[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1993/1 p33-34 later designated J14]
[Also on this page: English standards, Whole language; cartoon.]
[See ALC topics and web; Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, SPB articles, and Personal View by Edward Rondthaler.]

AMERICAN LITERACY COUNCIL.

Report on 1992 activities.

Edward Rondthaler, President American Literacy Council.

For the first time we have received grants from recognized foundations: $3,000 from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem earmarked to print 1500 copies of a new experimental "SoundReeder" book (described below); and $20,000 from the OCRI Foundation in Oregon to carry out professional testing of the "SoundSpeler" program.

A gift from a member has made it possible to begin adding audio - so pupils may hear correct pronunciation as they type. It is likely that many SoundSpeler users will be minorities or bilingual pupils with non-standard pronunciation. Thus the program's usefulness will be significantly enhanced when a pupil can press a key and HEAR what he or she has typed onto the screen. Adding the power of instant audio feedback to SoundSpeler's other strengths should double its teaching effectiveness and expose pupils to standard pronunciation - making it truly multisensory.

Another gift financed formative evaluation of the program at Columbia University Teachers College. This was carried out by Clareann Grimaldi with Joe Little assisting. The two sites selected were

1) a Teachers College adult class of women who spoke English as a second language and were seeking to improve their job search skills in the TC vocational program.

2) A Brooklyn merchants block association of black adult lower literacy students whose native language was English. Ms Grimaldi found that students would often "sound out" the words and enjoyed the fact that the computer corrected the spelling immediately. We'll be glad to send copies of her 10-page report to any member. The following summary of the report, however, gives its general tenor:

It is clear from this evaluation that many adult remedial students and ESL students could benefit from use of the SoundSpeler program. The design team may wish to pursue this research with other groups of learners, such as children, 'teenagers and learning disabled, or those interested in improving pronunciation. Not one student in this evaluation reacted negatively to the phonetic technique or SoundSpeler program. In fact, thruout the research period, new students continued to volunteer because of word of mouth recommendations. The interest of the design team, as well as the importance stressed on improving the software and documentation during this formative evaluation speaks to the Integrity of the project.
The concept and publication of the SoundReeder book, with its unique format and purpose, is one of the year's major accomplishments.

In recent weeks Joe Little has concentrated primarily on setting up remedial SoundSpeler classes in community or neighborhood institutions. This looks very promising. We have signed a contract to develop a literacy/ESL program using SoundSpeler and SoundReeder for the Bloomingdale Family Program. Bloomingdale, located at Amsterdam Avenue and 107th Street, is a "Head Start" children's center that also assists parents who want to improve their English skills. Joe is now teaching parents and training Bloomingdale staff members to use SS and SR in teaching adults to write and read. Out of this experience he is developing a training manual for teachers.

What we learn at Bloomingdale will, no doubt, be a pattern for getting our program started in other settings. The problem is that there are too many people interested in using SS and not enough staff to teach them how to use it. Fortunately, Mary Hayley (lately from Memphis) heard of us, called out of the blue and wants to be a SS volunteer tutor. She has quickly grasped the ALC philosophy and technology, and is ready to volunteer at Bloomingdale and elsewhere as needed.

Increasingly we find that educators see SoundSpeler as a "natural" for teaching spelling and pronunciation to immigrants and foreigners learning English as a second language. An independent evaluator, contracted by Gessler Publishers, reported in part:

The more time I spend using the program ... the better it looks. Having used it in various ways, I like it a lot. It is a clever way to encourage experimentation with sound and spelling in English, and the phonetic spelling should help students get an idea about what words should sound like in English. In ESL use, SoundSpeler is good for fine-tuning students' ear for English ..."
We, of course, are very pleased with this unsolicited recommendation.

Academic Therapy Publications, whose education materials go out to 250,000 parents, special educators, and others, agreed to place "The Gift" in its catalog. ATP's decision bodes well for a later distribution of SoundSpeler, since "The Gift" was designed to resemble and complement the computer program.

Warp Graphics, America's third largest comic book publisher, is making a contribution to literacy by agreeing to print 1200 copies of a Fonetic/English version of its "Elfquest" comics. This will enable us to make available to adolescents and adults a wider selection of exciting, Fonetic-based, picture-filled reading materials.

Dr. Helen Bisgard, of Denver, has accepted the post of ALC secretary. She has wide experience in teaching reading - from primary grades up thru college remedial programs. Her concern now reaches beyond that. She finds that the spread of English as the world's lingua francha is no longer assured. A combination of factors in which English spelling plays a dominant part is causing the European Economic Community to consider changing to German as its official language. Dr. Bisgard's travels abroad have given her a chance to suggest to various groups that our "fonetic" notation could be used as a simple code for writing English internationally. The response has been enthusiastic. She now wishes to pursue the matter further and offers to devote her energies to that end.

All this is the up-side of ALC. The down-side is that we have no source other than memberships to cover the $47,000 annual operating costs - rent, equipment, telephone, printing, postage, electricity, travel, and modest compensation for Joseph Little. Since 1988 we have been drawing on funds inherited from the American Language Academy. Those funds, so frugally used, are nearly exhausted. It will now take very substantial support from our members to enable us to push on, innovatively, sharpening the tools that will bring practical help to the functionally illiterate, enabling them to overcome their handicap and take their place in the socioeconomic mainstream.



[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1993/1 p36 later designated J14]
[See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, SPB articles, and book Written Dialects by Kenneth Ives.]

News Briefs edited by Ken Ives.

English Standards Project.

Maribeth Vander Weele, Chicago Sun Times, 27 October 1992.

The University of Illinois at Urbana will play a key role in developing the nation's first voluntary standards for teaching English to elementary, middle and high school students.

The three-year $1.8 million project is part of the U.S. Education Department's effort to create standards in science, history, the arts, geography and now English. The standards will serve as a "catalyst" for designing English curricula nationwide, said Jean Osborn, project coordinator and associate director of the University's Center for the Study of Reading.

National standards are controversial. Critics fear the standards will not reflect diverse cultures, and will be used to create a national examination that does not fairly show students' abilities. "It's really important who sets these standards ... how it's decided, and how to make sure the standards don't lead to a national exam system," said Veda Wright, field organizer for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in Cambridge Mass.

"We are very aware of multiculturalism in this country," Osborn said. "That will certainly be part of the consideration."

The 25-member English Standards Board will oversee the project. Representatives will come from the English and reading professions, business, industry and communications, the education community, the general public and policy makers.

The university's Center for the Study of Reading will design the standards with the National Council of Teachers of English in Urbana and the International Reading Association in Newark Del.

The standards will be in literature, writing, reading, and oral communication. But whether spelling and grammar, for example, will be part of them is a question, Osborn said.

"We need national standards for English in order to guarantee all students access to the best possible education in language and literacy," said P. David Pearson, dean of the university's College of Education. "But to prevent standards from becoming narrow, parochial and rigid, we need to make sure that the process for setting standards is open, democratic, and dynamic."



Nu waz for kidz tu lern rdn, rtn.

Should children write before they can spell? Whole language teaching is spreading fast.

Thomas Toch, U.S. News and World Report, 14 September 1992.

In Denise DeFranco's kindergarten class at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Northern Virginia, where students were doing final editing on their latest stories recently, Karen Hopkins, 5, paused to read her finished manuscript:

i wt to the ntri hstre muzem and sw sm butfl rks and gms.
Taking a purple crayon, the child added a few more "gms" (gems) to a drawing she would later publish with her prose. To Karen and her classmates, writing a "book' was a normal part of a kindergartener's workday. But, in fact, the classroom is in the forefront of a national movement to shift the way primary schools teach their most important subject - reading. The "whole language" movement, as it's called, uses children's literature, daily writing projects and other "advanced' language activities from a child's first days in school.

The theory behind this drive is that the skill of reading is best grasped by experiencing words in context. Until recently, most educators have stressed the teaching of phonics, the relationship of letters and syllables to sounds, in their beginning reading instruction. With, whole-language teaching, many experts say that students read and write earlier and, despite the ubiquity of television, do so with enthusiasm.

But the whole language movement also has its critics, who insist the shift away from phonics is a mistaken return to the 1960's, when basic skills training was de-emphasized.

Tho the roots of whole-language teaching can be found in the hands-on progressivism of turn-of-the-century educator John Dewey, the movement came to U.S. schools in the late 1970's via New Zealand, Australia, and British Columbia. Now it is spreading rapidly. Today there are fully 350 grass-roots organizations of whole-language teachers, with 22,000 members nationwide.

The key to teaching reading, whole-language advocates argue, is in emphasizing what words say rather than how they are put together. Reading is a process of "unlocking meaning," not one of "decoding symbols into sounds," writes Frank Smith, a founder of the movement.



Cartoon

The family circus

The family circus.

Reprinted with special permission
of King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Back to the top.