Following yesterday’s post on Structured Word Inquiry (SWI), Kathy Rastle highlighted in the comments that The Nuffield Foundation have conducted a randomised controlled trial comparing SWI with something called ‘motivated reading’ as interventions for struggling readers.
An intervention for struggling readers is not the same as initial reading instruction but interventions are often the subject of research because they tend to be more contained and manipulable. In this case, there appears to be no published paper on the study, but the research team have released a set of slides destining the study and its findings.
Critically, this was a developer-led study. In other words, SWI developers were involved at all stages, unlike a program out in the wild.
Interestingly, the SWI researchers refer to it as the ‘MORPH’ project, illustrate the slides with images of a cartoon character called ‘Morph’ and refer to SWI as a form of ‘morphological instruction’. I have been called-out by SWI advocates on Twitter for suggesting that SWI focuses on teaching morphology from the start and I am now beginning to wonder why.
That phrase ‘from the start’ is important. The slides contain examples of what are described as ‘word matrices’ which show how a root word such a ‘sign’ can be altered by various prefixes and suffixes. I have seen Mandy Nayton of DSF demonstrate something very similar, but that was in the context of children in late primary school who had already mastered the earlier stages of a systematic phonics program. Morphology of this kind, coupled with etymology can be particularly helpful for English spelling, given our use of schwas (unstressed vowel sounds that we tend to pronounce as a short ‘uh’, making it hard to determine which vowels to use to represent them). I cannot imagine having a discussion of word matrices with early or struggling readers but then I’m not a reading teacher.
The control condition, motivated reading, is interesting. Children selected a book that was read aloud to them. They then reread it in a group while applying reading comprehension strategies. In addition, one lesson per week focused on vocabulary instruction. It does not appear that any phonics was involved.
Both the motivated reading condition and the SWI condition were delivered by the same set of teaching assistants. The SWI developers decided to script these sessions and they also provided four days of training and fortnightly school visits by the developers. The interventions consisted of three 20 minutes sessions per week for 24 weeks.
The results showed that the effects of motivated reading and SWI were basically the same, both on broad measures such as reading comprehension and on measures you might expect to favour SWI such as a ‘morphological spelling task’. The researchers conclude that SWI is no more effective an intervention than motivated reading.
The researchers suggest possible reasons for the failure of SWI and these include that it was too high level and that the teaching assistants lack of knowledge and confidence in SWI may have reduced its effectiveness (even though fidelity scores for both conditions were not significantly different). This is supported by interviews with the teaching assistants who felt that SWI was more challenging for children to learn.
I don’t find this particularly surprising.
No doubt, these findings will not convince the committed. They may find fault with the design of the study. But it is worth pointing out that these are ideal conditions, designed by developers with an interest in SWI who maintained a commitment throughout the duration of the study. If it doesn’t work as an intervention here then where will it work? What hope is there for rolling SWI out at scale as an initial form of reading instruction?
I would make two more observations. Firstly, motivated reading sounds a lot like whole language to me. Can we conclude, therefore, that SWI is no better than whole language?
Secondly, motivated reading did not appear to contain any phonics. Yet even those who are sceptical of the evidence for phonics will admit that systematic phonics programs are superior to no phonics at all. If so, we may expect a systematic phonics program to beat motivated reading and, from the results of this study, we may therefore expect it to beat SWI.
If you think these observations are a bit of a stretch then fine. The best way forward would probably be to run SWI against systematic phonics in a randomised controlled trial. In fact, I’m unsure why they didn’t do that and why they instead chose to run it against a phonics-free condition we would all expect to be inferior. Go figure.
33 thoughts on “Structured Word Inquiry fails a key test”
I’ve been following this closely and it’s been a great ride.
Yup, on a high horse.
The “science of reading” proponents of phonics dismiss whole language as unscientific and they criticize advocates the of SWI because there is no good empirical support for it. This is ironic because proponents of phonics not only have no scientific basis for their strong claims, they often don’t act much like scientists, ignoring serious criticisms, selectively highlighting (and often misrepresenting) findings in support of their views. It is odd that there is such a strong resistance to SWI when the main claim is that SWI needs more study.
With regards to my critique of phonics, Greg has not addressed a single criticism (of many) I put forward. Instead, he has come up with a more generic response, namely, my argument is post-hoc. The claim makes no sense. With regards to the Camilli et al. studies, Camilli etl. highlighted that the NPR meta-analysis was not designed to ask the question of whether systematic phonics is better than non-systematic phonics, so they ran their own meta-analysis asking this question. They found much reduced effects, and in one analysis, no significant benefit of systematic phonics. There is nothing post-hoc about it; they carried out their own meta-analyses designed to ask a different (more relevant) question.
I then reviewed all the other meta-analyses since then. It is not post-hoc to note that they were not designed to test the question of whether systematic phonics is better than non-systematic phonics, or test the question whether systematic phonics is better than whole language. But authors of these meta-analyses routinely made conclusions that their meta-analyses were not even designed to test. In some cases, authors have carried out the wrong statistics to support their conclusions they draw. In two cases I pointed out that flawed studies should have been removed from the meta-analyses, but as is made clear in the paper, even if these studies are left in, they provide little or no evidence for systematic phonics. So, let me say that again, without removing any studies, and taking the findings as reported in all the meta-analyses, the results still do not support systematic phonics. None of this is post-hoc in any sense, and none of these points are addressed by Greg, or anyone in the research community although the findings have been public for about 2 years and I’ve been asking for feedback.
On the other hand, proponents of phonics jump at any finding they see that supports their view. When the PIRLS, SAT, PISA results come up there is an explosion of excitement saying the findings support systematic phonics, and in all cases when you look closely you realize that the findings show no such thing. Looking critically at these results in not post-hoc (if there is a flaw in my analyses then fine, point it out). A few weeks back there was the “Mississippi Miracle” in phonics that showed no such thing. When people have nothing to say about my critique of all the meta-analyses on systematic phonics they come up with “project follow through”, or the “Clackmannanshire” studies that are so flawed that papers have been written about them. Of course, in 100s of studies you can find a subset that will support systematic phonics. But unless someone can address why one particular study should be given more weight than all existing meta-analyses and the results of over a decade of SSP in England, then it is hard to argue that the evidence for systematic phonics is so strong.
With regards to SWI, the first thing to note is that my brother Peter Bowers and myself are not claiming that the empirical evidence provides strong support to SWI. Rather, we are saying that there is a strong theoretical motivation to teach children both the phonological and sematic regularities of written English, that the spelling system is better characterized as morphophonemic rather than following the “alphabetic principle” (that only emphasizes GPCs), and that there is some promising early empirical work, not only with regards to the value of morphological instruction, but in a series of studies that have used SWI. (3 published, and I understand another in review). Unlike proponents of systematic phonics who claim the evidence is in, we are saying the evidence is too preliminary to make any strong conclusions, but it is promising and needs more study. See the difference?
So, what about the “failed” SWI study that has been highlighted by Greg that he has heard about second hand. The paper is close to being submitted and I will be happy to put up a draft of the paper on my blogpost if my co-authors are happy with this as soon as it is ready. We compared SWI to “motivated reading” that was based on previous methods of instruction that were found to be effective – we tried to come up with the strongest alternative form of instruction based on current findings. We found both groups improved, but overall, both groups improved to the same extent. Yes, this was disappointing, but I think a fair way of summarizing the findings is that SWI worked as well as the best alternative for this age group (group phonics instruction was not appropriate as they children were in years 3 and 5).
A key additional finding was that SWI was difficult for the teaching assistants to learn. We did not give them enough training and for the most part, they reported that they did not feel confident teaching SWI (the 3 SWI studies that did show selective benefits were all run by experts in SWI). So, in no way does our work suggest that SWI does not work, but it does suggest that a challenge of SWI is training teachers to teach SWI. This will be one of my projects in the future, developing methods to make teaching SWI easier for teachers, and designing future studies where SWI is delivered more expertly. That is, more work needs to be done on SWI. I just don’t understand why researchers are consistently trying to undermine SWI rather than explore the exciting hypothesis that children should be thought the logic of their writing system. And in any case, proponents of phonics need to reconsider their assumption that the evidence strongly supports their view. If SWI turns out not to be effective or practical, the current evidence does not support the conclusion that we should be satisfied with systematic phonics.
Thanks for taking the time to reply. I have been upfront about my biases throughout and I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I wonder if you should reflect a little more on some of yours. I wonder if they are preventing you from seeing some things that are clear to others. Just a thought.
Firstly, post-hoc analysis is a real issue. Your paper dismissing the evidence for systematic phonics relies, at least in part, on a reanalysis of the NRP meta-analysis conducted by Camilli et al. This takes the NRP data and does new calculations with it that the NRP search was not designed to deal with. For a few days, I have been aware of the following paper that deals in detail with the Camilli analysis and answers many of the arguments you make from it:
It makes the following point that I think is more fundamental than anything else:
“A potential limitation of these estimates is that the literature search was not designed to address the comparisons made in Camilli et al. (2003). Studies that compared no phonics and some phonics would not necessarily have been identified by the NRP search strategy. Additionally, the NRP search strategy was not designed to locate studies that compared no phonics or some phonics to a standard treatment control with systematic language activities.”
This is a good summary of some of the problems with post-hoc analysis. Why have I not referred to this paper more when it includes its own recalculations that cast doubt on those done by Camilli? Because these are, again, post-hoc.
It is certainly valid to critique the criteria used to set-up a meta-analysis but not to rely on post-hoc recalculations or exclusions / inclusions. To really address this question, you should conduct your own meta-analysis making your own criteria clear up front. This would reduce your researcher-degrees of freedom. You many find, for instance, that these criteria force you to include evidence that, in hindsight, you would really rather exclude and so on.
One critical issue that has arisen in discussing SWI is the teaching of morphology. My school has used two different systematic phonics programmes which both have taught morphology, they just have not done it from the start of instruction. Having delved into this, my observation is that there are two main flaws with SWI.
1. Insisting on teaching morphology from the start
2. A kind of unbending morphological fundamentalism
I will explain.
Firstly, and I think this is obvious to all of us who are not invested in SWI, you are never going to adequately train teaching assistants or teachers to deliver morphology in parallel with etymology in parallel with GPCs in initial reading instruction or an intervention for struggling readers. It’s just not feasible. Let’s look at the evidence. In this study, the TAs got four days of training, scripted lessons and fortnightly visits from programme developers. What more do they need? How could you possibly go to scale with something that after such an investment in training, leads to people not feeling confident in delivery?
Secondly, after engaging with some SWI advocates on Twitter, I understand that the proposal to teach children the ‘logic of the writing system’ becomes translated into a rigid and unbending set of principles, quite unsuited to the promiscuity of English.
For instance, one advocate for SWI proudly states in her pinned tweet that ‘tion is not a suffix’ and illustrates this in another tweet by showing that for words ending with ‘tion’, the English base contains the ‘t’ (e.g. act-action). She then challenged others to find words ending with ‘tion’ that do not have the ‘t’ in the base.
The Twitter community offered lots of examples such as ‘revolve-revolution’. No matter, the SWI advocate did not admit her error. Apparently the Latin (not English) base is ‘revolvere’ and the ‘forth principle part’ – whatever that is – contains a ‘t’.
Even if this is correct, is it a discussion that is most appropriate for initial reading instruction or some later point? And I’m not even convinced that it is correct. When I asked Twitter whether ‘tion’ was a suffix, a linguistics professor answered that it depends what you mean by a ‘suffix’. Although I do not have the language knowledge to comment, this seems far more in keeping with the messy nature of English. So no, I see no compelling theoretical reason to move toward SWI and its attempt to impose a formal system on English. That case remains to be made.
I would commend you, however, on your desire to seek dialogue. You may want to have a word with some of the SWI voices on Twitter in this regard. As a result of these posts, I have been the target of some quite unpleasant comments. These don’t bother me much – I interpret personal attacks as a sign that people cannot respond to my arguments. However, I am aware that this has discouraged a large number of phonics advocates from engaging with discussions about SWI.
Also, here is a list of systematic phonics programs from Multilit, some of which would be appropriate for Years 3 and 5:
Just a brief comment about your claim that it is unfeasible to teach teachers or teaching assistants to deliver SWI. There is no basis for this claim. Most people seem to agree that it is useful to teach morphology (and perhaps etymology) later, so the assumption must be that it is possible for teachers to teach all these skills. That is, the standard criticism of SWI seems to be that morphology and etymology is too difficult for young children rather than teachers. There is no evidence for this claim either, but if we all agree that teachers can teach GPCs and morphology and etymology at different stages, it is a bit unclear why it is infeasible that they teach these skills together.
And what is so strange about the resistance to SWI is that SWI introduces some amazing tools to instruction that seem to me (and many others) so useful, including the morphological matrix that organizes words into morphological families and word sums that detail the morphological organization of single words. The morphological matrix seems such a powerful tool to organize words for the sake of vocabulary and spelling (and framework for learning GPCs). Is the suggestion that teachers cannot learn to teach with the morphological matrix and word sums for teaching older children? If they can, they could also do this with younger children. It is an empirical question whether it works with both groups, but to dismiss SWI because it is not feasible it to give up far too quickly.
Our “failed” study was our first attempt to teach TAs, and we did underestimate the challenges (contrary to your claim the TAs did not get 4 days of SWI and biweekly instruction in SWI). But I am confident that it is possible to develop tools and better training conditions to make it possible for teachers in general to use morphological matrices, word sums, teaching affixing rules, and explain how etymology is key for deciding whether a word should be part of a morphological family, etc.. Even if it doesn’t work for children from the start (the only evidence to date suggests it will work from the start, and theoretically, the ability to understand and organize information is best for learning at any stage), these tools in SWI should be tested, not dismissed or ignored for more of the same, where phonics is taught separately from (limited) morphology, where there is no particularly strategy for spelling or vocabulary instruction. The morphological matrix addresses all these skills, and nevertheless is utterly ignored. Bizarre really.
The evidence I was drawing on was from your study which also makes sense to me from a cognitive load perspective. We shall see whether you are able to get it to work in future. Right now, it should not be promoted as best practice or as evidence-based.
Also, just to clarify one thing, you said, “contrary to your claim the TAs did not get 4 days of SWI and biweekly instruction in SWI“
The slides I linked to said this:
“Delivered by teaching assistants
– Four day training workshop
– Scripted lessons
– Fortnightly school visits by research team”
Are the slides wrong?
The main point in my recent article is that systematic phonics should not be promoted as best practice or as evidence-based. I’ve been clear that more empirical evidence is needed for SWI, andI think the same should be expected of proponents of systematic phonics. I’ll leave it there.
Well anyone promoting systematic phonics can point to consensus among reading researchers and documents such as the NRP. That’s presumably why you’ve spend so much time trying to knock that over.
On what basis would teachers attend a course like this?
Would they be aware that there is no evidence it improves reading outcomes? And by that, I mean that there are not lots of meta-analyses, whether those meta-analyses are disputed by some researchers or not.
Responding to your comments:
1) There were two interventions (SWI and motivated reading) that were taught in the 4 day workshop and supported by the researchers in their visits at schools. It wasn’t all SWI.
2). There are meta-analyses and reviews showing the morphological instruction is beneficial, and there are 3 studies that show that SWI does benefit reading, writing, vocabulary when taught by experts in SWI. Given decades of research on systematic phonics has not provided good evidence (despite the consensus), I would think it would be a good idea to take a workshop on SWI taught by my brother. Do you think teachers should not have a better understanding of the English writing system, and new methods to teach morphology, spelling, and vocabulary? Not to mention a more accurate way to teach GPCs?
Thanks for the clarification regarding training. Given the limited, scripted scope of the intervention, this should have been more than ample.
There’s an interesting elision here. Nobody doubts that morphological instruction is beneficial. All of the systematic phonics programs I know make use of it. As I have written, I have even seen something very similar to SWI matrices demonstrated by a systematic phonics advocate. The critical point is that, as I understand it, SWI advises teaching morphology from the very start ie with children who cannot decode CVC words. That’s the bit that seems inappropriate and is distinctly lacking in evidence. Given its implausibility, the burden of evidence lies with those suggesting it and it should not be presented as evidence based.
Not only is SWI not implausible at the start of instruction (see various videos that have been distributed), the one study that has been carried out with children years 5-7 showed an advantage over phonics (Devonshire et al., 2013). And value of SWI does not even hinge on whether it is introduced at the start or not. Is SWI implausible for later years of instruction in your view (just not possible to teach teachers SWI), or is SWI not appropriate at the start of instruction? I’m not entirely clear of your objections to SWI, and why you think teachers should not be taking workshops in SWI.
Not only have you not addressed any of the problems I have identified with the evidence for phonics, nor has anyone else in the research community. I would be interested if Max Coltheart, Pamela Snow, Anne Castles, Kathy Rastle, etc. would agree with your assessment that my critique of the meta-analyses and standardized reading test scores post SSP in England are post-hoc. Or any other objections to my critique given that they have commented or retweeted your blogpost.
Honestly, what is so objectionable about the hypothesis that children should be taught both the semantic and phonological regularities of their writing system? Especially when I and others have been arguing that more empirical research is needed? When the evidence for SSP is so weak, it seems important to consider alternative approaches, no?
Thanks – I will check out the Devonshire study.
The only video I have seen so far about the start of reading instruction is the one I’ve written about in which the child can already apparently read ‘Mom says she wants a…’. I find this unconvincing. If you have links to more convincing ones then I will analyse them.
If the contention was that SWI does not have to be the initial form of reading instruction and can be introduced later as a programme to teach morphology, etymology and so on once children have a good grasp of GPCs then I would find this far more plausible and far less contentious. As I have repeatedly noted, morphological instruction is a key part of the latter stages of all the systematic phonics program I know about. I wonder if you think it is unique to SWI and all other programs neglect it? No matter, it could be that SWI is a more systematic and effective approach than the ones currently used in phonics programs and so we could test that. I would welcome such research.
What is objectionable? Imagine, for a moment, that you were convinced of the research consensus as represented by the NRP report. You may then find it objectionable that SWI is being set up in opposition to these findings with the result of potentially denying children the most effective form of initial reading instruction. You may be concerned about the potential for harm.
SWI is different than any form of instruction at the start or later in instruction. But there is no basis for thinking that SWI is not appropriate at the start. Learning is best when information can be organized in a meaningful manner, and why it would not apply to reading instruction is not clear. Phonics is committed to the claim that we should ignore the meaningful organization of spellings at the start. Might be right, but it is counter-intuitive, and as it turns out, not much evidence for it.
Consensus is meaningless if researchers cannot defend the consensus.
You can find videos in the papers I’ve written about SWI.
Hmmm… there seems to be something a priori about your argument here. Why is phonics not meaningful? Is this perhaps more of an ideological position than a scientific one?
Happy for you to link to some of the videos here if you wish. I am always keen to track through papers but some others who are reading this exchange may not have access and may appreciate the links.
Links to videos are included in my papers that you can read on my webpage:https://jeffbowers.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/publications-edu-literacy/
Just having a quick look at Devonshire. Is this the study you are referring to?
If so, it looks like the children involved in the study had already received 1 or 2 years of schooling that included instruction in GPCs. Have I got that right?
SWI worked for 5-7 year olds. If you are happy with that, me too.
Yes, I get that. However, I’m not really interested in their age but whether there is evidence supporting the teaching of SWI from the start of reading instruction (or perhaps as an intervention with students with reading difficulties). If these students had already had 1-2 years of reading instruction then this is not relevant to that question.
The phonics instruction does not sound like it was optimal, but it was there. Here’s the relevant section:
“At the beginning of this study the children in Year 1 had previously received one year of formal schooling (Reception Year), while those in Year 2 had received two years of formal schooling. The methods of literacy instruction in this school follow the UK National Curriculum. In their first year of school children are taught the initial ‘sounds’ of the alphabet, for example the /c/ sound as in , /a/ as in and so on. They begin to learn the letter names of the alphabet once this first stage is completed. During the first two years children are introduced to consonant digraphs such as /sh/ in and /ch/ in . Toward the end of Year 1 children begin to learn vowel digraphs such as /oa/ in and vowel consonant digraphs such as /ar/ and /er/. In addition, rote learning of specific word spellings is emphasised through the weekly spelling test of specific words. Children in Year 1 begin by learning a list of five consonant vowel-consonant (CVC) words e.g., , , , . By Year 2 children have usually progressed to a list of 10 words, including high frequency words such as , , , and words with consonant or vowel digraphs such as . The children also used the Oxford Reading Tree reading scheme (Hunt & Brychta, 2008), a popular scheme in UK schools, progressing through this at their own pace. The Oxford Reading Tree is not a phonic reading scheme; it takes more of a ‘whole word’ approach and children are encouraged to guess words from context or picture clues. The standard practice at the school was for the children to take a new book home each week and learn to read the sentences by rote. The teacher or teaching assistant would assess whether this was achieved by listening to each child read once a week.”
Looks like the example words are not showing in that extract because HTML does not like pointy brackets, but you get the idea.
Hi Jeff, I’m on holidays so just a quick reply. You ping me in your response to Greg saying:
“Not only have you not addressed any of the problems I have identified with the evidence for phonics, nor has anyone else in the research community. I would be interested if Max Coltheart, Pamela Snow, Anne Castles, Kathy Rastle, etc. would agree with your assessment that my critique of the meta-analyses and standardized reading test scores post SSP in England are post-hoc. Or any other objections to my critique given that they have commented or retweeted your blogpost.”
As you would remember, we had quite a lengthy discussion in the comments on your blog some months ago. I’m not sure why you consider that my comments there do not at least represent an attempt to address the problems you raise (of course I can’t control whether you accept my arguments or not). I’ll just paste a couple of extracts here:
“I’ve read your detailed analysis and I think you make some important points – and I agree with you that there has been a tendency to take some of the phonics results at face value and without sufficient attention to the devil in the detail. On reading it all through, though, I still come away with conclusion that the overall pattern of results favours systematic phonics over non-systematic phonics. You are right to point out that the control in the major meta-analyses such as NRP is “non-systematic or no phonics”, but as you note yourself, there are going to be very few studies that have no phonics at all of any kind (I find it hard to imagine how that would even be possible – what does the teacher say when a kid asks?) And, yes, the effect size is reduced when you remove those no-phonics studies, but it is still there on most measures (at least before further moderator analyses are done). So my overall take on the pattern of data would be that (1) phonics is good (2) there is a graded effect such that the more systematic and explicit the phonics is, the better the results tend to be (though the differences are not as pronounced as some of the literature has suggested).”
“I’d still cite the NRP study as coming out overall in favour of systematic phonics. I did read the Camilli et al (2006) study, but found it very hard to figure out what they’d actually done, and why they’d made the decisions they did about which factors to control. No doubt there are many, many different ways these data could be carved up – I really have no way of knowing whether things they have done have introduced other confounds. So, imperfect though it may be, I place more weight on the results as reported against the original set of criteria”
So, my response here echoes some of Greg’s points. All any of us can do is look at all the evidence before us and make a judgement based on it. My judgement – based on reading your paper, the Camilli et al papers, and all the systematic reviews – would be that you are right that the evidence for systematic phonics is weaker than some would claim, but that the evidence is still there. I’m not sure what more I can say on this point.
I do think this is an important discussion, which is why I am retweeting contributions from both you and Greg whenever I see them – which may be intermittent as I am on the beach ;-). Those who would like to read more of the exchange between Jeff and me can find it in the comments section on Jeff’s blog here:
Hi Anne, you are right, you did engage before, and should not have given impression you had not. My specific question here is whether researchers would support Greg’s main response to my critique, namely, that my analysis of the meta-analyses and the standardized testing in England is “post-hoc”. There is no point me repeating the point that this is mistaken, and thought it would be useful to have someone else comment.
Apart from the NPR that only has 4 studies that directly compared SSP to whole language, there is not a single meta-analyses subsequent that has compared systematic phonics to whole language (and the 4 studies in the NRP provide no basis to support SSP — one positive, one negative, and two tiny effects). Nevertheless the field is full of papers citing the meta-analyses in support of SSP over whole language There is no evidence from over a decade of SSP in England that standardized tests have improved. I would say the evidence is much weaker than your comments suggest, but appreciate your comment that the evidence has been overstated.
I’m glad you are highlighting this exchange, good to hear from you, and have a great holiday!
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“the results still do not support systematic phonics”
Are letter sounds taught the way they should be? NO! and this is the basic problem. Greg does not understand this nor does he bother to understand.
Around the world teachers are teaching the letter sounds wrong and then blaming it on phonics.
I have many video clips in my blog on how wrong letter sounds are taught but does Greg understand this? No!.
The basic foundation is faulty and correct this and we will see illiteracy reduced.
Consonants should not have extraneous sounds added and this is the main reason for all reading wars.
Read my post today at http://www.dyslexiafreiend.com
and then let us discuss.
As an Early Years educator for many years, teaching the structure of words, through phonology, morphology, orthography, semantics will help when attempting to read unfamiliar printed words or spelling from the beginning. A repertoire of strategies in their tool box is essential.
As a reading specialist working in a high poverty school for twelve years with hundreds of children who have no GPC knowledge, I have found that “from the beginning” what is essential is establishing phonemic awareness and teaching students to attach print to sound. Isabel Beck’s word-building lessons in Making Sense of Phonics (used with Elkonin boxes) are great for this. This was the approach I took a few days ago when I subbed in a kindergarten class and worked with a girl who had drawn and labeled a bright yellow “snu”.
I am taking this definition of cognitive load:
Intrinsic cognitive load is the effort associated with a specific topic, extraneous cognitive load refers to the way information or tasks are presented to a learner, and germane cognitive load refers to the work put into creating a permanent store of knowledge, or a schema.
I am applying it to this video of teaching SWI to non-readers:
And I’m concluding that AT THIS STAGE of reading development the cognitive load from SWI is too great.
I should say “hypothesizing” rather than “concluding” since the research hasn’t been done yet. I’m drawing upon my 12 years experience with beginning readers, but I’m eager to be proven wrong since I want to do what’s best for my students, especially since so many come from homes where they’ve had limited literacy experiences.
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