Over at Writing Every Day Works, Debra has a link to Mem Fox’s website, and I thoroughly enjoyed Mem Fox’s writing on learning to read. She makes some really good points about what works and what doesn’t and about how sometimes we aren’t asking the right questions, or we make the wrong assumptions.
The odd thing about all the apparently different methods I’ve mentioned is that they all share the same foundation: a cognitive, that is brain-orientated, view of learning to be literate. For example, (to simplify complex arguments) the Phonics Followers believe that little bits of words have to be taught before whole words can be grasped, let alone whole texts. The Whole-Word or Look-and-Say Apostles believe that it’s easier to read words than bits of words and that the reading of words must precede the reading of whole texts. The Whole Language Enthusiasts believe it’s easier to start with meaningful whole texts, then to work backwards to individual words and then back even further to bits of words and individual letters.
All the above methods focus on the page, not on the child or its teacher. All isolate themselves from the environment in which a particular child finds itself. All ignore the relationship between the child and the person teaching that child to read. All presume that the cognitive text and the cognitive method supersede the affective, that is the heart-orientated circumstances which surround the act of learning to read. The reason is obvious.
In the current (if changing) climate, in which quantitative educational research rates more highly than qualitative research, it’s not surprising that the affective is virtually forgotten. Matters affecting the heart are far more elusive than those affecting the mind. There’s no simple way to measure the role of the affective in teaching children to read. It can’t be recorded in numbers. It can’t be caught in a statistical net. It can’t be pre-tested or post-tested. Its subjects can’t be divided into control groups because the affective aspects of any given situation are unique to the situation at the moment of its happening and cannot be replicated. Measuring such indefinables as the effects of expectations, happiness, eagerness, fondness, laughter, admiration, hope, humiliation, abuse, tiredness, racism, hunger, loneliness and love on the development of literacy is so difficult, even within ethnographic research, that to my knowledge it is attempted rarely.
You can read the whole article here.