This post is about supporting the 6 points Dan Willingham raises in his blog in late October, so just over a month ago. Dan’s posts are always about things that most teachers already know – what he does is cit them within research, and state his points in everyday language – rather than “reading-speak” or “teacher-speak” (Please, don’t be offended, teachers, you have a language all your own, mostly driven by the curriculum jargon!)
(As an aside, I’d highly recommend Dan’s recent 2017 book, The Reading Mind (in the visual), which has a lot more detail, about effective teaching of reading and writing, as well as decoding and comprehension, you can read (or scroll down to view, 8mins) an EDWeek talk from 2017 by Dan about this book here… )
Dan confirms the importance of explicit instruction in early decoding skills, like phonemic awareness and phonics. Something that parents used to use nursery rhymes for – they were the precursors to rhyming, which is so important in phonemic awareness. He also confirms that “an extremely small percentage, but greater that zero” of children teach themselves to decode – a fact many teachers are clearly aware of! His next four points hark back to Jeanne Chall’s call in 1967 – YES – that long ago, supporting a balanced approach that includes parents and successful, fun-filled reading experiences.
His fifth point is really important for teachers to take on board – that phonics instruction does NOT have a negative effect on motivation. This has been shared with me by some teachers – my response is simple…
For teachers, phonics may seem boring – why? Because teachers ALREADY ARE EXPERTS IN PHONICS – so they are bored with it – it’s that simple. Surprise – your students are NOT experts in phonics – so for your students, as novice learners, phonics is tricky.
As a professional teacher, responsible for students’ learning, you might have to teach something that you find boring – and as a professional – it’s your “professional duty” to make that fun – NO MATTER HOW YOU FEEL. There has been some research around this for both phonics, as well as maths, that teachers “don’t like teaching this”. Problem is – your students desperately need to be both literate and numerate. So, even though these are boring for your – as an expert in reading and simple number facts – you need to teach this in a positive way, so students are successful and make it FUN, as well as a successful learning experience!
That’s exactly what effective teachers do – ensure their students are learning – even when they don’t want to teach something – and maybe for you it’s not wanting to teach one topic in Science, like electricity or magnetism. One such topic is not so important – literacy and numeracy are critical to the future of your students…
Hopefully, this post will encourage you to look for ways to make explicit teaching both successful and fun – to ensure students are learning - regardless of your own personal feelings!
Here’s my reply to Dan’s post from a month ago:
Thanks Dan, I like this post for lots of reasons - particularly that this conflict is wasteful of time and energy. From my reading, your post tries to focus us all on what works for students' learning - THAT is what I believe is the "core business" of schools = student's learning, each individual student. My work is in reading comprehension, and I know that's not what this post is about - however you hint at it in Statement 4 - oral language comprehension sets the scene for reading comprehension - just like phonemic awareness sets the scene for learning to decode. I like your approach using science, data and evidence of students' learning to plan and direct future instruction - that's what makes any strategy or method effective!;)) best always, Gail