Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sing Spell Read and Write, The Dolch Word List, and other Failures

As a grandparent, I have watched two of my grandchildren deal with Sing Spell Read and Write. In the early 90s when I called around the state of Alabama to find out what method of reading instruction different districts used, Vestavia, one of the highest scoring, used Sing Spell Read and Write, so I assumed it was an effective phonics program and recommended the schools my children chose for our grandchild trusting the program as initially designed. (Mountain Brook, the highest scoring, used Open Court). Unfortunately, two of my precious ones have recently (2009 and 2016)  gotten lost with Sing Spell Read and Write and have had to be tutored with an intensive phonics program. One in Dothan and one in Panama City. Both from private schools.

Why did Sing Spell Read and Write fail them? If used as directed, it works, I am told. But what happens in the classrooms is another thing. I have now discovered it has been purchased by Pearson Publishing and all comes clear. If the teacher considers his/her classroom eclectic and themselves innovative and creative, they do not like being scripted and therefore plot their own version of Sing Spell Read and Write.

And so, my heart pounds in my chest when I find that this relationship with Pearson has now appeared in my grandchildren's private classical school education. Without Sue Dickson's oversight, apparently, the Whole Language method has come in with Common Core and the purity and emphasis of the original has been lost.

For example, in one classroom I visited, the teacher was an extremely hard-working individual, very creative and dedicated. However, I began to get qualms and an uneasiness in my spirit when I saw these "techniques for reading" posted on the wall. I said to myself, "You're over-reacting. I am told she is a wonderful teacher." I tried not to "freak out" as my grandchildren say.

And then we were informed that our grandchild was having problems and I knew why.

This teacher, well-meaning as she was, had internalized the Whole Language instruction from the colleges of education. Whole Language had reared its ugly head again. Her "eclectic" method failed our child. My granddaughter was absent or distracted when the "real" phonics lesson appeared, apparently,  though she enjoyed the sing-song with all the children.

While the rhyming songs they memorized were fun, some children (mine, apparently, and they are very bright) do not "get" phonemic awareness without direct instruction, drill and repetition. The first thing I recommended when we saw the first of our grandchildren struggling (and we did it AS SOON AS DETECTED) was to send her to Dianne Steensland who is a Speech Language Pathologist in Dothan, Alabama. She is the ONLY ONE I trust to make this determination.

With Whole Language the seventh and eighth grade students I taught said "whatever" when they came to a word they had not learned through their doled out rolodex of Dolch words. This guess method has become ever more popular through Common Core extending even to Common Core Math. 

The parents of my grandchild transferred her from the pricey prestigious private school she was attending in Panama City to the ABEKA school in Panama City where Mrs. Fox created the miracle of opening the door to reading. Our granddaughter returned the next semester to the first private school because she had left her friends there. I have now heard that prestigious school has fallen prey to Common Core. Our granddaughter reads off the scale but it is thanks to the Phonics instruction and Mrs. Fox.  She is now in public school in a Common Core curriculum that makes my skin crawl. But, since she can read, I console myself that she can educate herself. 

The other, also attending a private school 80 miles away from me, was able to go personally to Dianne to get the help she needed. She is now a confident reader doing extremely well

One went to the Phonics Intensive program in Kindergarten, the other in the First Grade. DO NOT WAIT when you suspect a problem! 

Grades will not tell you your child is having trouble. I do not know what elementary schools grade on now, but I know when I taught in the early 90s many of those who were illiterate in the seventh and eighth grades had gifted IQs and As and Bs as well as involved parents in their elementary years and were unable to decode unfamiliar words in middle school. At least 30% of my students were not proficient readers and could not cope with the new material they were required to read.

Dianne tells me they do not refer children for help until they are 2 years behind these days. And then, I know, in the public schools, they just get more of the same thing that failed them in the first place. She mentioned a Dolch List and that made my skin crawl since I thought the Whole Word/ Look Say/Whole Language had been dead and buried since the research of Dr. Jean Chall (Harvard) and Dr. Marilyn Jaeger Adams. 

I looked Dolch Sight Words up and this is what I found:

I have warned and warned about "sight words" creating a rolodex of memorized words that proves to be insufficient when one must read a broader vocabulary and is lost and unable to decode unfamiliar words. Apparently, looking at the "techniques" I saw in that teacher's room, Whole Language is alive and well even in conservative school rooms among teachers trained by those professors who got their positions as advocates of "eclectic" methods and a "blend" of Whole Language and Phonics. 

Ironically, studies show that not only is Systematic, Intensive, Direct and Early Phonic best for teaching reading, but this first introduction to abstract thought also creates better Math students. 

Dr. Patrick Groff is a highly respected authority on Reading instruction. I wrote and emailed him frequently when I first discovered the problems my students were having. I did not trust those who had produced the problem to tell me how to fix it. I did not trust the circle the wagons mentality of the majority of teachers intent mainly on CYA and getting their retirement rather than truly fixing the problem. And I see now, with my grandchildren, it is has gotten even worse. Unfortunately, Dr. Groff has gone on to his reward, but his words and warnings live on. The Dolch List is a list of sight words as the screen shot of the Google Search reveals. 

Look at this. 

The Dolch word list is a list of frequently used English words compiled by Edward William Dolch, a major proponent of the "whole-word" method of beginning ...

The Dolch word list is made up of "service words" (pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and verbs). Most cannot be learned through the use of pictures. Many of these words cannot be sounded out because they do not follow decoding rules and, therefore, must be learned as sight words.

Hogwash! 85% of our language is phonetic. The other 15% will be at least partially phonetic. Teaching children initially to MEMORIZE THE LOOK AND SHAPE OF THE WORD AND TO GUESS FROM THE BEGINNING AND ENDING OF A WORD IS WHOLE LANGUAGE, a failed method of teaching reading!!!!!!

Ken Goodman, author of the Whole Language Catalog, wrote the definitive definition of whole language when he called reading "a psycholinguistic guessing game" (1967). Don't you love it? They get to "presuppose the meaning of a text..." Is it any wonder bridges are falling and planes crash?

The Whole Language Catalog is a political manifesto of the Left praising Paolo Freire, defrocked Jesuit priest who advocated liberation theology in Nicaragua and came to speak at Harvard promoting libration pedagogy. His Pedagogy for the Oppressed caught on and Radical Math came into being. 

There are NO STUDIES that show Whole Language superior to Phonics in teaching reading. As Dean Kunkel of Auburn told me when I asked for research to support it, "It is current wisdom."

We are not just asking for a change in the teaching of reading,
but a radical change in the social and political structure of schooling and society

So this is what you are up against in the Public Schools (and now private since those schools  want "accreditation,"a devious method for the Education Establishment to maintain control). All must submit to this since this philosophy has won out in the Colleges of Education and they dictate the qualifications for Accreditation.

What did Professor Groff have to say about sight words?

A third grandchild has been affected with Common Core in the "best" elementary school in Mobile. Thank God we have found an ABEKA school there. We have assured him that he is not the failure, their teacher's curriculum is.  With Dianne's direction and an effective curriculum, this child should also do well.

Let me introduce you to someone Dianne introduced to me years ago. His name is Jerome Rosner. I lent my copy of his book to someone years ago and now I plan to order it again. Who knew I would need it again at 68. God doesn't let you retire, you know. Though Rosner wrote many books, this is the one I bought early on in my research to find out WHAT WAS NOT WORKING in education. The book focuses on developing auditory and visual skills. I particularly like the decoding lists in this book.

I submit his numbers are low in his estimates about the percentage who have school learning problems. This was written some years ago. Screen shots from the book:


True, they do have a fundamental problem, but it is not in their general learning abilities; it is specific to mastering the coding and decoding systems of the classroom during the years when this is supposed to happen: to acquiring basic fluency in reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic while in the primary grades. It is very obvious that their subsequent chronic school learning difficulties stem from this poor beginning.

Sadly some of our grandchildren live in a place where the schools have obviously internalized Alabama's Chief Academic Officer Barbara Cooper's, philosophy that she credits to Jean Anyon and her book Radical Possibilities. The philosophy neglects academics and pushes community activism and diversity. Read the book and weep! Or read Pat Ellis's review:

When only 35% of children in that district are proficient readers, there is a serious problem in curriculum, though they will blame the parents (race, socioeconomic status, single parents, etc.) Hogwash! They should blame the parents and public for being too busy and trusting to replace this with curriculum that works! The school system blames the parents for not being more supportive and enough people buy that excuse that they get rewarded with more money to invest in the failing system!

Since we cannot fix the schools, we must flee the schools but not for one that offers only MORE OF THE SAME THING. Ask the principal of your school what reading method that school uses. They will probably claim they have an "eclectic" approach. Which means the teachers will undermine your child's education by falling back on Dolch words and neglect sounding out words, a more difficult approach that has children reading later, but more effectively and proficiently. What you hear with this whole word method is having children memorize books and appear to be able to read.

I love the ABEKA curriculum. You can look at the curriculum guide and see how skills are reinforced over the years. Skill upon Skill. Foundational education. Not Thematic instruction like Math of the pond, English of the pond, Ecology of the Pond, etc. Not Group learning and peer tutoring.

And I approve of the Christian aspect of the school. But I have also recommended Spalding's Writing Road to Reading, used in a public school in Natchitoches, Louisiana, selected by Black principal John Winston to use in his school with 98% minority students from three housing projects. After one year the scores jumped from the 24th percentile to the 80th, identified dyslexics dropped from 40 to 1 and discipline problems plummeted.

I proposed this reading program to Dothan (only 40% of students are proficient readers and to Bay County Schools where only 51% are proficient readers) but they choose to continue with the method that has failed fifty percent and more of their students.

The cost is minimal. One thing I noticed when I first got started in my research during a time when books were being selected was that the book series I knew to be the most effective, Open Court (chosen and retrieved by Marva Collins, famous black educator, when thrown into the garbage cans in Chicago, now owned by Pearson, I hear). There were no remedial materials with Open Court. They chose the reading series with the most remedial materials. In other words, they chose the program that admitted to its failure. Does the make sense to you?

Given its track record of success with DIVERSE POPULATIONS as demonstrated by the success of Parks Elementary in Natchitoches, the Spalding method may be worth a second look for teaching children in inner city schools. (Or small towns with large minority populations!!!!!)

For some reason the Boards of Education in Dothan, and apparently in Panama City where we have retired, prefer to make the case that I will benefit in some way by the adoption of the Spalding Method. I would benefit by seeing children being proficient readers. I admit it. But I have no financial interest in this method.

I have had grandchildren failed by the current condition of our schools. I have children shelling out hard earned money to remediate their children and put them in a safe environment. But, I consider myself and my children blessed because we know Dianne Steensland who has helped us immensely.

If only we could clone her!

I had students I tried to save and could not because their parents could not afford to seek out the help their children needed. For years I weeded my garden and cried for those children I knew were being left out and damaged by school induced disabilities. And now that has turned it's poisonous venom onto my own grandchildren because their parents trusted "the system." And now that must be rectified with what we know works.

I continue to cry out ... "WHO WILL PROTECT THE CHILDREN?"

Robert Sweet, founder of the Reading Reform Foundation writes to me about my concerns about Sing Spell Read and Write (SSRW)

It is not the program.  That is my only point.  Your initial email to me was unequivocal that your Grand daughters were”victims” of SSRW.  

When you mix Bill Gates, and Common Core, and Pearson, and Whole Language material in the classroom, then blame SSRW it not an accurate statement or conclusion. 

Neither SSRW or Sue are responsible for that.  Pearson purchased the entire program and all of the components.  If teachers only order part of it, and maintain their WL views then they are the culprit, not the program.

I will just respectfully suggest that we agree to disagree on this issue.  

All the “bad guys” you listed I agree with!

My response: 

I am sorry that I feel betrayed. I recommended that my daughters enroll in the private schools they sent their children to because of my faith in the program. Both times Sing Spell Read and Write let us down. Now I agree the problem is the implementation but knowing how easily the program can be corrupted I cannot recommend that method of instruction any more. Not everyone knows the power of Pearson Publishing to corrupt good effective programs and therefore they become victims. I do not condemn Sue Dickson. It is the American way to sell a product and that is her right. It is just a shame it has gotten corrupted.

What are Dolch words? The Dolch word list is a list of frequently used English words compiled by Edward William Dolch, a major proponent of the "whole-word" method of beginning reading instruction. The list was first published in a journal article in 1936[1] and then published in his book Problems in Reading in 1948.[2]
Dolch compiled the list based on children's books of his era, which is why nouns such as "kitty" and "Santa Claus" appear on the list instead of more high-frequency words. The list contains 220 "service words" that have to be easily recognized in order to achieve reading fluency in the English language. The compilation excludes nouns, which comprise a separate 95-word list. Between 50% and 75% of all words used in schoolbooks, library books, newspapers, and magazines are a part of the Dolch basic sight word vocabulary.
These lists of words are still assigned for memorization in American elementary schools. Although most of the 220 Dolch words are phonetic, children are sometimes told that they can't be "sounded out" using common sound-to-letter implicit phonics patterns and have to be learned by sight; hence the alternative term, "sight word". The list is divided according to the grades in which it was intended that children would memorize these words.  Wikipedia

I call this the "rolodex" of memorized words that limit a child's reading ability in Middle School.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I would love to hear from you!