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What does systematic instruction mean?

What does systematic instruction mean? Dr Kerry Hempenstall, 

Senior Industry Fellow, School of Education, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

My blogs can be viewed on-line or downloaded as a Word file or PDF at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/olxpifutwcgvg8j/AABU8YNr4ZxiXPXzvHrrirR8a?dl=0


We frequently read in research papers, and increasingly in education policies, that a systematic approach to instruction usually produces superior learning outcomes when compared to unsystematic approaches (Clark, Kirschner, & Sweller, 2012). This seems particularly to be the case when introducing new skills and knowledge to students and for those who tend towards slow progress in their academic learning.

Systematic is sometimes paired with the term explicit. So, how do they differ? Their meanings often overlap, but explicit is usually understood to mean that the teacher takes centre stage and the student learning is controlled by the teacher’s curriculum and teaching behaviour. Implicit is usually reserved for instruction that is student-directed. So, implicit usually refers to a discovery, constructivist, or minimal guidance model. In this implicit model, the teacher plays a lesser, guiding role, sometimes referred to as the guide-on-the-side, while the students take greater responsibility for their own learning from the outset.

So, there’s systematic vs unsystematic curriculum or (better put) a continuum from high to low level of system incorporated within any curriculum. For example, some phonics programs may be highly systematic, and others less so. Of course, being systematic doesn’t guarantee student outcome, but when the curriculum is closely aligned with the consensus of what’s important and when it should be introduced, then such programs have a better empirical track record than those programs lacking in system.

It should be noted that in the USA, explicit has another meaning as it applies to reading instruction. It is often used as a synonym for the term synthetic phonics - the latter is more commonly employed in Great Britain and Australia to refer to a specific model of reading instruction that emphasises the structure of the language - teaching letter-sound relationships and blending as the key entry skills for beginning readers. In this paper, the intended meaning is that conveyed in the previous paragraph.

Apart from curriculum content, there’s also a continuum of degree of system in how the curriculum is delivered. For a given curriculum, teachers may assiduously implement it as written, or they may adapt it according to their own predilections. This is usually called a departure from program fidelity, and is abhorred by those program designers who incorporate a strongly systematic bent. However, some programs are loosely coupled in that they presume teachers will be expert in presenting their curriculum. “They’re teachers, they’re professionals, they would know how to teach my stuff.” Of course, teacher variation is a major problem for our education systems, and we’ve seen research in Australia and elsewhere that few teachers have been trained in explicit instruction generally, or in basic classroom management. Thus, many teachers have too little understanding of what’s important in reading instruction. 

Attempting to reduce these sources of variation, some designers provide a script for whole curriculum, for example Direct instruction, Open Court, and Success For All.

Is it possible to be systematic without being explicit? In some respect, perhaps, in that a teacher might specify a comprehensive curriculum that covers the topic adequately and in a logical sequence; however, the responsibility for managing that curriculum is passed to the student. So, the curriculum could be systematic though the instruction would not be – except for those students adept at designing their own instructional sequences.

Is it possible to be explicit without being systematic? Yes, certainly. Consider a teacher-directed classroom in which the teacher provides the majority of the curriculum, but teaches off the top of his head. There is no particular pre-planning based upon what works, rather the mood of the day drives what he attempts to teach. So, what is taught is taught with clarity, but the jumbled up nature of the curriculum sequence makes it difficult for students to comprehend how a given topic relates to other associated topics in, say, a skill sequence.

In terms or reading instruction, the discrepancy between systematic and unsystematic approaches was most sharply delineated in the debate over the supporters of the whole language approach to reading compared with those who asserted that an early focus on the alphabetic principle was a necessary component of effective beginning reading approaches. A necessary element in the whole language approach was that students should be provided solely with attractive and meaningful story books to enable them to develop their reading prowess. As we shall see, the central tenet of whole language that meaning is paramount, and books must not be skill-based precluded systematic instruction.

 

“Purist whole language teachers have never felt comfortable with demonstrating to students the manner in which words are composed of sounds. They were exhorted in their training not to examine words at other than the level of their meaning, that is, to avoid an examination of how words are constructed. Teachers who accepted this restriction took meaning-centredness to extremes - an example of ideology precluding effectiveness. Other whole language teachers, who could not accept such an extreme view, might include some references to alliteration or rhymes during a story. "Did you notice that "cat" and "mat" end with the same sound?" Sadly, for struggling students such well-intentioned clues are neither explicit enough, nor are they likely to occur with sufficient frequency to have any beneficial impact. This spur-of-the-moment approach is sometimes called embedded or incidental phonics because teachers are restricted to using only the opportunities for intra-word teaching provided within any given story.

Many students have great difficulty in appreciating individual sound-spelling relationships if their only opportunities to master them occur at variable intervals and solely within a story context. In a children’s story, the primary emphasis is on understanding its meaning not on word structure, so restricting to story reading activities any opportunities to focus on word parts is ineffective and even counter-productive.

At-risk students require careful systematic instruction in individual letter-sound correspondences, and developing them requires teachers to explicitly isolate the phoneme from the word, for example, This letter has the sound "mmm". At-risk students also need ample practice of these sounds in isolation from stories if they are to build a memory of each sound-symbol relationship.

It is necessary to teach about 40-50 such associations, and to provide stories in which these associations are beneficial to gaining meaning. Herein lies another problem for whole language purists. A fascination with authentic texts precludes the use of stories that are constructed using only the words that a student can currently decode - the very ones that will build students' confidence in the decoding strategies that they have been taught. Flooding beginners with stories that do not follow the sound-symbol convention (sometimes called inconsiderate text) does no favours for struggling students. It reduces confidence that the decoding process is a worthwhile strategy with which to persevere, and it encourages them to guess from story context (a notoriously inaccurate strategy) or even from the associated pictures.

The more recent response of the formerly no phonics protagonists is "We do phonics in context." However, this model also implies that it is valuable to inter-mix a sound-spelling emphasis simultaneously with comprehension activities. In the early years of schooling, students' oral comprehension is vastly superior to their written comprehension. Children enter school knowing the meanings of thousands of words, but it is some years before their written vocabulary matches their oral comprehension. Both written and oral language development are appropriate emphases for instruction, but given the wide initial disparity between their development, it is more effective to address them separately. Thus, the use of teacher-read stories is an excellent vehicle for improving oral comprehension, and allows for a level of language complexity that students could not attain if the stories were presented in written form.

Meanwhile, the students' relatively undeveloped decoding skill requires simpler text to allow the development of the competence and confidence needed for the ultimate objective - equivalent oral/written comprehension proficiency. Those arguing that the two are inextricable confuse process with objective, and they compromise the development of both oral and written language.”

Hempenstall, K. (1999). Stop, children, what’s that sound? The Australian, Nov 8, p.21.

(with apologies to Buffalo Springfield)


Some quotes on systematic teaching of phonics

“Systematic phonics-based instruction methods are based on the assumption of incrementally building a solid baseline of alphabetic knowledge in order to further support the building of an orthographic lexicon through the self-teaching mechanism. Explicit incremental instruction provides children with a systematic guidance through this phase of mastering the alphabetic principle. Simultaneously, the development of the self-teaching mechanism of word decoding is optimally triggered. During incremental phonics instruction, a small set of grapheme– phoneme correspondences is first presented to the children who practice them by reading words and short sentences comprising trained graphemes. After an intensive training with this first set of graphemes, subsequent sets of new graphemes are incrementally added to the baseline set. Every time a set of new graphemes is added, the full set of graphemes is repeatedly practiced in words and sentences to give children the opportunity to apply and consolidate all grapheme–phoneme correspondence and blend rules that have been acquired (see Ellis & Ralph, 2000). This controlled environment of learning to read provides an opportunity for children to practice conversion rules and blend skills without being bothered by unknown graphemes and orthographic units that they have not been taught yet.” (p.1530-1531)

Schaars, M.M.H., Segers, E., & Verhoeven, L. (2017). Word decoding development in incremental phonics instruction in a transparent orthography. Reading and Writing, 30, 1529–1550.


 “The common factor in [systematic] approaches is that prespecified sets of phonic elements such as simple grapheme–phoneme correspondences and onset and rimes are taught sequentially. For instance, in the PHAB/DI program (Phonological Analysis and Blending/Direct Instruction) that focuses on remediation of basic phonological analysis and blending deficits, letter sounds are introduced in a prespecified, systematic order (Lovett et al., 2000). All sounds are taught and reviewed in a cumulative manner to ensure that children will retain individual letter sounds. Skills like sound segmentation and blending are taught to a clear standard of mastery. The Orton-Gillingham method (Gillingham & Stillman, as cited in Foorman et al., 1997) is characterized by a similar systematic and step-by-step approach. The method starts by reading and writing sounds in isolation. Subsequently, individual sounds are blended into syllables and words. The phonics elements, such as consonants, vowels, digraphs, blends, and diphthongs, are taught in an orderly fashion. When simple elements are mastered, more complex elements such as syllables and affixes are introduced. Simultaneously, previously trained elements are reviewed until automaticity has been reached. … In whole-language approaches, it is believed that children will learn language (oral and written) best if it is learned for authentic purposes (Stahl, 1999). It is assumed that exposure to a literate environment is sufficient to make children read (Goodman & Goodman, as cited in Stahl & Miller, 1989), and phonics is taught unsystematically and only if the need arises.” (p.319)

de Graaff, S., Bosman, A.M.T., Hasselman, F., & Verhoeven, L. (2009). Benefits of systematic phonics instruction. Scientific Studies of Reading, 13(4), 318-333.


“Systematic Instruction: A carefully planned sequence for instruction, similar to a builder’s blueprint for a house characterizes systematic instruction. A blueprint is carefully thought out and designed before building materials are gathered and construction begins. As stated by Adams (2001, p. 74) The goal of systematic instruction is one of maximizing the likelihood that whenever children are asked to learn something new, they already possess the appropriate prior knowledge and understandings to see its value and to learn it efficiently. The plan for instruction that is systematic is carefully thought out, builds upon prior learning, is strategic building from simple to complex, and is designed before activities and lessons are planned. Instruction is across the five components (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension”.

Colorado Department of Education. (2017). Elements comprising the Colorado Literacy Framework: IV. Purposeful, direct, explicit, and systematic instruction. Retrieved from https://www.cde.state.co.us/coloradoliteracy/clf/eightelements_04-purposefulinstruction


“Systematic phonics instruction typically involves explicitly teaching students a prespecified set of letter sound relations and having students read text that provides practice using these relations to decode words. Instruction lacking an emphasis on phonics instruction does not teach letter-sound relations systematically and selects text for children according to other principles. The latter form of instruction includes whole word programs, whole language programs, and some basal reader programs. The meta-analyses were conducted to answer several questions about the impact of systematic phonics instruction on growth in reading when compared to instruction that does not emphasize phonics. Findings provided strong evidence substantiating the impact of systematic phonics instruction on learning to read.” (p.2-84)

National Reading Panel. (April, 2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


“Systematic implies that there is attention paid to the detail of the teaching process. Instruction will usually be teacher-directed, based on a logical analysis of the skills required and their optimal sequence. At its most systematic, it will probably involve massed and spaced practice of those skills (sometimes in isolation and in text), corrective feedback of errors, and continuous evaluation of progress.

In contrast, incidental instruction shifts the responsibility for making use of phonic cues from the teacher to the student. It assumes that students will develop a self-sustaining, natural, unique reading style that integrates the use of contextual and graphophonic cues without any preordained teaching sequence, but dependent upon opportunity arising from the passages being read. … The aim of phonics teaching in a code-emphasis program is to make explicit to students the alphabetic principle. When teachers simply point out word parts to students in the context of authentic literature as the situation arises, the limitations of such incidental analytic phonics are most apparent for at-risk students. This is the group on whom the failure of incidental analytic phonics to be sufficiently explicit and unambiguous impacts most heavily.” (p.11)

Hempenstall, K. (2016). Read about it: Scientific evidence for effective teaching of reading. CIS Research Report 11. Sydney: The Centre for Independent Studies. Jennifer Buckingham (Editor). Retrieved from https://www.cis.org.au/publications/research-reports/read-about-it-scientific-evidence-for-effective-teaching-of-reading


“Most compelling from the current analyses are results directly investigating the differences between three modalities (Alternating, Integrated, Additive) of instruction. Outcomes showed clearly that modality of instruction can matter considerably for these older struggling readers. The differences in gains clearly demonstrate that the Additive modality, with its sequential addition of each component (isolated phonological decoding instruction, followed by addition of spelling instruction, followed by addition of fluency instruction, and finally the addition of comprehension instruction [see Table 1]) is potentially the best modality for remediating reading skills (decoding, spelling, fluency, comprehension) in older struggling readers, of the three approaches that were compared in this research. These students show that they are highly sensitivity to the scheduling of the components and the amounts of instructional time per component; this is an important finding for the development and refinement of reading programs for struggling adolescent readers. While more research still needs to be conducted in this area, this study lends credence to the different requirements this unique population of students may need in order to close the achievement gap in acquiring adequate reading skills” (p.588-9).

Calhoon, M. B., & Petscher, Y. (2013). Individual and group sensitivity to remedial reading program design: Examining reading gains across three middle school reading projects. Reading and Writing, 26(4), 565-592.


“In sum, this experiment investigated the behavioral and neural consequences of different methods of reading instruction for learning to read single words in alphabetic writing systems, in the case where oral vocabulary is relatively secure. Under these circumstances, our findings suggest that interventions aiming to improve the accuracy of reading aloud and/or comprehension in the early stages of learning should focus on the systematicities present in print-to-sound relationships, rather than attempting to teach direct access to the meanings of whole written words. Alongside broader oral language teaching, this means embracing phonics-based methods of reading instruction, and rejecting multicuing or balanced literacy approaches which, our results suggest, may hinder the discovery of spelling–sound relationships essential for reading aloud and comprehension.” (p.22)

Taylor, J. S. H., Davis, M. H., & Rastle, K. (2017, April 20). Comparing and validating methods of reading instruction using behavioural and neural findings in an artificial orthography. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000301


“Descriptive studies have typically focused on lesson-to-text match (LTTM): the match between the instruction of phonics elements in teacher guides and the words in student texts (Stein et al., 1999). Such a focus began with Chall’s (1967/1983) analyses of four first-grade reading programs: two code emphasis and two meaning emphasis. Chall observed that the teacher guides of the meaning-emphasis basal programs included phonics instruction; however, the phonics elements taught did not systematically match the words in students’ texts as they did in the code emphasis programs. For each of the four decades following Chall’s (1967/1983) work, researchers have analyzed and compared LTTM in meaning- and code-emphasis first-grade reading programs, and, as a result, shifts in various copyrights are evident. In reading programs copyrighted in the 1970s, Beck and McCaslin (1978) reported that patterns of LTTM had not changed from those reported by Chall (1967/1983) and noted that the analysis of two reading interventions  code-emphasis programs provided a higher “potential for accuracy” when decoding words, whereas the LTTM of meaning-emphasis programs did not. Four copyrighted programs of the 1980s were analyzed by Meyer et al. (1987), who noted that meaning-emphasis programs continued to have low LTTM. Three out of four of the programs analyzed were meaning-emphasis, and their LTTM was less than 10%. Stein et al. (1999) found that decodable texts and lessons mandated for adoption in California and Texas in the 1990s featured LTTMs similar to the meaning-based programs analyzed by Beck and McCaslin (1978).” (p.483-484)

Murray, M. S., Munger, K. A., & Hiebert, E. H. (2014). An analysis of two reading intervention programs: How do the words, texts, and programs compare? Elementary School Journal, 114, 479-500.


“What is Systematic Phonics Instruction? Phonics is a method of instruction that teaches students correspondences between graphemes in written language and phonemes in spoken language and how to use these correspondences to read and spell words. Phonics instruction is systematic when all the major grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught and they are covered in a clearly defined sequence. This includes short and long vowels as well as vowel and consonant digraphs such as oi, ea, sh, th. Also it may include blends of letter-sounds that form larger subunits in words such as onsets and rimes.…When phonics instruction is introduced after students have already acquired some reading skill, it may be more difficult to step in and influence how they read, because it requires changing students' habits. For example, to improve their accuracy, students may need to suppress the habit of guessing words based on context and minimal letter cues, to slow down, and to examine spellings of words more fully when they read them. Findings suggest that using phonics instruction to remediate reading problems may be harder than using phonics at the earliest point to prevent reading difficulties. … Systematic phonics programs might exhibit the very best instructional features. However, if they are not carried out by a knowledgeable teacher, their likelihood of success is diminished. Teachers must understand how to implement a phonics program effectively, how to plan lessons and make sure they are carried out. Teachers must hold expectations about the effects of their instruction on students. They must understand what students should know and be able to do better as a result of their teaching. To verify that their instruction is working, teachers need to use informal testing to monitor students' progress toward the expected accomplishments. Teachers need to understand how to enrich instruction for students who don't get it, and how to scaffold lessons to eliminate their problems. The job of teaching reading effectively to classrooms of students requires a high degree of professional competence indeed.” (p.2, 8, 16)

Ehri, L.C. (2003). Systematic phonics instruction: Findings of the National Reading Panel. Paper presented at the invitational seminar organised by the Standards and Effectiveness Unit, Department for Education and Skills, British Government (London, England, March 17, 2003). Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/ERIC_ED479646/ERIC_ED479646_djvu.txt


“Moreover, wrote Gersten et al. (1986), this instruction "must contain clearly articulated [learning] strategies" (p. 19): a step-by-step process involving teaching to mastery, a procedure for error correction, a deliberate progression from teacher-directed to student-directed work, systematic practice, and cumulative review (cf. Gersten et al., 1986).” (p.285).

Kearns, D. M., & Fuchs, D. (2013). Does cognitively focused instruction improve the academic performance of low-achieving students? Exceptional Children, 79(3), 263-290.


“Engelmann is meticulous about designing programs that teach to mastery. Each DI curriculum is a staircase, each lesson a step. Each step comprises at most 15% new material and 85% reinforcement of things already taught. The effect is to impart “a systematic trickle of new information” that accelerates learning but at no point inundates the learner with too much too fast. Content is arranged in strands that extend across several lessons; each lesson extends several strands. Everything learned is applied over and over and in different contexts. Seemingly isolated skills are taught and combined with other skills to teach more complex skills. Some DI programs take six weeks to complete and some take six years, but all are designed to make learning as error-free and free of gaps as possible. Engelmann creates placement tests so sensitive they tell teachers not only which grade level but which lesson the learner should start in a program (i.e., the one in which the learner can do at least 70% of the tasks correctly on the first try). He also creates mastery tests after every five to ten lessons so that teachers can make informed and timely decisions about what to do next—whether to go on to the next lesson, re-teach students A and B some things, or jump student C ahead in the program.

He field-tests programs prior to publication to see how much and what kind of practice students need to master specific concepts and relationships, and he revises the programs as needed to make sure they get it. Practice makes permanent; perfect practice makes perfect. How students get their practice matters as much as how much practice they get. Engelmann pioneered the Model—Lead—Test technique: demonstrate a task, do it with the students, observe them as they do it alone. If they make a mistake, correct immediately and succinctly. (Delayed feedback doesn’t work very well because students forget.) Correcting is in fact the hardest skill for teachers to master, but it’s among the most important. “A correction procedure that makes sense to the learner is the coin of the realm,” Engelmann says.

DI programs help teachers with corrections in three ways: Content is carefully arranged so that when a student errs, the mistake can be corrected by re-teaching something taught earlier in the program. Tasks are explicit and specific enough to be correctable. And different correction procedures, though they obviously can’t be scripted, are specified for a range of errors. For instance: never repeat a wrong answer before giving the right one—it reinforces the confusion. When correcting a decodable word, don’t say the word—ask the student to try sounding it out again. When correcting a sound, say the right sound and have the student repeat it. Student errors should not be seen as problems, but as valuable information, Engelmann says. ‘They tell you exactly what you need to teach at any given moment to bring your students to mastery, so that testing and teaching become the same package.’” (p.26-7)

Barbash, S. (2012). Clear Teaching. Education Consumers Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.education-consumers.org/ClearTeaching.htm


“Key findings from extensive meta-analytic syntheses of evidence-based reading research – many of which are cited in this review – consistently indicate that since systematic, explicit phonics approaches are significantly more effective than nonsystematic approaches for children with and without reading difficulties, it is vital that children should initially be provided with direct instruction in phonics as an essential part of a comprehensive and integrated reading program that includes meaning-centred approaches” (p.11).

National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (2005). Teaching reading - A review of the evidence-based research literature on approaches to the teaching of literacy, particularly those that are effective in assisting students with reading difficulties. Australian Government: Department of Education, Science and Training. Retrieved from http://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?filename=2&article=1004&context=tll_misc&type=additional


“Explicit instruction is a systematic instructional approach that includes a set of delivery and design procedures derived from effective schools research merged with behavior analysis (Hall, 2002). Instructional design refers to the way in which information in a particular domain (e.g., phonemic awareness, reading, mathematics) is selected, prioritized, sequenced, organized, and scheduled for instruction within a highly orchestrated series of lessons and materials that make up a course of study (Simmons & Kame’enui, 1998). According to Smith and Ragan (1993), instructional design refers to the ‘‘systematic process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials and activities’’ (p. 2). Instructional design is concerned with the intricacies of analyzing, selecting, prioritizing, sequencing, and scheduling the communication of information before it is packaged for delivery or implemented. In other words, it is the behind-the-scenes activity that appears as the sequence of objectives, schedule of tasks, components of instructional strategies, amount and kind of review, number of examples, extent of teacher direction, and support explicated in teachers’ guides and lesson plans” (p.145-6).

Pollard-Durodola, S.D., & Simmons, D.C. (2009). The role of explicit instruction and instructional design in promoting phonemic awareness development and transfer from Spanish to English. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 25(2-3), 139-161.


Instructional Confusion 2  - It’s arguable, and certainly in my position, that well designed instructional materials, by well designed I mean taking into account what we know about the code and how difficult it is, how to make it simpler and more transparent in particular stages in learning to read, well designed instructional materials, teachers who know how to support children as they are exposed to those instructional materials and periodic assessments so we know when children are falling behind. Standard packages of materials as preventive strategies may be sufficient to move us substantially ahead in terms of solving this problem. It will not get us the whole way, but it’s going to get us, I think, a long way there. One of the principal problems here is instructional confusion. If we can reduce that confusion we’re going to generate more successes in learning to read.”

Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Source: COTC Interview: http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/whitehurst.htm#SyncvsSystematicInstruct


 And for the masochists among us, the view from the dark side:

'The first alternative and preference is - to skip over the puzzling word. The second alternative is to guess what the unknown word might be. And the final and least preferred alternative is to sound the word out. Phonics, in other words, comes last.' (p.66).  

Smith, F. (1979). Reading without nonsense. New York: Teachers College Press.


'Unpredictability is not the exception in English spelling-sound correspondences, it is the rule' (p.152).

Smith, F. (1999). Why systematic phonics and phonemic awareness instruction constitute an educational hazard. Language Arts, 77, 150-155.


“Initial consonants and consonant clusters, used with syntactic and semantic information, usually provide sufficient information for word recognition and reading for meaning. Teaching children to sound out words letter by letter is unnecessary and confusing. In learning phonics children best acquire phonic and related knowledge through rich experiences with using print for real purposes.”

Emmitt, M. (1996). Have I got my head in the sand? - Literacy matters. In 'Keys to life’ Conference proceedings, Early Years of Schooling Conference, Sunday 26 & Monday 27 May 1996, World Congress Centre, Melbourne' pp. 69- 75. Melbourne: Directorate of School Education. [On-Line]. Available: http://www.sofweb.vic.edu.au/eys/pdf/Proc96.pdf


"Children can develop and use an intuitive knowledge of letter-sound correspondences [without] any phonics instruction [or] without deliberate instruction from adults" (p. 86).

Weaver, C. (1980). Psycholinguistics and reading. Cambridge, MA: Winthrop.


“We cannot teach another person directly; we can only facilitate his learning”.

Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


“And so the pedagogy reflected this understanding and the literacy period seemed to be seamless with no distinct lessons on reading skills or spelling drills”.

Cambourne, B. & Turbill, J. (2007). Looking back to look forward: Understanding the present by revisiting the past: An Australian perspective. International Journal of Progressive Education, 3(2), 8-28.


”Whole language advocates frequently assert that the key to learning language well rests in enjoying the learning process. They affirm that because whole language constitutes a more natural way of learning language, students will enjoy learning more and hence learn more”(p.36).

Jeynes, W.H., & Littell, S.W. (2000). A meta-analysis of studies examining the effect of whole language instruction on the literacy of low-SES students. The Elementary School Journal, 101, 21-38.


"Knowledge of reading is developed through the practice of reading, not through anything that is taught at school"

Smith, F. (1973). Psvchology and reading. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.


“One of my children learnt to read from cook books, because he loved cooking. … Reading is just like footy or cricket or golf. You learn by doing it.”

Children’s author, Paul Jennings interviewed in Cafarella, J. (2011). Bringing books to life. The Victorian Premiers’ (sic) Reading Challenge. The Age, Sunday June 19.


(It is) … “through using language and hearing others use it in everyday situations--that children learn to talk. Our research has indicated that the same is true of learning to read and write”

National Council of Teachers of English. (1993). Elementary school practices. Retrieved from http://ncte.org


"Children must develop reading strategies by and for themselves" (p. 178).

Weaver, C. (1988). Reading process and practice. Exeter, NH: Heinemann.


“Reading print is no more complex than reading faces and other things in the world. Making sense of print can‘t be more complicated than making sense of speech, which begins much earlier” (Smith, 2003, p. 12).

Smith, F. (2003). Unspeakable acts unnatural practices. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


“Children are more likely to make connections between phonics and their reading and writing of texts if they are engaged and involved in making discoveries for themselves” (p.7).

Ministry of Education. (2003, June 2).  Learning to read.  NewZealand Education Gazette, 82(10), 8-10.


 Should you, dear reader, wish to delve deeper into the whole language morass, by all means seek out my two papers on whole language:

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