"?

wallace_f said 6 months ago:

Same thing that happens with everything else. They patronize a different service provider.

DecoPerson said 6 months ago:

In support of this comment:

In Australia, I saw a number of students transferred into the public school I attended because of poor results at other schools. They would be taken out of class when we were doing something beyond their level, so they could spend 1-on-1 time with a tutor who was trained in catching students up to their expected level. Some students, when transferred from another school, would repeat a year if necessary.

I've heard of multiple occurrences where an Australian public or private school was been investigated for poor results, and during these times parents were encouraged to transfer their children to other schools as the reduced demand would give the school staff room to improve.

(Tangent: I repeated year 4 (9-10yo) because my Mum thought I was "too small" and would be bullied. This led to me being bored by the materials. I thank the spare time this awarded me to why I discovered my Dad's computer, Macromedia Flash, and ActionScript 2.0. Starting programming at such a young age, especially in a C-style language, gave me a massive advantage in my programming career and perhaps life in general.)

xnyan said 6 months ago:

In America that idea is absolutely pointless. For almost all children, local property taxes are the source source of education funding. A local school board administers this money and has a huge amount of discretion in spending it with practically no oversight. They were responsible for hiring the previous school administration and will also hire the next,

If you have any idea of how to get out of this situation I'd be thrilled to hear it.

wallace_f said 6 months ago:

What is unique about education that it must be funded in such a particular "situation" in the first place, versus all other service industries?

wvenable said 6 months ago:

I haven't noticed this so much with reading, but it seems like the same misguided strategy is also being used for math. Instead of teaching the fundamentals (like algorithms for long division) and instead they teach all the mental tricks for doing quick math.

This should be especially concerning for software developers -- it seems they no longer teach (at an early age) the very things that made me like math and eventually computers.

learnstats2 said 6 months ago:

I'd say the pathway to fluent reading is:

1. no concept of reading, context is not helpful

2. start to read, use context to cover any weaknesses and gaps

3. become fluent reader, no longer need context to cover weaknesses and gaps.

As an experienced educator, I would say there is no process of learning (anything) that doesn't follow this path, whether using context is formally taught or not.

It's an important part of teaching to understand where weaknesses are being papered over and support fixing that. It may be that one teaching method or another makes certain weaknesses easier to identify or fix, but in the end, enough dedicated practice is going to sort out these weaknesses either way.

The article presents this as though context is bad - but you need context to bridge from the start to the end of the process.

The article repeatedly says "poor reader" when it is really talking about a stage of learning to read (the anecdotes describe people stuck on this stage).

In my opinion: This is a really dangerous way of representing the problem of educating people, which denies agency to learners.

scotty79 said 6 months ago:

> 1. no concept of reading, context is not helpful

> 2. start to read, use context to cover any weaknesses and gaps

> 3. become fluent reader, no longer need context to cover weaknesses and gaps.

That's completely not how you learn to read.

Step 2. is start to learn what sounds to make when you are seeing given combination of letters. And then learn gradually how to make the sounds faster and for longer sequences of letters. Until you reach step 3 where you can blurt a word or even few at a time as one or few sounds at good pace.

At no point the context comes into play. It usually is even harmful because it makes you make stuff up instead of reading. Often wrong, occasionally correct which seems even more harmful.

Context is important only after you read completely fluently and begin to read new domain of knowledg with completely unknow vocabulary. Then you can get some words meaning from context. Although you should always check if you guessed correctly.

If you would like to know more about how most people in the world learn to read please find out how kids learn to read in other languages than english. English is a bit quirky but in no way unique. What's unique is english approach to reading teaching. I don't think anywhere else kids are encouraged to make stuff up as they go.

learnstats2 said 6 months ago:

I... don't agree.

Context is noticeably awkward when you get it wrong, and I'd say the article appears to have identified this as a problem and presents it as "this is a problem therefore it must be fixed". But, most of the time, there is not that awkwardness: context is extremely helpful to learners - of any subject.

It also appears that you are describing how to learn to read in an alphabetic system - so it's not immediately obvious that what you have said could apply to "most people in the world".

conscion said 6 months ago:

Context is noticeably awkward when a reader already knows how to read. Take the example in the article.

> But Rodney said: "My dog likes to lick his bone."

The context makes perfect sense and matches the picture. The issue is 'Rodney' didn't actually read half the words.

learnstats2 said 6 months ago:

I did read the article and was referring to exactly that. This happened once to this child and so I'd call it cherry-picking. It's not as easy to observe when context is helpful as when it fails.

As an adult, I probably only read about half the words in a useful e-mail. (hopefully with more skill than a child reading a picture book). I wouldn't call that an issue.

scotty79 said 6 months ago:

During my learning one could often hear teacher saying "Oi! Read! Don't make stuff up!"

I think kids should be rather discouraged than encouraged to rely on context.

praestigiare said 6 months ago:

This article is discussing the transition from #1 to #2 in your pathway. It cites multiple studies showing that the method being criticized is not effective.

em-bee said 6 months ago:

does the teaching method provide a way to get beyond that stage? while the anecdotes are about people stuck in this stage, the article strongly implies that the teaching method stops at that stage and does not help readers to get beyond it. in other words, it suggests that according to this teaching method this stage defines a good reader.

ptx said 6 months ago:

> For Goodman, accurate word recognition was not necessarily the goal of reading. The goal was to comprehend text. If the sentences were making sense, the reader must be getting the words right, or right enough.

That's like saying "if the code compiles, it must be correct enough". Seems like a terrible idea.

scotty79 said 6 months ago:

Such a long article on reading and teaching and no mention of syllables. Is this completley unrecognized concept in eanglish reading teaching?

Teaching kids to read in polish goes like this: letters -> syllables -> words -> sentences (with an overlap of the steps).

Known words and sentences are used throughout the process to illustrate the things you are learning at the moment and sort of tease what you will be able to do when you master current step.

I imagine in language where same letters can have so many different sounds the concept of syllables should be even more useful.

Teaching kids to read sentences before they can recognize what sound which letter bunches mean seems like telling kid to swim before he learns to float or tread water.

mabbo said 6 months ago:

The danger here is that many of the patterns that go from letters -> syllables are completely messed up in English. (Come to think of it, the entire darned language can be like that).

I remember in grade 3 having a teacher give a lesson on syllables. We would clap along with each syllable in the word. She asked me to do this for "Fire". I clapped twice, as there is clearly an audible Fy-er" two syllables in Canadian English. She told me I was wrong, clapped once, and said "Fire" quickly. She "knew" that a word with "consonant - vowel - consonant - vowel" pattern makes a single syllable. Never mind that my ears, and the rest of the students' ears, can hear that she's wrong.

The end result was her confusing the class about what syllables are. I remember the lesson well, because what I really learned was that teachers mean well but aren't always right.

scotty79 said 6 months ago:

I don't mean syllables as in precise definition (they are kind of fuzzy as your expeirience shows) or especially not counting them or learning which you should put the accent on.

I'm talking about the fact that if you know how fi-(i)re sounds, you can guess how hi-(i)re sounds or even ty-(y)re or de-si-(i)re.

dqv said 6 months ago:

That's more or less what phonics is. It's discussed in the article. There's a combination of learning how sounds map to letters/letter combinations and then learning how they are used in real words (with spelling tests). The teacher shows the letter combinations first and the students sound them out. Then the reverse happens: the teacher sounds out the letters and the students have to write down every letter combination that corresponds with that sound. Then there is a spelling test that uses the sounds with a lot of edge cases where patterns/guessing won't work. They would also have students read aloud to make sure they were moving along smoothly.

knolax said 6 months ago:

The flawed idea in question are the following strategies:

> memorizing words, using context to guess words, skipping words they don't know

Personally I think the phonics vs. sight words debate in English pedagogy misses the point entirely. The problem is that English divides words sentences into "words" and not morphemes. This way words like 'disambiguation' or 'boustrophedon' appear as a hard to parse blob regardless of which strategy you use. In my experience, schools have already started teaching "word roots" and the strategies needed to break words down into those roots. This to me seems like the key strategy.

pdonis said 6 months ago:

Word roots are the key strategy for the next step after phonics: figuring out the meaning of what you're reading. But in order to do that, you first have to have the skill of matching what's written on the page with the speech system in your brain, and that's what phonics is for. You learn to speak by making sounds; phonics matches what's written on the page with the sounds you learned to speak. Just as children can speak words whose meanings they don't yet understand, they can read words whose meanings they don't yet understand.

From the article, it seems like the original author of the MSV system got this backwards: he thought the understanding had to come first. It doesn't. The understanding builds on the phonetic foundation in reading just as it does in speaking.

knolax said 6 months ago:

I'm not sure sounds are needed to link to the language system in the brain. I remember as a child that there were certain words that I never bothered assigning sounds to until long after I internalized them. Even if sound is needed, I don't understand why the author couldn't just assign the sound of the letters in a word being read out in order for words she didn't know. I'm sure we all do that for certai n bash commands. I do admit though that I don't know much about developmental psychology so it's just my two cents.

pdonis said 6 months ago:

> I'm not sure sounds are needed to link to the language system in the brain.

In the sense that, for example, deaf people can still learn speech, just not with sounds, this is of course true. But I'm talking about the case of a child with normal hearing and speech, where meanings are linked to spoken and heard sounds when they learn to speak.

> there were certain words that I never bothered assigning sounds to until long after I internalized them

Words that you read, or words that you spoke? I'm going to assume the former since speaking a word is assigning a sound to it. If you don't assign sounds to words that you read, how would you speak them? If somebody asked you to repeat what you just read, what would you say?

> Even if sound is needed, I don't understand why the author couldn't just assign the sound of the letters in a word being read out in order for words she didn't know.

That's what phonics is: you learn to sound out words you don't know letter by letter. Gradually you build up skill to the point where you can effortlessly translate written words to sounds, or more precisely to the structures in your brain that you previously linked to spoken or heard sounds when you learned to speak.

knolax said 6 months ago:

> If you don't assign sounds to words that you read, how would you speak them? If somebody asked you to repeat what you just read, what would you say?

I didn't speak them. I didn't need to. If I actually needed to read it then obviously I would've given it a closer look and derive some sounds for it, but it wasn't necessary in order to internalize the word and use it when articulating my thoughts in my mind.

> That's what phonics is: you learn to sound out words you don't know letter by letter.

I'm talking about reading the letters out like an initialism, so assigning the sound "en-em-see-el-ai" to "nmcli". Even without any training in phonics the author must've at least known the names if the letters?

pdonis said 6 months ago:

> I didn't speak them. I didn't need to.

In other words, you weren't using those words to communicate anything to anyone else, just for your own internal thinking. Fair enough.

> Even without any training in phonics the author must've at least known the names if the letters?

A child might know the names of the letters but not know that sounding out words letter by letter is a good idea. The article discusses in some detail that apparently the strategy of sounding out unknown words letter by letter does not occur to children who aren't taught it; instead they use other much less effective strategies that do occur to them.

knolax said 6 months ago:

> A child might know the names of the letters but not know that sounding out words letter by letter is a good idea. The article discusses in some detail that apparently the strategy of sounding out unknown words letter by letter does not occur to children who aren't taught it; instead they use other much less effective strategies that do occur to them.

Oh ok I see. That makes sense.

eljefe900 said 6 months ago:

This article buries the lead.

TLDR: Phonics works, Current strategies don’t.

What actually works is the shortest part of the article. It’s infatuation with what doesn’t work puts what does work more than halfway into the article.

I would have appreciated the article to be structured as “Phonics works, MSV Doesn’t and here’s why they’re different”

MaximumYComb said 6 months ago:

I wasn't aware of the methods used in the US. Here in Australia, we have phonics at my daughters' school and she's coming along really well. My 6.5-year-old daughter is able to read basically anything I put in front of her by sounding through words.

DanBC said 6 months ago:

But make sure she has an age appropriate dictionary so that she can learn what the words mean, as well as being able to sound them out.

I love phonics. It's powerful. But sometimes children are so confident at sounding out words that we miss the fact they don't always understand those words.

eljefe900 said 6 months ago:

My US centric bias is showing. Thanks for the reminder!

I suppose that a phonics lesson in Oz probably sounds a bit different than in the US. And they’re both effective. That’s fun to think about.

heyiforgotmypwd said 6 months ago:

In the early 80's, my parents pulled me out of California's public schools when the state/county ditched phonics for some unproven nonsense, to a private school that was founded on proven teaching methods (name of the school was Challenger). When I reentered a different public school district in grade 3, I was ahead of other students by around 2 grade-levels. In retrospect, the private school was far superior to the public school system, even in an upper-middle class area because the public schools experiment/ed arbitrarily with curriculum in unproven ways on a large scale and didn't seem to be held accountable at a large-scale for playing with children's futures. Instead, individual teachers are micromanaged with outcomes of BS standardized tests. And also, US public schools were further ruined by NCLBA of 2001, and now the head of Navient is in charge of the DOEd. sigh

Bottom line: Find a Waldorf forest school that instills curiosity, excellence and basic subjects using proven methods, because US schools are rearranging the deckchairs while the band is playing... glurg, glurg, glurg.

pts_ said 6 months ago:

The Indian private school educational system does teach phonics which might be why lots of Indian origin kids ace the spelling bee in the US.

yoz-y said 6 months ago:

I was taught with phonics (not English) and one of the reasons was that reading is taught at the same moment as writing. So you learn to write first letters at the same time as you learn to read them. Iirc the first two were M and A

lowbloodsugar said 6 months ago:

I asked my teenager about this, and they described this method as how they read. Any advice on teaching her how to read properly, now that they are a teenager?

milesskorpen said 6 months ago:

I think this article is missing some basics. I know, for example, that Lucy Calkins’ program has a phonics program in _addition_ to the parts referenced in this article.

teilo said 6 months ago:

The article specifically addresses the problems with mixing cueing and phonics when teaching reading.

SubiculumCode said 6 months ago:

So what is a good phonics system for my child? Advice?

DanBC said 6 months ago:

In England you can try Jolly Phonics, or books by Ruth Miskin.


Ruth Miskin (Amazon haven't arranged this page well) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ruth-Miskin/e/B0034N7454

GordonS said 6 months ago:

I used Jolly Phonics with my 2 kids (in Scotland) - they both enjoyed it, and it allowed them to learn all the phonics surprisingly quickly.

I think the major feature of Jolly Phonics is that each phonic is accompanied by an action, which not only makes it fun, but also helps distinguish between similar phonics.

For example, for 'd' you make a drumming motion; for 't', you move your head from side-to-side as if watching a tennis volley.

Can't recommend it enough!

AdieuToLogic said 6 months ago:

There is a reading comprehension system[0] which combines visual association (pictures) with various forms of word identification (spelling, phonemes, sentence composition, etc.).

In short, associating pictures with the words which describe them in various comprehension exercises, increasing in difficulty based on progress, has shown to help students in their reading comprehension.

Perhaps this can help some parents out there.

0 - http://www.explodethecode.com/

whenanother said 6 months ago:

so obviously a scam to destroy public schools and handicap the working class children. if you want to fix this just force the wealthy kids to attend public schools. the reason why the wealthy actively are destroying public institutions is because they are not using it.

patsplat said 6 months ago:

This is a disturbing article to read after watching my son struggling to learn to read.

warabe said 6 months ago:

Thank you for sharing this. It was such a good read.

calf said 6 months ago:

I'm a little confused, was Shakespeare taught phonics?

juped said 6 months ago:

In Shakespeare's day, words didn't even have consistent spellings. Of course he wrote and read phonetically.

calf said 6 months ago:

But English is phonetic (but is it, compared to German or Japanese?) which is conflation with phonics.

The article did not clearly explain what cognitive science has to do with phonics, which AFAIT is a heuristic system for Western languages. So when I studied Chinese as a child, how did I learn to write Chinese, nonphonetically, without confusing horses and ponies? A heuristic is an optimization but not fundamental but the article clearly asserts that phonics is fundamental to language in that if you don't use phonics you get illiterate students... I think there's some conceptual conflation or some middle case being ignored by the author: A) Is [formal instruction in] phonics necessary? v.s. B) Is 3-Cue harmful? These are not proper opposites.

Here's a provocative claim made in a more sciencey article I just found:

"The linguist David Crystal (2003) estimates that the phonics can explain only about 50 percent of English spellings."


And further down:

"As the linguists Venezky (1967) and Carol Chomsky (1970) explained, English prioritizes the consistent spelling of morphemes over the consistent spellings of phonemes."

knolax said 6 months ago:

English's primary strength over other European languages is its use of logography. It's sad to see how most English speakers see that as "BuT iT IsN't PHoNeTicALlY rEgUlaR!". This is despite the fact that phonetic shifts across time and space mean that no writing systen will ever be completely phonetically regular. Phonics can be useful but they can't be fundamental because the impossibility of phonetic regularity means that phonics will always be somewhat misleading.

wisty said 6 months ago:

There's 350 year old books that more or less use phonics - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/06/phonics-taught-3...

Before that ... who knows? I think English was mostly phonetic at the time, with modern inconsistencies being a more modern innovation. Sight-reading was almost unheard of, everyone read by sounding words out aloud (presumably subconsciously sight-reading as they got better at it). Presumably teachers used phonics of some kind since it never even occurred to anyone that people did anything other than read phonetically.

DanBC said 6 months ago:

What do you think literacy rates were in 1550 - 1600?

calf said 6 months ago:

Was Albert Einstein or Richard Feynman taught phonics? Obviously we don't have to be restricted to a specific era as long as it is pre-phonics.

DanBC said 6 months ago:

I'm not sure why pointing to literally geniuses helps us understand how to teach a population how to read. For some people it doesn't matter what method you use. They'll have been taught at home and they will have self-taught the rest.

But, again, what were literacy rates like in 1890 or 1960?

calf said 6 months ago:

The point is that people before phonics were capable of becoming literate without phonics. The article is saying that phonics is necessary, which is stronger than saying phonics improves literacy rates. If phonics were necessary then people pre-phonics would not have written English literature of all sorts. That is the argument.

In other words:

> For some people it doesn't matter what method you use

This is a theory cop-out. If people figured out how to read and write well without phonics, that's worth investigating too. And it's unlikely that they also succeeded just because they were geniuses or had some secret unknowable method.

Also, replying to someone asking a genuine question with totally different question is bad manners, and I'm going ask that not be done here.

VintageCool said 6 months ago:

The point of the article is not that teaching phonics is necessary but that the three-cueing system is detrimental to children learning to read. Phonics is a better system.

The article makes the explicit point that significant percentages of children can learn to read despite being sabotaged by a bad learning system. (In part because some students figured out how to spell words out phonetically in their own.)

The formal phonics system might be recent, but the phonetic nature of our writing system is ancient.

rory096 said 6 months ago:
buckminster said 6 months ago:

What is pre-phonics? My grandparents were to taught to read by sounding out the words more than a century ago. I was also taught that way decades ago. Then it became controversial.

wisty said 6 months ago:

A lot of education experts (teachers, and worse, education academics and bureaucrats) are intelligent, white, upper-middle class people who are interested in academic stuff.

They remember how BORING it was to be forced to memorise times tables and phonics in primary school like the low socio-economic kids. Their parents had taught them to read and do basic arithmetic long before the rest of the class, and they might have benefited a bit of acceleration, so surely making the whole class skip the boring stuff would benefit everyone?

thaumasiotes said 6 months ago:

I feel like a step got skipped here.

1. Covering the times tables in school is pointless when you already know the times tables because you learned them at home.

2. Therefore, people shouldn't learn the times tables?

Saying something shouldn't be taught is a completely different idea from saying that schools shouldn't teach it because incoming students are expected to have learned it already.

wisty said 6 months ago:

There's a Romantic (Rousseau was a major perpetrator) view of education that seems to be based mostly on just whistful thinking and novels.

But I think there is a grain of truth to it.

Emile, or On Education (by Rousseau) proposes an idealistic goal in which a boy is educated by a tutor (a class size of) without being 'denatured' (losing the innocence and good moral quantities that the romantics think small children naturally possess). I'm not sure how realistic this is - Rousseau had five children but he dumped them all in orphanages as soon as they were born, but I think it rings partly true as something that works if you have sufficient inputs. If you have one really good tutor / parent you can raise a child to really understand things without cold but efficient methods like drills.

Imagine you want to teach times tables without using times tables. You can keep track of what the child knows, and work out fun activities that lets them figure these out themselves, and guide them when they have a misunderstanding. But it's going to be labor intensive (for both the child and the tutor) and can't scale. Maybe computer teaching systems will turn drill work into a more fun system for teaching these fundamentals, since it can personalise at scale, but I suspect the opponents of drill will the complain about how soulless machines are pumping lifeless low-level skills into the heads of children who should instead be learning more high-level things in a more humane way. After all they didn't need a computer to teach them how to read, they just picked it up after their parents read with them every night for half a decade.

dqpb said 6 months ago:

Oakland California. Wow. The bay area can't even teach their kids how to read.

momokoko said 6 months ago:

The reason for this debate is that different IQ levels require different techniques. Higher IQ students will be more able to apply patterns and systems from phonics to words seen for the first time.

Lower IQ students tend to struggle with mapping systems onto new material. So the more brute force systems, like memorizing whole words, tends to have more success.

We see similar things in learning mathematics.

AdieuToLogic said 6 months ago:

> The reason for this debate is that different IQ levels need different techniques.

"IQ levels" are almost impossible to measure objectively, excluding medically identified learning disabilities. Reading comprehension difficulties are less a function of fluid intelligence (commonly called "IQ"), and more so environmentally induced. Examples of this are, but not limited to:

- Instability at home

- Lack of parental involvement

- Prejudice, explicit or subliminal, by school staff.

- Hunger and/or fatigue

- Dejection resulting from some combination of the above.

vackosar said 6 months ago:

Even if they are environmentally caused, isn't it still better to personalize to the kids ability at the time of teaching? That is every now and then remix the students into groups for which you would have some optimized strategies to teach?

AdieuToLogic said 6 months ago:

My response was to directly address the concept of intrinsic low verses high IQ dogma.

As far as optimizing teaching techniques, I can only say I believe there is not an easy answer for that. People are different, kids do not operate as adults would, group dynamics sometimes benefit with change and other times not, and I would be hard pressed to think that personalizing to the extent possible would be a bad thing.

In short, IMHO there is no universally applicable solution to the teaching problem domain. Which is likely why so many of us hold teachers in high regard and remember them so well.

EDIT: preposition and indefinite article use.

heyiforgotmypwd said 6 months ago:

The whole notion of IQ seems like a mostly masterful plan to project and instill insecurity in as many future adults as possible:

0. Make the "dumb"/ADD/poor kids feel inferior. Paradoxically, a percentage of people who were told they would never amount to anything often are driven to prove others wrong, and over-achieve later on. Props to them.

1. Make the "smart" kids feel on-the-spot and ashamed that they're embarrassing the "dumb" kids. Also, pulling kids out of class to make them arrange triangles with a timer (IQ "tests"), dropping them into music lessons like trained monkeys and skipping grades because they are expected to be omnipotently-capable might be a bit stressful.

Maybe it would help if there were more striations of progress levels, or with technological assistance, more custom individual edu plans (IEPs) that could maximize each child's progress acceleration vector... do away with collective punishment of outliers by making classes stick to the mean average. Also, if teachers got more involved (maybe with social workers and other support resources) to make sure each student is safe, fed, treated humanely at home and has their needs met so they can learn, that would be awesome.