[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J18 1995/1 p2]
[See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, SPB articles, and book Written Dialects by Kenneth Ives.]
Also on this page: Issues in Education.


Kenneth Ives.

Combining Therapy and Literacy.

About a year ago, I attended a Whole Language Institute at a nearby university. The emphasis was on sharing personal problems, aided by literature which explores these. The instructors modeled this approach by sharing autobiographical vignettes. They urged that children reading literary materials relate their reading and writing to exploring their own lives and problems.

As a former psychiatric social worker, this approach seemed to me to be therapeutic for both teachers and pupils. Since many pupils come from homes and communities with serious problems and deficiencies, this approach can be useful. It can help forestall teacher burnout and pupil inattention and acting out. Perhaps this explains much of the attraction of whole language for teachers. It is part of the "teacher empowerment" factor in the whole language movement, as defined in "Issues in Education", reviewed on page 42 of this issue.

However, the purpose of therapy is to free people to learn, grow, and be productive. It should not, and need not, interfere with those goals.

Unfortunately, hard line Whole Language "exclusivists" advocate avoiding any explicit phonics instruction, as Patrick Groff notes (see page 7 ff.). This seems to be a reaction to the former "phonics exclusivist" over-emphasis on dull drill of 100 or more skills, isolated from meaningful and interesting text. The "reading wars" of the last century and a half, oscillating between these two extremes, seem to be a classic case of a "stalled dialectic", bouncing back and forth between thesis and anti-thesis, without developing any synthesis.

Valerie Yule's table of basic language information, and the proportion of adults and children who did not know each of the 28 aspects (page 18, this issue) indicates the variety of information needed for fluent and accurate reading. She reports that some poor readers improved dramatically with even one review session on those aspects, as part of testing for possible dyslexia, a case of "teaching by testing".

This experience reinforces the position of the emerging "Whole Language Plus Phonics" advocates, described in the last issue (J17 1994/2, page 36).

Forwarding the Spelling Reform Movement in the U.S.

One result of the publication of this Journal in the United States has been its circulation to members and advisors of the three spelling reform movements here - American Literacy Council, Better Education thru Simplified Spelling and SSS. This totals nearly 200 people, of whom only about one tenth are SSS members.

With the likely return of Journal editing to England in 1996, how can these people continue to be informed and active in the movement?

At least a few of the recipients of the Journal find it more technical and detailed than they prefer. And the number of recipients who would feel inspired to pay $20 a year for SSS membership would fall far below the 200 figure. Thus it is time for the three organizations to think thru and adopt a plan for moving ahead. One such plan is presented below, as a basis for these discussions.

To retain the mutual acquaintance and cross-fertilization among the three US organizations, a formal "Spelling Reform Coalition" of them could be set up. This should probably issue a newsletter, twice a year at first, to all interested parties and to selected people and organizations interested in literacy. Somehow the three organizations should finance this to all their contributors and advisors. Out-of-pocket costs might run about $2 a year per recipient, a total of perhaps $500 a year. Recipients would be encouraged, but NOT required, to join SSS at $20 a year, to continue to receive the Journal and the SSS Newsletter. Newly interested persons could be encouraged to join one of the three, or the Coalition, at $5 a year (plus optional contribution).

American Literacy Council has a full time staff person, and is field testing its SoundSpeler program as an aid to teaching literacy.

How can the other two help this and what practical projects can they develop of their own? Can spelling reformers develop and market other the phonics aids - printed, software, and video - which can be used in existing and alternative reading and writing programs? This could get more teachers and students aware of the spelling reform idea as a practical alternative.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1995/1 p42, later designated J18]

ISSUES IN EDUCATION: Contributions from Educational Psychology.

Volume 1, No. 1, March 1995.

Reviewed by Kenneth Ives.

This new journal will have two issues a year. Each issue will start with a "focus article", with other articles commenting on it, and a "final word' from the author(s) of the focus article.

Reading is the topic for Volume 1 (1995), and Writing for Volume 2 (1996).

Focus article for this first issue is:
Cognitive Processes in Early Reading Development: Accommodating Individual Differences into a Model of Acquisition. Authors are David L. Share and Keith E. Stanovich. They review literature on individual differences, and developmental patterns in reading acquisition.

They then present the self-teaching hypothesis, and explore its instructional implications. This is important because "school English" contains about 85,500 word families, and the average fifth grader encounters about 10,000 new words. Vocabulary instruction programs teach only a few hundred words per year. They believe that phonological skills are primary, and that orthographic skills are secondary.

They note (p. 35) that "the whole language movement carries... other issues that ... merit serious concern: (1) teacher empowerment; (2) child-centered instruction; (3) integration of reading and writing. Most educators endorse these three. The other two issues are (4) a disavowal of ... teaching phonics; (5) the view that children are naturally predisposed toward written language acquisition. These two may be historical artifacts, peripheral to their main concerns, tho central to their rhetoric. Whole language emphasis on points 4 and 5 may "place all of its valuable components at genuine risk" (Adams 1991; 42, 51).

There are 22 pages of references. Nine "critique" articles follow, with a reply by the two authors.

Judith Bowey writes on the Contribution of Phonological Sensitivity to Phonological Recoding. She finds that children's ability to detect the phonological odd word in word triples is more closely related to decoding performance than is phonological memory or rapid naming. It explained more of the variation in pseudoword reading (19%) than either word identification or reading comprehension. The critical difference between good and poor readers may be in the effortlessness with which phonological judgments are made.

The normal developmental course may be from grapheme-phoneme correspondences to orthographic onset and rime (and only later to the larger syllable level). Study is needed of the usefulness of early teaching of orthographic onset and rime sequences (cat, cot; hat, hot; pat, pot).

Jeanne Chall notes that the Greeks took a two-stage view of reading, with great success. This view is that beginning reading and later reading are different processes. Beginners first learn letters and sounds, as the connecting link between print and meaning.

Robert Calfee's A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Reading Acquisition seeks to bridge the "great debate" between rote phonics and incidental phonics by a MetaPhonics program he is co-author of. Thus p, t, k, m, n, and short-a can make 25 consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) units. There are over 10,000 CVC units in English. Phonemic awareness rather than sight recognition seems the most promising approach.

One of the other articles is From the Perspective of a More Regular Orthography by Heinz Wimmer. He reviews studies comparing German and English children. These show that "7-year-old German children at the end of grade one, after only several months of systematic reading instruction were better able to read pseudowords than 9-year-old English children with about four years of schooling." The difference reflects the "inconsistency of ... grapheme-phoneme relationships in English."

The journal is published by: JAI Press Inc., Greenwich CT, USA. Individual subscriptions in US are $50, foreign surface mail $60. Institutional subscriptions in US are $125, foreign surface mail $135.

SSS 'Six axioms on English spelling' were included on page 31.

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