Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Problem of Non Experts Promulgating Views of Reading

I recently listened to the Education Writers Association webinar, The Science of Reading and School Leadership. Their panel included:
  • Liana Loewus, Assistant Managing Editor, Education Week
  • Anders Rasmussen, Principal, Wood Road Elementary (in Ballston Spa, N.Y.)
  • Katherine Long, Seattle-based freelance reporter (moderator)

Nary an expert among them. And this can be a danger.  For example the team repeatedly states that instruction based on the three cueing systems is wrong. Keep in mind that one of those systems is grapho-phonemic. When cross checking, the child most often is attending first to the sound of the letter(s) and then thinking about meaning and/or structure. 

As I listened I thought about P. David Pearson's six rules when referencing 'research.'  He says: (from IRA:
Rule #1: Policymakers have to read beyond the headline (or have a reader on staff).Pearson stressed that readers looking at the headline but not taking it a step further by reading all the content is problematic. Headlines can leave out a lot of the details, nuances, and truth.
Rule #2: When research is applied, it ought to be applied in an even-handed way.No cherry picking. You must look at all research, not just the bits that fit your biases. This also includes equity among students and teachers, said Pearson.
Rule #3: It’s our moral and ethical obligation to use the best evidence we can muster for making policy decisions of consequence.Pearson explained that if we applied the best available evidence standard we would not have so many phonics programs for older students, would not mandate percentages of decodable text, and would still have bilingual education programs in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts.
Rule #4: When you invoke the mantle of science, you have to accept the full portfolio of methods scientists use.“When you invite the research family to the policy table, you have to invite them all, even the cousins you’d rather not talk to,” said Pearson, who received laughs from the crowd.
Rule #5: Build your case on your evidence, not on the back of a straw person.To this point, Pearson said that often educators try to advance the practice they want to promote by asserting that the problem is that no one is currently doing what they advocate. In reality, there is little evidence to warrant the claim that no one is doing it.
Rule #6: You have to talk to others in the field who you don’t share basic assumptions about how to do research or what the research says.According to Pearson, you must stay at the table and cut through the rhetoric. While individuals tend to stay with people who are like them, this approach is bad for educational policy and a problem for society today.

These six rules make sense.  Research cannot be limited to only those findings that support one’s belief system. 

In the webinar a question was posed by an audience member on whether HMH's Into Reading uses scientific reading. Rather than say they do not know, they refer to an earlier reading series by HMH and conflated the two. Interestingly, I just had a review of the phonological awareness and phonics content from Into Reading completed by an independent expert who avidly supports the simple view of reading. Her findings says that the program provides explicit and systematic approach. One aspect of the program that she recommended (as have teachers in the district) is that more time for student practice is needed.

What it means to read is complicated as within that term we mean many things.  Code-based learning represents an important aspect of reading. But it does not represent the whole of reading. Pearson (2019) states, "Early on, the code-related skills predict achievement well in kindergarten and first grade. But by the time students get to third grade, it’s the early oral language where the emphasis is on meaning that has the better predicting value predicting later reading achievement." 

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