I posted this morning about the complete and calamitous systemic failure that happens when government departments go wrong.
Here’s one of the biggest, confirmed by just-released Massey University research: the minimising and belittling of phonics in teaching reading (begun by “The Look-Guess Lady” Dame Marie Clay and spread though govt Teachers Colleges, and govt schools with govt-mandated curricula) which has been disastrous.
Here is the research that proves it, with the blame squarely laid at the feet of government programs, including the $40 million-a-year Reading Recovery programme begun by Marie Clay herself to fix the flaws created by her own failed educational philosophy. The programme, says the report, is “fundamentally flawed.”
The problem created by Departmental obsession withe Clay’s methods is huge. Generations of New Zealanders have left school functionally illiterate without even the basic ability to read a newspaper or bus timetable. “New Zealand’s relatively ‘long tail’ of literacy underachievement was a major concern for educators and policy makers that grew during the 1990s,” says the report.
The comprehensive 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey surveyed adults worldwide from 16-65. The New Zealand portion of that survey found that for prose (the “ability to understand and use information from text”) a staggering 66.4 percent of Mäori were “functionally illiterate,” unable to meet the “complex demands of everyday life and work” and an equally tragic 41.6 percent of non-Mäori.
This represents more than half-a-million New Zealanders who were functionally illiterate. Nothing has changed since to improve that.
Professor James Chapman says … “The current approach is not working for too many children – and we need to change it.”
He and his colleagues say the failure of the strategy is not the fault of teachers and principals, but the result of misguided policy decisions. They recommend major scientifically-supported changes to New Zealand’s approach to literacy education.
What caused this monstrous failure? As the report notes, the unquestioned victory in policy meetings of Marie Clay’s look-and-guess method of teaching illiteracy, for which the effect on young NZers has been all-too-often disastrous:
New Zealand has followed a predominantly constructivist approach to literacy education for the past 25 years. In this approach literacy learning is largely seen as the by-product of active mental engagement. There is little or no explicit, systematic teaching of phonemic awareness (the ability to reflect on and manipulate the phonemic segments of spoken words) and alphabetic coding skills (the ability to translate letters and letter patterns into phonological forms). Yet, both phonemic awareness and alphabetic coding skills are essential for learning to read successfully.
Underpinning the constructivist approach to literacy teaching is the “multiple cues” theory of reading (sometimes called the “searchlights” model). According to this view, skilled reading is a process in which minimal word-level information is used to confirm predictions about the upcoming words of text based on multiple sources of information (Clay, 1991). Learning to read is seen largely as a process in which children learn to use multiple cues in identifying words in text. Text-based cues (i.e., picture cues, sentence context cues, preceding passage context, prior knowledge activated by the text) are used by students to predict the text yet to be encountered. Letter-sound information is generally used only to confirm word predictions or guesses and for self-correction (Clay, 1998).
In other words, instead of using phonics to acquire the ability to easily decode words, in Clay’s “system” it was generally only to confirm (somehow) a child’s guesswork.
The report notes that “the scientific community has firmly rejected the constructivist/multiple cues model of
reading,” and highlights research indicating “that for progress to occur in learning to read, the beginning reader must acquire the ability to translate letters and letter patterns into phonological forms.”
Without that ability …
They find it hard because the phonic codebook was ripped away from them by the misguided decisions of misguided policy wonks in a misbegotten government ministry who watched all this happen and did nothing arrest it.
One of the main changes this report recommends is to bring phonics back to their place of importance in early reading, and urgently.
Let us hope this time they succeed.