[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1982 p1]


Meeting: Special Interest Group 18, Reading: Orthography and Word Perception.

(Open to all confrees) International Reading Assoc. 27th Annual Convention, Apt. 26-30, 1982, Chicago, .Ill. Conrad Hilton Hotel.

Session: 9.00-11:45 A.M. Thurs. Apr. 29, 1982, Williford B Room, Conrad Hilton Hotel.

Program Organizer: Dr. Emmett Albert Betts, Prof. Emeritus, Univ. of Miami. Winter Haven, Florida.

Topic: Reading Levels, Word Perception, Comprehension

Chairperson: Dr. Katherine P. Betts, Florida Southern College
Part 1: Demonstration with children by Dr. Emmett A. Betts
Part 2: Evaluation of pupil learning needs and achievement by participants, responses to questions from confrees, and open-ended discussion of the topic.

Chairman: Dr. Jack E. Haynes, Florida Southern College
Part 3: Business meeting: Reports, election. of officers, planning for Anaheim, May 2-6, 1983.

Dr. Paul C. Berg, Univ. of So. Carolina
Mr. Joseph E. Brown, Hill Vocational Academic Center
Dr. Lou Burmeister, Univ. of Texas at El Paso
Dr. Earl Cheek, Louisana State Univ., Boca Raton
Dr. H. Ward Ewalt, Jr. Vision Specialist Pittsburgh, Pa.
Dr. George E. Mason, Univ. of Georgia
Dr. John Henry Martin, Phonemic Spelling Council
Dr. Betty Roe., Tennessee Tech. Univ.
Dr. Robert Trammell, Florida Atlantic Univ.
Dr. Josephine Wolfe, Community College, Philadelphia

Publications: Newell W. Tune, Editor


[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1982 pp8-11]

Position Papers of Special Interest Group Members of IRA, on Spelling Reform, Initial Teaching Alphabets, and Word Perception.

Each member of this IRA Special Interest Group was invited to submit one or more position papers relevant to "Reading: Orthography and Word Perception" for publication prior to the annual IRA convention. As noted here-after, these papers deal with the nitty-gritty problems of escalating reading instruction. Furthermore, they cover a wide range of topics from preparation of beginners for reading to initial teaching alphabets and reading methods, from concern with the irregularities of the English spelling system which present word-perception hazards, to meaning (e.g., referential, syntactic). Finally, these papers reflect concerns with the motivation, perception, and cognition (i.e., comprehension) facets of reading instruction as well as the basis of effective instruction: differentiation to provide for specific needs of individual pupils and the broad range of achievement within any class.

Many of these papers did not show the position of the author on all facets of the questions asked. The positions reported seem to be those in the particular aspects that interested the author.


[Joseph Brown: see Bulletins.]

Dear Dr. Betts:Mr. Joseph E. Brown*

*Hill Vocational-Academic Center, Lansing, MI.

This is a brief and informal position paper concerning spelling reform that you mentioned in an earlier letter to me.

Please be aware that the position is non-academic, emanating largely from the point of view of a 20-year working classroom teacher in English and Secondary Reading Instruction (popularly and bureaucratically referred to as Remedial Reading).

The points of view are largely self-generated, based on sincere concern, personal observation, and personal study outside the realm of formal, university-oriented academic pursuits concerning the topics of orthography and illiteracy. Bill Durr (Dr. William Durr, one of Houghton Mifflin's basal editors at the time) was my academic advisor in graduate, school days. He had little time for those interested in Spelling Reform and "Artificial Orthographies."

My attitudes, and the points of view, came to develop from an English/ Language teacher position; and though I am not especially a Hayakawa-Rapport-Korzybsky-Smith fan, many interests arose through the Sematics-General Semantics views of such as "ETC: A Review of General Semantics" and Frank Smith's "Comprehension and Learning" and so forth. It is sincerely hoped that these two levels will not conflict (the academic-technical and the ordinary functional classroom level), but will serve to complement each other in a most worthwhile endeavor: Improved Orthography.

Most important, my views and emotions arise from daily observation of the often barely noticeable but tragic effects that a complicated and inconsistent traditional spelling system has, generation after generation, upon those who do, indeed, become illiterate directly because of the difficulty of learning our traditional way of spelling words.

There are a number of other influences, but it is enough to say that my overwhelming drive is to modify our traditional spelling system in such a way that, at the least, it does not promote illiteracy among certain categories of people.

By no means can the subject of Spelling Reform be discussed in a few paragraphs. A few high points can be touched upon, however.

If one might join forces with those interested in an alternative to traditional orthography, an improved, intelligent, logical, consistent orthography should be the goal of all educators. The word "reform" might well be used very selectively because of its general semantic implications; otherwise an improved spelling system is attainable, with a logical, economical, usable symbols system, and with a very clever, patient strategy to implement the system.

There is no point in enumerating all the noteworthy people who have attempted and encouraged spelling reform in American and other English-speaking histories. Nevertheless, it is a useful starting point to be reminded of one of the earliest and most crucial attempts, time-wise, in relation to the establishment of our general language modes.

A ten-month exchange of ideas between Dr. Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia and Noah Webster, starting in Dec. of 1786, very nearly resulted in a simplified and logical spelling system at a most critical time in American history when it could have been accomplished most easily. It came this close to happening, as revealed in a letter from Webster:
"I am encouraged by the prospect of rendering my country some service, to proceed in my design of refining the language and improving the general system of education. Dr. Franklin has extended my views to a very simple plan of reducing the language to perfect regularity." (Ford, 1, 110)
The letter was written to President George Washington, dated March 31, 1786. The "refining the language and improving the general system of education" referred to a "sufficiently regular" orthography designed by Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, however, it was to Webster's final advantage as a schoolmaster, lecturer, linguist, lawyer textbook writer-publisher, and lexicographer to retreat what was "orthographical orthodoxy" even then. But he did try a few modest forms of simplification: catalog, color, center, traveler, and several more were successful. But the potential collaboration between Webster and Franklin, both successful publishers, dissolved, and our general language styles, including our style of orthography, became set in concrete, to be schoolmastered into our souls for nearly 200 years. Since then, any attempts at spelling reform have met similar ends. Even the Chicago Tribune gave up after a few years of trying to introduce simpler spellings.

Yet, an improved alternative spelling system is still a must. Traditional orthography is a known cause of illiteracy.

Here are some of the factors suggested for consideration:

1. The symbol system must be modern, simple, and well-designed.

2. The strategy for implementing a new spelling system must be comprehensive and very carefully planned.

3. The implementation process must be gradual, in the evolutionary style, rather than in a revolutionary "reform."

4. Whatever form the new system takes, it must appear widely in print-universally. For this reason it must involve languages other than English, for total value.

5. It must be widely acceptable - and usable - by both academics and schoolmarms alike, and be promoted by them.

6. It must be economically acceptable, i.e., in the printing and publication of billions of words, it must not use two characters (thus twice the ink, time, and labor) when one will suffice. Further, it must utilize only traditional alphabet characters that exist on every typewriter keyboat in any type font, and on any computer keyboard; otherwise it would not be feasible in a practical business sense. No keyboard must be changed.

7. Finally, acceptability is critical. There must be no orthographic shock in the new system. Specifically, for example, the new orthographic system must be as closely related visually and sequentially as possible to familiar traditional spellings. It is suggested, among many examples readily at hand, that the /er/ and the /or/ be maintained to represent phonemes simply because they are familiar, frequently used parts of traditional spellings in many words, and that the "uu" combination not be used because it never appears in traditional spelling. The "uu", and others, represent linguistic and orthographic shocks to people schooled for lifetimes in traditional spellings.

Indeed, spelling reform, perhaps under a more moderate title like simplified spelling, can be accomplished. In terms of its universal cultural and educational values, it might compare handily with the discovery of fire, lunar landings, and other important advancements.


[Emmett Betts: see Anthology, Bulletins.]

Position Paper, by Emmett A. Betts, Ph.D., LL.D.

Word Perception: More Than Phonics.

The teacher who helps a pupil discover the relationship between the sounds of speech and the letters and punctuation used to represent that speech, is developing phonic skills.

When you help a pupil discover how words function in a sentence (grammatical meaning), you bring phonics to a higher level of effectiveness.

When pupils are helped to relate words to relevant dictionary meanings, phonics is elevated to word-perception skills.

Word-perception skills, one hallmark of today's reading instruction, need to be developed at all grade levels.

Word-perception skills need to be developed so that pupils can practice these skills automatically during the reading act. This automatic use of skills frees the pupil's mind for thinking about what he reads.

Primacy of speech.

Speech is basic to both word perception and comprehension. When you base reading instruction on the primacy the spoken word, you consider how a word or phrase said before you teach the letter groupings representing that word.

The intonation or melody of speech is also important in word perception. For example, the word can is stressed in a can of apples, but it is unstressed to /k ən/ in I can do it.

In reading, the process (word perception and interpretation of intonation) and product (comprehension) cannot be separated.

Phonics Plus.

Achievement in reading is more than the use of phonic skills alone. In the past, phonics was taught during a separate period. Today, the development of word-perception skills in all reading/study activities should replace isolated phonics instruction. Viewed in proper perspective as part of word perception, phonics becomes an integral part of the total act of teaching reading.


[Betty D. Roe: see Bulletins.]

Position Paper, by Betty D. Roe, Ph.D.*

Should phonics be taught in isolation from reading in context? Why or why not?

Prof. of Educ., Tennessee Tech. Univ., Cookeville, TN.

Phonics should not be taught in isolation from reading in context because, for many words in the English language, context affects pronunciation. A simple word such as "bow" cannot be pronounced with assurance until its sentence and/or paragraph context has been checked. [Example: (1) She tied the ribbon in a bow. (2) You must bow to your partner and then to your corner.] Presenting this word in isolation and teaching students to respond with one pronunciation, based upon the phonic element being taught at the moment (vowel) digraphs or diphthongs), can cause problems when the students meet the word in context and have not been taught that there are two possible pronunciations for the spelling. They are likely to pronounce the word incorrectly, producing a nonsense sentence, resulting in lack of comprehension of the passage. Students should be taught to apply phonics generalizations to unfamiliar words found in context, check to see if the resulting sentence makes sense, and try other alternatives if no meaning results.


[Patrick Groff: see Journals, Newsletters, Bulletins.]

Position Paper, by Patrick Groff, Ph.D.*

Is the Idea of "Sight Words" a Valid Proposition?

*Prof. of Educ., San Diego St. Univ., San Diego, Ca,

If we are to further improve the teaching of beginning reading, we must discontinue the use of the term, "sight words," as this purported phenomenon commonly is described in advice given to teachers. It is often said that a sight word is an unfamiliar word which beginning readers learn to identify without making any analysis of its constituent letters. Supporters of this idea claim that there are hundreds of words which cannot be recognized through the use of phonics and structural analysis aided by context clues. Supposedly, these words are ones the child "memorizes" as "wholes." There are no research findings to support this misleading notion. This supposition also is suspect from a rational examination.

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