Episode 6: The Reading Wars Part 2: the language basis of reading, parent and teacher advocacy, and future casting with Emily Hanford, Kate Nation, & Norma Craffey
The Reading Wars part 2: Kate Nation updates us on what's been happening since we last spoke to her and Anne Castles about their paper on the reading wars, Emily Hanford tells us about her advocacy for better reading instruction, and Norma Craffey provides her view from the trenches as a teacher and reading specialist
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For the Episode 2 Transcript, Click "Read More" below
Tiffany Hogan: In this special mid-month episode of SeeHearSpeak Podcast, I speak with Emily Hanford, Kate Nation, and Norma Craffey as a follow up to my first Episode on the Reading Wars. That episode has been quite popular with 3000 listens since it’s release in November of last year. The reading wars is a long-standing debate about the best way to teach children to read. Kate updates us on what's been happening since we spoke to her and Anne Castles about their popular open access paper on the reading wars. Emily Hanford tells us about her strong advocacy for better reading instruction. And Norma Craffey provides her view from the trenches as a teacher and reading specialist. We cover a variety of topics including the language basis of reading, parent and teacher advocacy, and what’s on the horizon in education policy. A heads up that this episode contains explicit language around the 1 hour mark.
Per usual, we end our conversation Kate, Emily, and Norma describing their current most exciting projects and favorite books.
This podcast marked the halfway point in my first year. To mark this occasion I’m giving a special shout-out to those who have helped me along the way. Beau Bevens is my skillful web designer, Rouzana Komesidou is a trusted editor, Allie Hanson is my transcription wizard, and Celina Alverez created my fun logo. There are many more I could thank but for now I’ll stop here.
Thank you for listening! And don’t forget to check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com to sign up for email alerts for new episodes and content, read a transcript of this podcast, access articles and resources that we discussed, and find more information about our guests. Also don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast in apple podcast or wherever you are listening.
0:00:02 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to SeeHearSpeak podcast. I'm very excited about today's episode, "Reading Wars, Part Two," and I have Emily Hanford, and Kate Nation, as well as Norma Craffey. And I'm gonna have them introduce themselves. Why don't we start out with Emily.
0:00:21 Emily Hanford: Hi. Thanks for having me. So, I am a correspondent for APM reports. We are the documentary and investigative reporting team at American Public Media, which is public radio. And I have been doing a lot of reporting on reading in particular, over the past couple of years. And I cover education full-time, and I've been doing that since about 2008. So I can talk a little bit later about how I came to reporting on reading in particular, but my reporting on education since 2008 has been in all areas of education from early education, although primarily I've focused on secondary education and post-secondary education over the last decade or so.
0:01:07 TH: Great. Kate.
0:01:09 Kate Nation: Hi. I'm Kate, and I'm here... Speaking to you here today from Oxford in the UK. I'm a experimental psychologist by training, and I've been working on issues to do with the psychology of reading, the cognitive science of reading, and reading related processes for more years than I care to report in public, but 20, 20-plus years. And I guess my work is really sort of centered around the reading wars type thing, over the last year or so, largely as a consequence of a paper I wrote with Anne Castles and Kathleen Rastle, where we used reading wars in the title. And quite a lot of publicity has followed from that.
0:01:51 TH: Great, and Norma.
0:01:52 Norma Craffey: I'm Norma Craffey, and I'm a reading specialist and public school teacher by training. I taught primarily in PreK-2 before I was a reading specialist. And I'm a first-year doctoral student, and my mentor is Dr. Hogan.
0:02:06 TH: Great. So, I'll start with Emily. Could you tell us a little bit about what drives your passion for evidence-based reading instruction through your reporting.
0:02:17 EH: Right. Well, I really knew virtually nothing about how children learn to read, and how they were being taught a few years ago. And my interest in this topic was actually sparked through an interest in particular with kids who have dyslexia, which was also a topic I knew nothing about. I don't have kids who struggled, especially to read. I didn't struggle to read. Some people are kind of surprised by this. They assume I must have found my way into this topic through some kind of personal experience with a struggling reader. That's the way many people find their way into this topic, for a good reason. But I came to this purely through work, through sort of journalistic interest, and I've been reporting on it for more than two years, now, which is unusual. I don't usually stick with a topic this narrowly for that long. But what sustained my interest in reading, and the reading research is... I think it's a huge story that has been largely overlooked, recently, by journalists like me for too long. And I think it's kind of been misunderstood by many people, including journalists.
0:03:24 EH: The reading research is absolutely fascinating, so I'm sort of hooked on just an intellectual level, to be honest. It's just really interesting stuff to be reading about all the time, and talking to people about, and writing about. And I think perhaps, most importantly, there are a lot of struggling readers out there, people who have unidentified dyslexia, who need intensive help and intervention. But I think more significantly, the bigger problem is that lots and lots of people are struggling to read because of the way that they're being taught, not necessarily because of any kind of major phonological deficit that might be giving them a dyslexia label. I think we're creating some dyslexia, we can talk about what that word means later if we want, by the way that we're teaching kids to read.
0:04:08 EH: And so the big take away for me on the reporting that I initially did on kids with dyslexia, which is a couple of years ago now, is that they're not getting the help they need in school. They're not getting identified. People don't know what to do with them. Parents are flipping out 'cause my kid's not reading, and they go to the school, and they demand help. And some of them spend thousands of hours and dollars trying to get the help they need. And what they figure out is that in many schools, no one really knows that much about what to do. And that's one of the reasons why kids with dyslexia, I think, have such a big problem.
0:04:39 EH: So what the dyslexia reporting, and in particular the dyslexia advocates, the moms, the dyslexia moms as I've come to call them, really taught me is that we have a big problem when it comes to unidentified and untreated, as it were, dyslexia. But the bigger problem is a core instruction problem, and the root of that problem is that while experimental psychologists like Kate and many, many, many others have been doing all of this amazing research on reading for the past 50 years or so, how skilled reading works, how kids learn to do it, what's going on when things are going wrong and kids aren't learning to read, what it means about how struggling readers need to be taught and how all readers need to be taught. There's this just gigantic body of evidence and information that I knew nothing about, that I think most people know nothing about. And this information sadly is also not making its way into schools. So the people who are actually teaching kids to read, for the most part, don't know anything, or much, about this huge body of evidence.
0:05:42 EH: And so, we're facing like... I think we're facing like a huge knowledge crisis. There's all this knowledge about reading, but the people who actually teach reading, for the most part, don't have it. And it means we've got all these kids who are struggling to read. And one last point about what sustains my interest in this, there are no silver bullets in education at all, but this is the closest thing we've got. If we actually could teach all kids how to read pretty well by the end of second grade, and virtually most kids can learn to read pretty well by the end of second grade, if we could do that, we could prevent so many of the other problems that we have in schools.
0:06:18 EH: You can list basically all of them. Behavior problems, problems with kids getting disengaged in middle school, kids dropping out of high school, kids going on to college and not being able to get through college. Many of these things a root cause of these problems is struggling to read the words on the page when they're little kids, five and six years old. So, if we can teach kids to read, we could really mitigate, prevent so many of the other problems that we're spending so many hours and billions of dollars trying to solve in education.
0:06:48 TH: Absolutely. So you reported on this through a documentary, a podcast documentary called Hard Words: Why Aren't Kids Being Taught to Read. And Kate, you have a paper titled Ending the Reading Wars, as you mentioned, when you introduced yourself. So Emily, you really shine a light on the reading wars in your podcast. Can you tell us about what you've learned about the reading wars and how does that impact this issue of children not receiving the type of core instruction they need to learn to read?
0:07:23 EH: Well, I think there are a lot of different things going on. I mean, I think it's certainly clear. It was clear to me while I was reporting and it's certainly been made more clear to me since this most recent podcast that I did, came out which was last September that we're still having a war about reading. There's a lot of disagreement about how to teach kids to read. There's a lot of resistance. I think one part of the story, is that there still is resistance to phonics, at least here in the United States. That's clear in the response to my reporting. I think there's some hope here. What I have observed is that a lot of this resistance actually comes from faculty and colleges of education and people who have some kind of dog in the fight, kind of like people who have been supporting or selling different ideas, different ideas, about what kids need to be able to learn to read. I think the resistance to phonics comes from people who've put a lot of eggs in the basket that it's not that important. But I think a lot of the resistance to it really comes from a misunderstanding about the critical role of phonics and phonemic awareness and learning to read. People who know the scientific research on reading, you just don't hear the same kind of resistance to phonics among people who know the research base. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of things to talk about when it comes to phonics, and how to teach it.
0:08:42 EH: I think in England you guys are advanced beyond the United States, and maybe Canada and New Zealand and Australia, 'cause this is a fight all over the English-speaking world, which I think we can also talk about why that is a little bit later. It seems like in England, you guys are having a little bit more of a fight about how to teach phonics. I think we're still a little bit stuck on the question of sort of... Not exactly whether to teach it, 'cause I do think we've made some progress. It's hard to find people who are just against phonics full-stop. But I think that there's a misunderstanding about how critical it is, there's a misunderstanding about how to teach it and how much of it kids need and there's really a lack of knowledge about how the English language works. A lot of the resistance that I have heard from people about phonics stems from, I think this idea that you can't teach English using phonics, because it's such a wacky irregular language and that's just a misunderstanding about the English language.
0:09:36 EH: There just needed to be more knowledge about how you explain English language to kids, 'cause it's true, we have a complex language, it's not easily described in a few phonics rules. We don't have one-to-one correspondence with sounds and letters. But you can explain... And Kate can talk about this. Virtually every single word in the English language, you can explain the spelling of it, if you really think about teaching kids, not phonics but how the written language works, which is the phrase that I've been starting to think about. I think we get stuck on this fight about phonics and the key here is that little kids coming to school know how to talk, they know how to say a lot of words, they know the meaning of a lot of words.
0:10:13 EH: There are variations in terms of when kids are coming to school in terms of how much they know, how many words they know, how much they understand, how much sort of background knowledge and knowledge they have. That's for sure, and we need to be dealing with that in school. But the primary thing that all kids arriving in school need to do is figure out how their written language works. They know how to say all this stuff, they understand what things mean when they're talking. But they don't know the way the written language works. So that phonics is a big part of it, but there are a lot of other parts of learning how your written language works. I mean, number one, phonemic awareness, phonics, means nothing if you're not doing good phonemic awareness, if kids don't have that and understanding how your written language work, which Kate talks about beautifully in the paper that she did.
0:10:56 EH: It's about other things too, it's about morphology, it's about etymology, and the English language, is about understanding the structure, how words are put together and why and where they come from. And this stuff needs to be taught to little kids 'cause it's totally fascinating, first of all, and because some kids are gonna get it with just a little bit of instruction but most kids aren't and all kids benefit from having it. Plenty of people have told me, "I'm an okay reader, but I can't really spell." And if you understand the relationship between spelling and reading you understand that that's actually a little bit of a problem. We would have a lot of better spellers, if we were teaching kids how their written language works starting when they arrive at school when they're five years old. Anyway, I have some other thoughts about why we still fight about reading, but I'm gonna let other people chime in and I can come back to some of that.
0:11:44 TH: Well, that's great and actually hearing you talk about it, Emily, it just seems like such a no-brainer. You're saying, "Oh this is what we need. The research is out there." Kate what prompted you to write The Reading Wars paper? And then can you tell us when you say, "war", it brings to mind two sides battling, and so what are those two sides? And why did you write the paper?
0:12:07 KN: Yeah, the goal in writing the paper, really, was just the recognition, as Emily alluded to, that in the cognitive science, or the science of reading, the field's made such enormous progress over the last 20, 30, 40 years. While there's lots of things left to discover and lots of disagreements around the edges, there's a core body of knowledge, which is well replicated, well understood and pretty clear and it seemed to us that the translation of that into the classroom wasn't as good as it could be, given the strength and the quality and the consensus in the evidence base. And what we were hearing in Australia and in the UK and certainly it seems in the States as well about the gap between what a practitioner knows in their classroom and what the science a reader might tell us. So we wanted to write something to bring the psychology of reading to a more... In a more accessible form, an open access paper in a more accessible form, but also to encourage us as scientists to think about what we can do better to translate our work and what sort of research do we need to do to help bridge that gap moreso.
0:13:19 KN: That was the plan, and we didn't intend to call it Reading Wars to start with, at all, and in fact it was quite a late decision to put Reading Wars in the title and a maybe a bit of disagreement between the three of us. I wasn't particularly keen on calling it Reading Wars 'cause it just seemed a little bit inflammatory, perhaps. But I... We decided to go for it and in fact one of the reviewers, a very well-known leading researcher, academic reading researcher, sort of said, "Great paper, but I don't think there is a reading war anymore, it's settled, it's sorted, and I don't think you need this in the title." And by that time, things had taken off on Twitter a little bit on reading wars type thing and we could just point to all these battles and arguments out there. So we stood our ground and said we wanted to keep Reading Wars in the title. And I think what's happened since then and what's happened since Emily's podcast last September has made clear that there is still wars going on despite the broad consensus in the scientific literature, there is still a lack of communication and understanding about how the written language system works and from that, how we can best teach teaching. On reflection I'm glad we kept it in the title, I think it's encouraged us to think more broadly and encouraged us to think... Keep thinking about what we need to do, both in terms of basic research and also making those important connections to what's happening in the classroom. Yeah.
0:14:44 TH: I'll turn to Norma now. Norma, can you respond to the idea that a reviewer might think that the reading wars are over? Do see the reading wars happening in the classroom?
0:14:55 NC: Yes. There’s so many points that both of you have said, that I agree with just from having been in public schools. I started in 2005, and I was definitely one of those teachers who was not trained in any reading science. Reading was gonna be magical. It was gonna happen, and when it didn't happen, there was something wrong with the child. And that has been a pretty consistent theme through all my experience. I've worked in multiple districts, states, and from my perspective once I realized that there were things that I could be doing differently, partially because I had a colleague who was trained at Haskins Lab through a project in Connecticut, through some of the priority districts in Hartford. And we were teaching first grade together and she just knew so much about the technicality and I realized the gap that I didn't know. And we had a relationship where I could ask questions and go in and observe her and that really grew my practice. However, when I moved into the reading teacher role, I really noticed that when I started to talk about research, phonics was a dirty word. And applying an intervention for a child who was struggling with code, which phonics and with IPA would be the most appropriate, was really nothing I could ever talk about in RTI meetings.
0:16:11 NC: It's nothing that people... Even the classroom teachers, would be very resistant. They said that that's not something that's done here, that's something that you do. There really was just a huge struggle. And even when our district tried to become more evidence-based, there were a lot of struggles between the people who were sitting at the table as to what exactly the evidence said, what was balanced literacy and how we incorporated the research into it. And just, that was one of the main reasons why I came to study with Dr. Hogan was because of this gap between the two and how important it is to bridge that gap.
0:16:50 NC: So, yes, I can report from public schools that it's definitely alive and well. And I think a lot of it is fueled by the way in which we structure education, where we're not giving teachers the teacher training. And then once we get into our teaching position, we're expected to be experts already. And there's not a room... There's not room to grow or to be able to take risks and at times it can be a really stressful environment for teachers. And I really like, Emily, how you talked about in Hard Words, so much of what they were doing in that school really hit home with me in other districts I've worked in, but that "When we knew better, we did better," and that guilt the teachers feel because I know that I definitely certainly have felt that guilt about some of the kids that I worked with when I was just starting out.
0:17:37 NC: I think it's important to acknowledge that, yes, there's a reading wars still going on and that teachers need support and they need training, and we need to find a way to hold schools accountable for implementing this because it was part of the National Reading Panel recommendations and also the IDA 2004, as well as the RTI implementation.
0:17:58 TH: And I'll say, too, that we've still, a bit, danced around it. I'm gonna say for the listeners what exactly is the reading war? My understanding from my own personal experience teaching, reading to children who have dyslexia, and studying reading processes is that the reading war really boils down to, is reading a natural process or not? Teachers are often taught, as Norma hit on, that reading is magical, and that what children need to learn to read words, is that they need to have a rich language environment. You need to, as a teacher, foster a joy of reading, expose them to authentic texts, and that this process of learning how to read written words will unfold through the natural language process. That's one side. And that side is typically called the whole language side and it's also been repackaged to be called balanced literacy or a focus on authentic text. The other side, if we're thinking about this war, is the phonics side. And as Norma mentioned that's why you have an association of... You think like, "Why would the word phonics be a dirty word?" Well, when you have a war, you start to have a war of words as well. And so, with phonics the idea is that we know from scientific research that the reading process is, when it comes to learning how to read written words, is not a natural process, it has to be taught. That our brain has evolved to be adept to natural language processing through spoken language, but we know from brain studies that children actually recruit areas of the brain that are associated more with face recognition, for instance, to then learn about letters, letter sounds and the correspondence between the two but it has to be explicitly taught for many children. And when you do explicitly teach the letter-sound correspondence for written language, you see that there actually is this insurgence of more spoken language knowledge because they're learning from books. So have I characterized that correctly? Would you add Kate or Emily to that characterization in terms of the actual war portion based on your personal experiences?
0:20:24 EH: One of the things I would say is that I think you did get it right in the way that it sort of originally... That's the foundation of where the war began, that was certainly the terms of it in the 80s and 90s. I think one of the tricky, slippery things that's going on now in 2019, is this idea that learning is natural and magical. Tiffany, you said it really well, like this idea that it basically happens automatically and when it doesn't, there's something wrong with the kid. I think that is the basic belief when you probe into what teachers have learned and what they believe. When you look carefully at curriculum materials, that underlying belief that it's... That the main factor in learning how to read is about access to books and motivation to read; that if you're motivated to read, you will figure it out.
0:21:20 EH: At the same time, the tricky, slippery thing that I wanna point out is that in a typical balanced literacy classroom here in the United States, there has been an embrace of some phonics, some phonemic awareness, some direct instruction. If you look at the materials for a lot of the things that are popular, the idea that teachers need to directly teach some things is there. They're not fully embracing this idea that it's natural. The role of the teacher, and that the teacher has to do something is acknowledged. So the problem is, where does that leave us? Why is it still off? And I think it is still off, and I think one of the things that happens in a typical balanced literacy classroom, is we've thrown in... Everything but the kitchen sink is in there. It's like a little bit of everything all at once, like check, check box, I got it. I got all the right terms for the National Reading Panel report. Everything that science says is in here, and it is. But the question is, what do you emphasize when, and how much, and all those little details about how you do the teaching of phonics and phonemic awareness. Like I said, getting more... We are getting closer to this argument about how you do it rather than do you do it at all. And that's a really good thing.
0:22:35 EH: But I do think that it's... We do have to acknowledge what you're talking about, Tiffany. Phonics still is a dirty word because of the reading wars. So most people'll be like, "I'm for it," but they don't really totally buy it, because if you resist it, you don't really get the science, you just don't. So if people start asking you lots of questions about it or raising lots of red flags about it you go like, "Okay, I think we need to start over. We need to clear the deck here and begin to talk about why is it that phonics is such an important part, one part of learning how to read."
0:23:10 EH: But again, I think one of the things we wanna talk about is the Simple View and how helpful that is, but also some of the new thoughts about where the Simple View might need to be made more complicated. But the Simple View is this very important idea that I think probably most listeners to this podcast understand, but it was what I was referring to before, that there are these two crucial elements to reading. There is your ability to decode the words and then your language comprehension, and your reading comprehension is a product of the two.
0:23:34 EH: And one of the things that balanced literacy does, which is... Because its roots are in whole language, it's just confused... It's just make it about reading comprehension right away. Is confused it all, all together. So the little kids who don't actually know very much about reading the words on the page are expected to be making all kinds of meaning from the text right away, which just isn't a good use of time. One of the ways that I've been thinking about, when I look at classrooms, is opportunity costs. You can look at a lot of the stuff and say, "Well, it's not like a lot of this stuff is... Some of it's really often wrong, but some of it's not so wrong, it's just not what you do right now." What do you do right now? Then the kid masters this set of things, and then what do you do next, and then what do you do when a kid is struggling, and then what do you do?
0:24:20 EH: So it's more understanding the ways that learning to read is a developmental process, but again that's one of our problems. Because sometimes people will talk to you about the developmental process and what they actually believe under there is that all kids will learn to read eventually, as long as they have exposure to books that they wanna read. So that's not really what the science says about, in terms of it being a developmental process, but it is a developmental process in terms of there is these different skills that you're acquiring.
0:24:44 EH: One of the ways that I think... When I look at a typical balanced literacy classroom is I think you know the underlying belief in a lot of this stuff, a lot of the way that time is being spent, is that the way you become an expert is you mimic what experts do. But that's not the way you become an expert. The way you become an expert is you learn all these different skills that are part of being expert at something. Good readers get so good at reading words. It's such an unconscious process. They're not aware of how it's happening. It's happening so quickly, so accurately. Even though we're not born with brains that are meant to read, some of us get... Our brains get so good at reading. So it's very hard for someone who's already good at reading to understand all the little pieces that need to be in place, and that's, I think, the fundamental flaw in a lot of balanced literacy. It’s just assuming that expertise is acquired through mimicking what experts do.
0:25:35 EH: And some of it gets to the phonics is a dirty word kind of thing. I think it's important to acknowledge that there is a lot of not very good phonics instruction going on. And there certainly was, I think, a lot of not very good, boring worksheety phonics stuff going on when the reading wars got going. So it's important to acknowledge that people may have had bad experiences with phonics. But two things I would say to that. Number one, what looks rote and boring to an adult is not necessarily rote and boring to a child who is learning how to read words at the beginning. And number two, phonics is so important that if it's a little bit of rote and boring, that'd be fine. [chuckle]
0:26:12 EH: Phonics is so important, you can't skip it just because it's not being taught well. We should certainly strive to teach it well. But actually phonics should probably be taught not well, in favor of not being taught at all. If someone can't figure out how to teach it, they should keep trying to teach it even if they're gonna do it badly along the way, because it's such a crucial part of being a good reader.
0:26:31 TH: Well you mentioned that.
0:26:33 EH: Let me just say one thing. Even the whole language people acknowledge, many of them, that phonics is important to being a good reader. It's just how do you get there? And the idea in whole language is that you learn phonics through reading.
0:26:45 TH: Yup.
0:26:46 EH: You do actually, that's the other thing, you actually do. Once you sort of begin, you begin to break the code. There's a decent amount... And Kate can weigh in, 'cause she knows much more about this than I do. But self-teaching that's involved, and we do actually teach ourselves a lot of what we know about language. But it's like you need to get people started, and some people just need a lot more help than others.
0:27:07 TH: Kate, how do you... You know, Emily mentioned the Simple View. So the Simple View was pretty prominent in your Reading Wars paper. Maybe I think that because I'm a fan. So can you tell us about how you think the Simple View factors into the discussion of the Reading Wars?
0:27:26 KN: Yeah, I think thinking and certainly communicating to a broad audience, the Simple View of reading has been really helpful, actually, and we've made good progress by doing that. And I think what the Simple View allows us to communicate and think about, is reading in a broad sense, while not missing some of the very important things that Emily was covering in her discussion just now. So if we say, you know, reading, what do we mean by reading? And this is... We would talk across purposes, we can talk about a child reading, a five-year-old child, who can, you know, is just struggling and just beginning to learn to read, is reading. Equally a graduate student in a literary criticism class thinking about you know, onomatopoeia in Macbeth is reading. And these are completely different things, and yet, we use the same vocabulary, the same word, reading and reading comprehension to mean something from alphabetic knowledge through to literary criticism. And that's all reading, and ultimately, it's what children need to learn to be able to do through the course of reading instruction. But, it can't all happen at once, clearly, yeah.
0:28:33 KN: So I think on the positive side, the Simple View has been really helpful in enabling everybody to see the complexity of reading in one place, yet focus on the component parts as well. And particularly then, when taking a developmental perspective on that and think about what's important at what time in a child's journey. And a nice thing about the Simple View is that it puts decoding, whatever it is that we're going to define in that decoding box, but it puts that at the heart of learning to read. But says that this is necessary, but it's not sufficient. And I think that's the other thing I'd just add to what Emily was saying about the reading wars more generally, this notion that it's either whole language and motivation and all the wonderfulness of reading, or really boring phonic drills. But nobody is saying it's phonics only, and yet, part of the dichotomy between whole language versus phonics is that it's either/or. And there's nobody, seriously, I think, who says it's just phonics, it's a question of the idea that alphabetic knowledge, knowledge about how the language works more generally beyond the alphabet is absolutely fundamental because it's how our writing system works and the evidence is clear that children need to be taught some of that to get access to the system, to kickstart the system.
0:29:53 KN: There were then discussions to be had and I don't think the evidence base is as complete as it needs to be, as to how much phonics and when one starts to bring in other types of direct instruction as well. But clearly, some phonic knowledge is important at the outset. If children don't know the alphabet, they're not gonna be able to read. So teach the alphabet, teach how letters and sounds associate together and so on.
0:30:14 KN: Thinking about learning to read in the Simple View terms tells us why that's important, because if we don't have that decoding box, whatever's in the decoding box in place, then comprehension can't happen. The access to print, being able to be motivated to read just isn't there because you can't read in any meaningful sense. Equally though, it tells us that the reverse is also true, that being able to decode really well is no guarantee that reading comprehension will happen. If I'm reading Spanish, I could probably do it reasonably well, but my comprehension would be terrible, and it's just, it's just not there. So, I think that's the beauty of the Simple View, that it allows space for everybody and it sort of does away with the wars, really, because both language-y people and both phonics-y people can find their home in the model and not having to give too much ground almost, 'cause you can see how the ultimate goal is there for all of us, it's just a question of what we might prioritize.
0:31:08 KN: So I think the Simple View has lots of appeal in that way. And of course, there's also lots of evidence. From a scientific point of view. The slightly frustrating thing about the Simple View is that it explains everything, but explains nothing at the same time, in that it describes a variance. If we measure enough components of the Simple View, if we manage to measure everything that goes into the decoding box and everything that goes into the linguistic comprehension box, we've explained reading comprehension, you know, 100% of the variance is explained. But we've explained nothing at the same time, we've just described it, in a way. So it's almost like it's unfalsifiable now, and it's a truism, it's the situation, it's how the world works, it's what it is. So it's great in that sense, but it's also slightly frustrating to see it used in the scientific literature as an explanation, when it isn't really explaining anything.
0:32:03 KN: But that's not to deny it's important and it's true, I think it's the closest we can get to saying that this is how it is, you know? The evidence is so clear. 100% of variance nearly is explained, which is pretty remarkable in behavioral science, I think.
0:32:20 KN: So, I hope introducing the Simple View out of the pages of scientific journals, via Emily's work, and other people's work and so on, is doing a good thing. I think in the UK, certainly, we can see it's used a lot in continuing professional development with teachers and speech language pathologists, and so on. I think to good effect, 'cause it makes sense, it works. So, yeah, I think the Simple View is a way to move on from the reading wars I think, I hope.
0:32:53 TH: I think that makes a lot of sense too, Kate. I think it's a starting ground, it's like just the basic premise that we can all build from, but like you said, then there's nuances to move forward. But it seems like we can't even move forward from that discussion unless we have at least a grounding. And I'm curious, Norma, what's your impression about teachers knowing the Simple View? You're involved in a lot of teacher education, Facebook groups with reading specialists. How knowledgeable are reading specialists and teachers about the Simple View?
0:33:26 NC: I think within the reading specialist field, depending on what your background and training is, the Simple View is something definitely that you have knowledge and training on. But as far as just general education and even within special ed, it's not something that I frequently have encountered, people who have knowledge or background, and I certainly didn't have it either until I was doing my reading specialist licensure as well. And I think I agree that it's really just this simple framework in which it captures so much of the processes that eliminates all of the personal feelings related to how kids read. And I found it very useful when talking to teachers and looking at data, and really trying to target the area of difficulty for kids, to frame it within that Simple View, it's been very helpful.
0:34:15 NC: One thing I really enjoyed about your recent paper, Kate, which I think I've downloaded at least personally 1,000 times and shared with everyone, besides the intent, just wonderful way in which you describe the literature was the point that you highlighted that teachers need to know why they're doing something. And I think that that's a very important point and it ties back to something that Emily was talking about. We have this curriculum, and when something goes wrong we don't know what to do. Because teachers aren't necessarily trained in this vast knowledge of how reading, and just learning and behavior in general, works within young children. There's been, at least since the time I've been in education, a push towards having good curriculum, and purchasing the next curriculum set that's modeled Common Core, or balanced literacy that has the Big 5. So there's a marketing component as well that I think is really putting both children and teachers at a disadvantage because it's assumed that we don't need the expertise, that if we have good curriculum we'll be fine.
0:35:20 NC: Teachers do have lots of expertise and training in how to work with kids, but we also really need to become content experts in teaching reading in K-2, and even down to pre-school, because really that is our job to do, and that is really the only thing that needs to be taught during that grade level in order to leverage the rest of the resources appropriately. So I think that that's kind of an important point to think about is teacher training, and having teachers being able to have a depth of knowledge around a topic in order to be able to teach it well.
0:35:54 TH: It seems like there's a push to almost like lobotomize teachers to say just, "Do this curriculum, don't worry about it and just do it as you should." But then that also, I think, creates a lot of conflict because then you have this idea, when really get to the reading wars and this fundamental view that phonics could actually hurt a child. I've heard many teachers talk about this like, "I don't want to do something that will hurt the children I'm seeing." What I mean by hurt is, take the joy out of reading, turn them away from reading. There's also the idea of developmental appropriateness, so if I teach phonics too early that this could be stunting their intellectual development because they are pushing them. And it seems to me that the more knowledge have about development and theories of reading and experimental studies in reading, the more you would feel confident in the fact that you're not hurting children but you're actually helping them.
0:36:56 EH: Oh, go ahead Kate.
0:36:56 KN: I think that's where the Simple View can help as well, 'cause it has the word level reading, and whatever it is the teacher is doing to promote word level reading, in the context of them being able to do all this other stuff in oral language and in spoken language. So you can see that you're not denying the children access to beautiful children's literature, a narrative story or magic, wonder, all those things that we associate with the joy of reading. It's just that they're getting that, but the word level emphasis to get the system kick-started is happening in parallel rather than trying to use those sort of big aspects of reading comprehension to do the word level reading from the outset.
0:37:36 KN: But it sort of allows, I think, people to realize that it's not either/or that you can do, it's what fits the purpose at the time for what the child needs, and for a five-year-old child learning to read is about learning to work out how letters and sounds go together and how words are built and so on. But there's no reason to stop everything else to do with comprehension and oracy and narrative and so on while that's happening. They both happen in parallel and then can then begin to come together.
0:38:07 EH: One of the things that I've become very interested in as a reporter is trying to probe the ways that collections of beliefs come together, and what are the other beliefs about children and teaching and learning that seem to go with a more sort of whole language balanced literacy. And balanced literacy doesn't equal whole language, but it clearly has its roots in whole language. Balanced literacy is sort of whole language plus some other things mixed in. And I think, for example, when you hear people talking, and I hear it all the time, that phonics is gonna turn kids off to reading. What's the belief, what's the understanding about how reading works that underlies that concern?
0:38:46 EH: Well the understanding of how reading works, that I think mostly underlies that concern, is that the main mechanism for reading is loving reading; that if you want to read and you love to read, that you will read. But that's not actually how it works. And so phonics isn't gonna turn kids off to reading. I'm not saying that we should give terrible instruction to children and then think that they're gonna love reading. But when that's the primary concern there's just kind of a misunderstanding of just how it's working in the brain, like what you need to be a good reader. I think the thing that turns more kids off to reading than anything is not being able to read the words on the page. And they're five and six years old, and the kids around them seem to be figuring out how reading works and they don't. And they don't like it, and they get frustrated, and there's a lot of evidence that this is actually where behavior problems start. The chicken or the egg question with the relationship between reading and behavior. Well, behavior is very often, I think, good evidence to show the cause.
0:39:42 EH: So I think it's really important to sort of think about the other kinds of beliefs that go with it, 'cause I think this is why it's such a fight. I think we are making some progress on phonics matters and phonics is important, but what are the other things that are being resisted? And what's included in your typical kind of balanced literacy block, in American schools? 'Cause one of the strange ironies about what's going on with reading is we actually spend a lot of time teaching kids to read in kindergarten, first, and second grade.
0:40:11 TH: Yeah.
0:40:11 EH: Like 90 minutes, two hours. There's these huge literacy blocks, and we can talk about that later 'cause I think that's part of the problem actually! Is that we may be spending more time on that and less time on building knowledge and vocabulary. And the other piece that's so important to being... Having good reading comprehension by the time that you can decode all these words. So you wanna bring kids' decoding ability up to their level of linguistic, language comprehension, but you gotta keep developing the language comprehension... The linguistic ability, and the knowledge, the background knowledge. And that's where achievement gaps... I think achievement gaps begin with kids who can't decode and then they get wider and wider and wider, when kids can't decode, but then also this question of what knowledge and vocabulary kids have.
0:41:00 EH: But some of the other beliefs that, Norma you were talking about this, this idea that we have that... Or you were saying, Tiffany, that this idea that we like lobotomize teachers. We give them a curriculum and just have them do it and they don't know why, that's a big problem. But we have a lot of survey research in the United States that actually in K-2 classrooms, there's a significant amount of teachers making up their own curriculum.
0:41:21 TH: Yes.
0:41:22 EH: Like coming up on their own. And part of the problem is there's a strong belief, some of these ideas about reading, go with this belief. The teacher should have the autonomy, they should figure out what their curriculum is. They are the best ones to figure out how to assess their children, what their children should be learning and so that's one set of beliefs., I think that goes along with this. There's a whole bunch of other beliefs, there's a belief that goes along with some of the resistance to the reading science that has to do with this idea that all kids learn differently, that we have different learning styles, and all kids need some different way to be taught how to read, and the evidence, doesn't show us that. The evidence shows us that none of us are born with reading brains, we all need to learn basically the same things to turn our non-reading brains, into reading brains. Some of us need more direct instruction to get there than others, but it's not some totally different kind of reading instruction you need to create for all 25 children in your class. There's sort of one set that kids need to figure out how the written language works, there's a bunch of things that teachers can do to help them figure that out.
0:42:23 EH: Some kids come in already knowing a decent amount of it and need to start up here and some kids need to come in starting right at the ground level. Some kids need a real intense amount of it and other kids don't. So I think we have to start figuring out what these other belief systems are, in order to really break this up and help teachers understand what the science really says and what that means about how they should be teaching. And sadly Norma, I have talked to people who got reading specialist degrees relatively recently who didn't learn the Simple View.
0:43:00 NC: Yeah, yeah.
0:43:01 EH: So you're more likely hopefully to learn it, but you can actually be a reading specialist in the United States of America and not know that.
0:43:07 NC: Yeah, no, absolutely, because we've had this conversation before, that when I was looking for programs to do my reading specialist side I came to IHP specifically because I knew that I would get that diagnostic background because I had worked in reading, I was in reading intervention, I have background in special ed. I felt like there was this mystical term of disability called dyslexia that wasn't allowed to be talked about in the school, and then I was not prepared enough to teach it. I looked at several programs here in Massachusetts and online and there were very minimal diagnostic practice, and there was more on reading theory. And for me, that's not what I was looking for because I had that background already. But I certainly... Learning the Simple View in one of Dr. Hogan's classes during the program was really a light bulb moment for me in understanding you know, how reading worked.
0:44:06 NC: But I think one thing that's interesting is that even though that we have teachers in K-2 to that are creating their own curriculum or not using programs, that theory or belief is a curriculum within itself. And it's something that within the last 10-15 years has really taken hold. We've really moved away from whole class instruction, and more towards a workshop model of having small groups. That is being the accepted way to teach reading, and I think that one of the things that was said was so interesting is that we spend so much time on teaching reading and being a reading specialist, I'm not gonna say that that's not important. However, the time in which children actually spend on task, and direct instructions in which they're going to learn, is so minimal when you visit classrooms. A lot of time is wasted. And I think if we shifted how we thought about direct instruction and small group instruction or a whole class versus small group, we really would have a lot more time to do so many more interesting, rich, fun activities with kids in the younger grades. We would be able to get in there, teach it effectively, and move on and enjoy rich literature and build vocabulary and background knowledge through inquiry and pull in science and math.
0:45:22 NC: There's just so much time that, like you said, there's so many bits and pieces that are all important, but the frequency and the timing of how to teach it is not well-defined. And that's something I think that could really make a change in not only practice but in children's learning as well.
0:45:38 TH: Yeah, I wanna say a few things about that. So, just I wanna touch on the Simple View too, just what people know about it. So, I've been talking about the Simple View, that's how I start every one of my professional development talks. All my courses are based in the Simple View, and I've been teaching that now, and giving talks on the Simple View for at least a decade, if not more. And I remember the first... This is actually so humorous when I reflect on it. So the first time I gave a talk on the simple view and then maybe the second or third time I was actually very nervous to go give the talk 'cause I thought, "Well, everyone's gonna know this already, and this is gonna be really boring for everyone in the audience." Now I'm over a decade later, and that has yet to happen, and I tell my students when that happens, I will sing Hallelujah because that...
0:46:23 TH: I still... It's still like this kind of aha moment about, "Oh, you don't have to choose a side." There's both sides and there's a time and place for both. And from a speech language pathologist point of view and a lot of times what I, as a specialist language pathologist, I'm talking to speech language pathologists, special educators, also teachers. The Simple View is nice in the sense that you can really defuse some of the reading war discussion because you say they're both necessary, but as you touched on Emily, when are they needed and how much? 'Cause we're not even to that nuance yet. And I think that's where we need to go. Just like Norma mentioned there's so much time spent in the literacy block but what we really need to start getting to is how much time should be spent on each task and also really its own questions in each. As a speech pathologist I've worked on a language comprehension curriculum through this Reading for Understanding Initiative the Department of Education funded starting in 2010.
0:47:20 TH: And in that initiative, we worked on a language comprehension curriculum that was completely separate of phonics. Completely separate, 30 minutes a day in the whole classroom pre-K to grade three. And for us, it was like, "Well of course we're gonna focus on the language comprehension, that's really what we're coming to. That's our background knowledge in terms of stimulating language." But we never... We knew the research in phonics and so the idea was that's gonna be taught completely separately in its own time. And I think that this idea of maybe specifying the two groups, so you have an understanding of what's needed, but these two groups of researchers can work a bit separately, in terms of what is needed and then come together in the curriculum block and then thinking about development across time.
0:48:09 TH: The word reading should be the majority of the literacy block. The phonics instruction, early on, but not ignore language comprehension and then move forward. I've actually seen this play out in the preschool classrooms a bit. I have three children, one's 13 the other are two and four. I have almost like a different generation of children going through pre-school. When my 13 year old went through pre-school, I have to admit I was quite appalled. I chose the, quote unquote, best pre-school, I could send him. And it was all about language stimulation and social-emotional development and he's getting all these great units on languages, his vocabulary is skyrocketing and I walk in one day and they have a gigantic poster that's all about how they do not believe in letters in the classroom at all. Zero letters. That's their philosophy because reading is natural. And I just kinda lost my breath. I was like, "Oh my goodness." I kept him in the preschool but let me tell you, I did a lot of pre-literacy at home in terms of the letters. And I did talk to them and work with them a bit on this.
0:49:08 TH: Now fast forward to my two and four-year-old. My four-year-old's in a classroom and I really see it playing out in a way that I think it should, and it's really going quite well. And that is, it's a pre-K classroom where they're getting all the stimulation in language that you would expect from a pre-school. Very child appropriate these units, these themes, but they're not shying away from letters and letter sounds, they're incorporating it in. They have their kind of time to talk about letters and sounds, but then they don't just ignore it. If they're talking about a unit on animals and they're looking at it, they can say, "Oh there's that letter A. What sound does it make in this animal?" It doesn't have to be, like you said Kate, this either/or that is playing out right now. And unfortunately, I think the either/or is stopping us from moving forward in our research agendas and working with teachers to implement what really needs to happen and the nuances of those needs.
0:50:06 KN: Yeah, I think what you've makes perfect sense and makes me realize that I think England has perhaps come quite a long way. It's easy to think there's been no progress or progress hasn't been fast enough. But hearing you talking about the situation in the US, I feel quite pleased with what I see in our local schools. Yeah, so it's not an easy time to be proud to be British at the moment with our Brexit.
0:50:32 EH: Oh well, it's hard to be proud to be American sometimes.
0:50:35 TH: We feel a lot of solidarity there, so no worries. But yeah, so what is happening?
0:50:39 KN: A common language with you. Yeah.
0:50:42 TH: Kate what is happening there? I do think... Before the podcast Norma and I were talking and I see in England in particular with a phonics check it seems like we're looking into a window into our future and you maybe are starting to get some of the nuances to balancing and I wanna recapture the word balance to actually be what it is. Which happens to mean both. Can you tell us about the phonics check and what you're seeing there?
0:51:04 KN: I think the challenge now in England is moving to think about the language gap. Sometimes it's referred to as the word gap. I keep trying to bring it back and talk about the language gap, because that's what it is, it's a language gap. It's a knowledge gap in the broadest cultural literacy type sense. It's not about drilling or knowing these high frequency words versus those low frequency words and so on. There's a big, big language gap, it's associated with social disadvantage. Kids who go to school with low levels of language are just disadvantaged through and it just snowballs and gets bigger. It's associated with all sorts of poor outcomes and so on. And of course it's closely associated with poor reading as well. And so the poor get poorer in all senses.
0:51:49 KN: As well as the instantiation of the phonics curriculum, it's pleasing to see the language gap now being sort of front and central stage and I guess are moving, in some circles at least, to think about what needs to happen in classrooms to make language a focus, so that the knowledge gap can start to be plugged when kids get to school. So that then the work's going on in reading and then there's other work's going on with the kids. And kids are well placed to learn and so on. That's sort of pleasing, but I guess it had its foundations in setting up the phonics screening check.
0:52:31 KN: Just historically, we had our own, I guess, equivalent to the National Reading Panel in 2006. It reported... Jim Rose's report in 2006 and that framed learning to read in the Simple View. That was the first time that the Simple View was really out there in a policy document back in 2006. Where the emphasis was made clear that we have the sort of stuff to do with decoding and learning to read words, but we also need this language-rich curriculum as well.
0:52:58 KN: I think it's fair say that until relatively recently, the emphasis has been on the decoding and the phonics side of things. And for good reason, but I think there is a sense of, "Look, we've gotta do more to deal with knowledge and vocabulary and language and so on. But the phonics screening check, I think, has been important in helping hopefully, we don't know for sure, but hopefully helping reading standards improve. That was introduced in 2012 and it's a short reading test that kids do at the end of year one, so they're about six years of age. And it's very simple and straight forward, we shouldn't really call it a test, but the kids shouldn't even know that it's a test. They just read aloud 20 words and 20 not words and it's scored by the test administrator, the teacher.
0:53:47 KN: In the first year of the check, I just got it noted down here, in 2012, the so-called pass mark was 58% of children met that pass mark. And then there's been year-on-year increases now and in 2018 it was 82% of year one kids were able to meet that required standard. If they don't meet the required standard at the end year one, then they have another assessment at the end of year two, and the figure's then 92% of kids are meeting that threshold. The top line figures look good and pleasing. And we can talk about isn't it terrible teachers are teaching to the test, but I think not when it's something as important as learning how to identify words.
0:54:30 KN: I think, behind those headline figures there are some things of concern that we still need to think about. The kids with special educational needs do, not surprisingly, they do poorly in the phonics check. On average 44% of kids with a recognized special educational need meet the pass rate compared with 89% of their peers. There's a big gap there, but again, it isn't surprising. The question is, what's being done to support those kids so they can then move on with their reading. There's also a big difference associated with social disadvantage as well. That kids who are in receipt of free school meals do less poorly... Sorry, do more poorly on the phonics screen, but nevertheless going from 58% of kids meeting the benchmark through to 82% in six or seven years is pleasing progress.
0:55:23 KN: But as pleasing, I think, is now this thinking about, "Well, what are we gonna do about the rest of it?" But yes, the phonics is important, but how about everything else? If we really want to think about reading for dealing with social disadvantage and all that falls from that, you mentioned earlier, Emily, the behavioral, social-emotional, mental health, criminal justice systems, on and on and on. So much of that could be minimized if kids were able to read and have the language skills to advocate for themselves. Yeah, let's report back in a few years time. Yeah, I guess the worry with the language curriculum is, that's a much bigger problem to crack. In a way getting kids decoding...
0:56:06 NC: Is the easier piece.
0:56:07 KN: What's the... Not rocket science...
0:56:07 TH: The other thing I think.
0:56:08 KN: Not rocket science. But, it's not rocket science, but dealing with the enormity of language and the lack of variability in language, I think is a real challenge. Because it's open-ended, whereas learning to read words is a closed system, isn't it? If you can do it enough to get the basics in place and the self-teaching takes over, then it's just a matter... Just a matter.
0:56:33 KN: Just a matter of reading a lot. And the more you read the more expert you became. The language, knowledge, those are bigger words that are harder to shift, I think. Bigger problems.
0:56:47 EH: I think it's important to recognize that we don't have this other part of it figured out, because in some ways the reading wars got pitched as sort of comprehension and love of reading and reading real authentic text versus teaching skills and phonics and stuff like that. I think there's a recognition like the teaching skills and phonics and stuff like that is important and you can see, in a lot of places, that people have added phonics and they are adding phonics. We need to get that question of how much they're doing and whether they're doing it well and whether the theme of awareness is there.
0:57:22 EH: But when we talk about balanced literacy like, "Oh, so there's this piece that's been kind of missing. We haven't been doing it enough. Haven't been doing it well here in the United States." I don't think we should then assume like, we're doing the other part so well. Because we're not doing the other part so well. Even though like whole language and balanced literacy is supposed to be about giving kids access to authentic texts and all about comprehension. I don't think if you go into most classrooms and you know the science you'd be like, "Oh they're doing a really good job building vocabulary and knowledge." Because they're not. Because unfortunately, a lot of the stuff that balanced literacy is based on, the leveled reading systems, the kinds of stories and stuff that books are getting are not a lot of them really content-rich, really full of stuff that kids are gonna be learning from.
0:58:06 EH: It's not like one side of balanced literacy is off in the United States and we can bring that up and we're fine. Both parts of it are kind of off, very off, and we've gotta bring them both up. We've got to understand. So that when you go into a classroom, what you don't wanna see is 90 minutes or two hours of kids who are in first grade, who can't decode that many words yet going off and spending 30 minutes reading on their own. That doesn't really make a lot of sense. There might be some kids who are six years old who could go off and read on their own, but it's probably not even the best use of time for them. Instructional time could be spent even with those little word nerdy kids who are really good at reading, teaching them some really cool stuff about how spelling works. You could be spending your time on that. Part of our problem is that a lot of the teachers, no fault of their own, don't have that knowledge to be able to teach it at that sophisticated level. They don't understand that much how the spelling system works. And it's complicated. I don't really understand that much how the spelling system works. You can be a really good reader and a really good speller, which I am, and I don't actually understand that much about how the spelling system works. I've been trying to learn that as I do this reporting, but what you need to know to be able to teach language to someone is so much different than what you need to be able to know, to do it well.
0:59:16 EH: We have to keep that in mind if... Since this is a podcast you can bleep out this swear if you want. But I'm gonna give you a funny little anecdote, which I think represents sort of like where we're kind of off in the United States. I was visiting some classrooms... Well, I was interviewing someone who spent a lot time visiting classrooms and was trying to figure out kind of like what was wrong with what she was seeing in a lot of balanced literacy. And she sort of figured out like this idea that we're sending five-year-olds off to read on their own for a long time was kind of wrong. She's in a classroom, she was starting to see some of this stuff. She was in a classroom that was kind of doing it that way. Here's a little girl in kindergarten, this is a low-income school in a major city in America. And they go off to their reading time and they're on their bean bags and they've been able to choose their own books. And this little girl is reading and this woman comes over, she's from a foundation, and says, "What are you reading? Tell me about your... What you're reading." And the little girl... The little girl looks at her and says, "I can't fucking read, can you?"
1:00:08 TH: I love it, but that says it all.
1:00:12 EH: I have to say that one of the things... There's this idea that that's so important. That a five-year-old needs 20 minutes every day to go read by herself. And if we deny that to them, then we're somehow denying their access to a love of literature. But it's actually not... This is probably too strong an adjective but I would say it's like almost educational malpractice to give a little kid a book to read that they don't know how to read the words yet. Why are you doing that?
1:00:40 TH: It is.
1:00:41 EH: That doesn't make any sense.
1:00:42 TH: It is!
1:00:42 EH: And they're not learning anything from it. This teacher in a classroom out there who started to figure this out, has been very careful when kids do go to independent time. She's like you're book browsing. You can look through books, you can look at the pictures, you're book browsing. She doesn't use the word reading 'cause that is not reading. If you send kids off, you can send them to look at books and look at the pictures, but if you haven't taught them enough about how those words work you're not sending them off to read the books on their own.
1:01:08 TH: I wanna touch on this educational malpractice 'cause this is something Norma and I think a lot about in terms of the dyslexia laws that have been put into place, because Norma and I were both very involved in the passing of the dyslexia law in Massachusetts. And it will be a disaster if we don't get the basic phonics instruction in place. Because if you are screening early for dyslexia and you haven't had... Children haven't had a strong basis in phonetics, you're gonna have 30 to 40% of children who are going to be high risk for dyslexia. And instead you're gonna miss those ones that truly are at-risk for dyslexia and in the mix is gonna be the ones that are casualties of educational malpractice. And that's why I think these two issues are intimately tied and activating that network of Decoding Dyslexia Network across the United States to now shift to think about strong phonics instruction for all children is just absolutely critical.
1:02:08 NC: And I would definitely say that it is educational malpractice because if we think about it, within schools it's a public system in which every tax payer puts money into. And the outcomes for so many children are so poor and those outcomes... There's some educational research from Genie Oaks that shows those outcomes are largely based on teacher expectations. And some of those teacher expectations are formed before a child is even out of the window, in kindergarten, they're already labeled as slow to learn or a bad reader and that label is really hard for children to drop and that really determines their trajectories.
1:02:44 NC: We know that a lot of the universal screenings we do are tied to third grade reading scores, which are supposed to be predictors of SAT and high school graduation. We know that some states in the United States they actually use third grade reading scores in order to calculate prison beds in the state prison system. We really are creating educational malpractice when we should be giving every child every piece of evidence, every piece of instruction that is gonna help them to be able to realize their full potential so they can participate in this democracy that we all live in. It really needs to be a little bit more of a use of strong words like you're using in educational malpractice because it really is not even a crisis, it really is just something that we really need to think of as so morally wrong that we are casting off children just because we're not getting it right. And whatever that means and whatever way that means, I think is up for debate and there's a lot of room within that. But we are doing something so wrong when young kids, and I've seen kids and I've worked with five-year-olds who infer that they're stupid because they can't read at the same pace as their peers and that... It's just not okay.
1:03:54 TH: It's devastating. I wanna be mindful of our time. I think we've had an amazing discussion. I have a few questions that I want to ask of each of you as we wrap up. The first question is, I would like to know from each of you. If you had to choose one tactic, right now, to end the reading wars and to improve the situation in classrooms, what would it be? Don't everyone go first.
1:04:22 EH: Who's going first?
1:04:23 TH: Don't everyone jump in.
1:04:24 NC: Go team. I'll go.
1:04:25 TH: Okay, Norma is gonna go. She's going to bite the bullet.
1:04:28 NC: I think that it all boils down to changing how either we legislate or have policy around teacher training and implementation and how closely schools are monitored. I think that the intent of no child left behind and some of the testing was to get at this, but the outcomes that we're using aren't matching what we're expecting to be put in. I think that that policy piece really needs to happen. And simultaneously along with giving teachers that training, we need to also have parents understand what exactly should be going on in schools. And that's something that I'm so grateful, Emily, that you are doing that reporting because I share so many of your articles with families that I've worked with. And they share it with their friends, and it has a ripple effect of them saying, "Hey I'm seeing this with my kid." "Hey I'm not seeing this in my school." And then maybe they'll go to a school board meeting or maybe they'll go into their principal's office and have a discussion about it. And I think the more that it's out there and the information is known, the better chance that we have to leverage all of that spotlight to make some real changes.
1:05:33 KN: Yeah, and for me, I think it would be echoing some of your comments, Norma. Initial teacher preparation, initial teacher training, so that teachers go into the classroom knowing how the writing system works, being expert in it themselves. We all are, we are 'cause we can speak and use language, but knowing that knowledge explicitly so that we can then teach it and I think it's probably in Mark Seidenberg's book, where he talks about wouldn't it be... What teachers really need is lessons in linguistics, or in psycholinguistics. And I think that for me would be the big thing. And getting teachers prepared so that when they go into the classroom, they're not learning it on the job, they've already got that background or if they're lucky to work in a school where there's good apprenticeship models and they can learn from other teachers but it's there and it's absolutely fundamental in teacher education and it's not the case here. I think things have improved a lot in the UK but some of our teacher training programs are really short, they're only a year in length.
1:06:33 KN: And I see sometimes things that you see on the curriculum and it's like, Why does a year one teacher need to know about Piaget, ad finitum, ad finitum? It's not the Piaget and lessons from Piaget and Vygotsky aren't important, but compared with the basics of how the writing system works and how to teach reading and writing effectively and efficiently while capturing the joy of language and so on, seems to me really fundamental, and missing a trick, not to do it.
1:07:05 EH: Yeah, it's an opportunity cost question, which is the way that I look at more and more and more. Teacher training and what happens in classrooms, there's a limited amount of time for everything. We're never gonna have all the time in the world. So you've gotta think about what you're focusing on. So I think what you both have said I think teacher knowledge is super important. I think what Kate said we do focus on teachers, you need to know the science and about phonics, but I think this thing that they need to know about how the English language works is not being talked about enough. That is so important because that really is the key to making it work in the classroom.
1:07:36 EH: So the other side of it though, we need to really look at what's going on in schools too. So if we... Say we changed... I think teacher preparation is probably the more difficult thing, the thing that's gonna be the hardest to change, but say we did teach... Fix teacher preparation and all teachers were coming out of their one or two-year program with some good knowledge of the science and with some good linguistic knowledge, then a lot of them go into schools though, and they don't find the other people there know that stuff or they teach a curriculum that really has some of that stuff mixed in but it's based on a set of beliefs that are very... That are not informed by the science. So I think we really need to look more carefully at the curriculum and the approaches. We've had a kind of way of doing it in the United States where we sort of look at programs and study programs. I think we need to take one step back and look at what are the approaches that we're using here? It's harder to do a controlled study about that. But we need some way... I think we need the scientists, and we need people like Kate and Mark Seidenberg to go in and look at what's happening in a balanced literacy classroom. Look at how time is used and tell us, [chuckle] where does this line up?
1:08:47 EH: If you knew the science and you were gonna design reading curriculum, reading instruction, would it look like that? Uh-uh. It wouldn't look like a lot of what we're doing in a lot of schools. So how do we get there? So we can have teachers have the knowledge, but they need to have the materials, the support, the structures, the ongoing professional development, there's no way teachers are gonna learn as much as they need to know. Even if we made teacher preparation five years they probably wouldn't learn everything they need to know, but that's probably... We probably do need to teacher preparation to be more like four or five years, if they're really gonna learn all this stuff.
1:09:18 EH: So yeah, to fellow reporters who may or may not be listening to this. We do need more journalism on this too, because this needs to be exposed and documented. We need to document where it's not working, we actually need to document where it's going right too, 'cause a lot of people who are skeptical still need to be convinced, we need to show them like this is working here, this changed here, so we really need more of that. And this is an intimidating topic, it's intimidating to me, as a reporter, and I know I've talked to a lot of reporters, there's a lot of land mines, there's a lot of things to get wrong, it's really complicated. I think a lot of people shy away from it, and taking on the big bites, like taking on the big elephants in the room. There's a lot of elephants in the room, they're not really naming, I think, in terms of what's really going on out there in the name of teaching reading we need to name those more and document them and show what's not quite right and why.
1:10:07 NC: Emily, I'm gonna riff on that and say too that what I was gonna mention is right in line with your thinking, and I'm gonna speak more to the researcher field, group. You were speaking to fellow journalists, and I wanna speak to fellow scientists and even just the infrastructure we work in. I think we need to do more implementation science. So my students have really talked to me more about this, and I've got more into what does this look like. And implementation science, is exactly what you said, Emily. It's going into the classroom, it's seeing what's happening, it's also the process of working with teachers to create curriculums that are scientifically based, that are scalable and actually work in the classroom. So seeing teachers and administrators as partners in your scientific endeavor as opposed to just research-informing practice but really the vice-versa, practice informing research so that we can then bridge that gap in a way that creates partnerships and working together.
1:11:04 NC: We've been doing that here in my lab and really thinking about it, but one of the barriers, biggest barriers, is funding and also the system in which scientists receive promotions, rewards, publications and those publications are... The best publications tend to be those that are less messy. And you mentioned how messy this research is. So I think we have to create systems that understand the messiness of implementation science, fund implementation science and reward it. And even in the school system, too, teachers getting rewarded for working with scientists, and so we can create this system. And I think there's a lot of hope that that system is being created. I see it more and more in the conferences I'm attending, in the research proposals and grant mechanisms that are out there that are focusing on implementation science. I think it's... I think there's a lot of hope out there for this type of work and it needs to be done.
1:12:02 TH: Yeah. Okay, so the other question I wanna ask you is, I would like Emily and Kate to each speak about what are they working on right now, that they're most excited about? It kind of maybe gets to this a little bit, but we can also open it up to other types of projects. But what are you working on now?
1:12:23 KN: Shall I go? Yeah, working on lots and lots of different things, but I thought the thing I'd share with you today is some... What literally I've been working on this morning, which has been looking at some data from the 500 Words writing competition that runs in the UK. So, this is an amazing competition that launched, I don't know, back in 2012 something like that. It's run by the BBC and it's a national competition where children aged between 5 and 13 can submit a story. And the only constraint is it can't be more than 500 words, it's called the 500 Words writing competition. And it's showcased by a really popular morning breakfast DJ and get lots of media attention and so on. And each year, the number of children entering this competition goes up and up and up.
1:13:12 KN: And just last week, we got the data for the 2019 entries, and we're nearly at a million stories now. So, over the last few years that many children have submitted a story, which is a good news story in itself. This is work done by my colleagues at Oxford University Press, and we're very lucky that we get to see the stories that the children write. And we saw the data for the first time last year, last week. And it's an absolute joy to see what the kids are writing about. And this is the success of the reading, when you see what the kids are writing. And to think that it's stifling creativity, I mean no, this is not the case. Amazing stories, but also of course for us for research purposes, it's just a gold mine of wonderful things to look at.
1:13:57 KN: And what we've been looking at over the last few days, and I say we, this is my colleagues, Yaling Hsiao, and Nicola Dawson. One thing we've been looking at is morphology in children's writing, looking to see when they begin writing more complex words. There's some really interesting applied data, hardly anybody else in the world know this yet. So this is fresh off the page just this week. Just looking at the proportion of words that children write that maybe compound words, so something like foot and ball put together to make football, versus derivational words like unbreakable where you've got an, "un-break-able," bits. And we can just see that the number of compound words is fairly constant across development as a proportion of the number of words that they produce, but the morphological complexity of derived words just sort of goes up and really takes off at about seven and a half, eight years of age where the kids are being able to use language productively in their own writing. So that's just really lovely to see at scale. And we've got millions and millions of words, too many words, really, for us to deal with.
1:15:05 KN: But what we can begin to think about is what the words they're writing and how they're using language in their writing relates to what they're reading, but also to the type of instruction that they're getting. In addition to the phonics emphasis in the UK, there's a curriculum that's trying to bring the principles of explicit and direct instruction to spelling pronunciation and grammar. So there's quite a prescribed curriculum, as to what teachers are expected to teach in year one, year two, year three, in terms of adverbs, verbs and so on, and derivations and so we're trying to make links between the curriculum, and what changes we're seeing in the children writing year by year.
1:15:43 TH: Oh wow, we will be watching those results and thank you for sharing that initial result, that's amazing. Awesome.
1:15:53 EH: This is Emily. So I have... I'm working on another reporting project. It'll be a podcast and an article coming out in August. I can't say too much about what it is specifically, but I'm getting at these ideas about what are the ideas about how children learn to read words. In particular, that are embedded in popular curriculum materials and approaches to teaching writing. Because I think what's happening is phonics is getting added in, but what else is present in typical balanced literacy approaches. So one way to look at what's happening with reading is like what's absent, what we're not doing, but then it's like what we are doing that may not be a good use of time, but may actually be really getting in the way of kids really learning how the written language works. So I think we're doing some things in classroom; phonics over here for 10 or 20 minutes, and then some other stuff over here that undercuts what we're doing in the phonics instruction. So that's coming in in August, stay tuned.
1:16:50 TH: That sounds amazing. I can not wait. It sounds like the perfect direction too, from all the work that you've been doing. So I look forward to it. My very last question I like to ask all of guests, and Kate knows this, is what is your favorite book from your childhood or now, or both? We'll start with Emily.
1:17:08 EH: So I have a hot off the presses book that hasn't been published yet, that I just got a copy of. It's gonna be published in August, so I just read the first half of it over the weekend, and last week on the train coming home from New York. It's by Natalie Wexler, who's a veteran education reporter who knows a lot about the reading science and the book is called The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America's Broken Education System and How to Fix It. A title written by a publisher, nice and dramatic.
1:17:35 EH: But it is about what we've been talking about, which is this other piece of the puzzle, which is the knowledge part, which is the important thing to think about on the other side of the Simple View of reading. It's not just the words you know, but it's the knowledge you bring. And, so what she's really looking at is how we have gone a little bit knowledge free in K-12... K-2 and beyond, curriculum in the United States and what a problem that is. So when you hear people saying... A lot of times you'll hear people who are kinda anti-phonics when you press their beliefs. Well, kids are learning how to decode words and then they become a little word callers, where they have no idea what they're reading.
1:18:16 EH: Now, number one, I don't know that there's a lot of evidence that that's really such a huge problem, but I think what's happening when kids seem to be able to decode words is a few things. Number one, a lot of those kids are still decoding words when they're like in fourth and fifth grade, and they shouldn't be doing that if we know about orthographic mapping, which we could talk about. You need to get automatic with these words and know these words and you're not actually... When you're an expert reader, you're not going along decoding every word that you come to. So some kids can decode words but they are not automatic with them, which is taking a lot of their brain power and then they're not comprehending what they're reading.
1:18:49 EH: Another issue with reading comprehension is a lot of kids really do have, as Kate was talking about, very, very low vocabulary and language, but another part of it is the knowledge. If they're not being taught science and social studies, history, facts, how to tie things together, if they don't have a framework for the things that they're reading, the comprehension is gonna fall behind. And so she's really documenting this book in a really great way. Just how and why we became so content free and focused more on sort of skills and strategies, and that's what's happening in a lot of balanced literacy classrooms where we're talking a lot about reading skills and strategies, but not actually teaching kids to decode words and then giving them really good stuff to read. And in the meantime before they can read the words on the page when they're at kindergarten, first and second grade teaching them history, teaching them science, teaching kids this stuff that's gonna help them comprehend what they're reading, and make them wanna read more.
1:19:42 TH: Absolutely. Oh, that sounds fantastic. I can't wait to read that myself. And that's really near and dear to my heart and I know Kate's as well and Norma, thinking about the language comprehension processes and knowledge associated with those processes. So that's quite fantastic. Kate, you shared your favorite book before, but I'd love for you to share it again, or different if you'd like.
1:20:03 KN: Well, I thought about a different one but that felt like it was breaking the rules.
1:20:07 KN: So my favorite one from childhood, from last time, which is What Katie Did.
1:20:14 TH: Love it, I love it. I like too, that in the first podcast that we had with you and Ann about the reading words you even shared your original copy that you had.
1:20:22 KN: I know.
1:20:23 TH: So it just shows how important that book is to you and how that maybe set you on your trajectory. So thank you for sharing. Great. Norma?
1:20:31 NC: Mine is definitely from my childhood, has a little more sentimental, Blueberries for Sal was my favorite book growing up, my grandmother used to walk with me to the library every week and I just can have this vivid memory of picking it out and sharing that time with her, so it was always a special book to me.
1:20:48 TH: We love that book too at my house. That's fantastic. Well, thank you so much for joining and I look forward to getting this podcast out to the listeners. I know it will be something that they look forward to and it's just an ongoing conversation. So this is part two, we may have part three, four, or five, and just keep the conversation moving forward. So thank you.
1:21:09 EH: Thank you.
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