Language is a uniquely human phenomenon that develops in children with remarkable ease and fluency. Yet questions remain about how we acquire language. Is it innately wired in our brain, or do we learn all facets rapidly from birth?
Two books – Rethinking Innateness and The Language Game – provide us with some fascinating perspectives on language learning that bears implications for how we think about learning to read and write, and furthermore, for how we talk about the power and limitations of AI.
In my last post (yeah, it’s been a long time. I don’t get paid for these, you know), I made the case for the importance of phonics instruction, while acknowledging it should be just about 30 minutes a day in the early grades. But I also pointed out that the quality of that 30 minutes can be highly variable.
Even when you have a program that sequences phonics instruction systematically and explicitly, it needs to be acknowledged that this is only a small part of what is on most teachers’ plates each day. Kindergarten – 2nd grade teachers usually teach most core subjects, and may be drawing upon a panoply of programs they are supposed to be experts in, while managing a bunch of young homo sapiens who have not yet fully developed a prefrontal cortex and the ability to regulate their emotions and behavior. It’s exhausting, to say the least.
There is a concept termed diglossia worth exploring in relation to dialects of African American English used in the United States.
What is diglossia?
Diglossia can be defined as “the coexistence of two varieties of the same language throughout a speech community. Often, one form is the literary or prestige dialect, and the other is a common dialect spoken by most of the population.”
I am a nerd, and I skim through a fair number of research papers, both to keep current for my professional role, and because I just like learning about literacy and language.
While I use Zotero to organize some of what I come across, I tend to read through papers on my phone on buses/trains to and from work, or to print out something to read later, so I am not systematic or well-organized about what I pick up from what I read, unfortunately. I do post quotes from articles as I read them on social media, so I can search through my own past feed to find links to research I read. So while I might build my own schema about things as I read more and more stuff, I don’t retain the specific sources.
One of the things I have had in my head regarding literacy interventions is that multicomponent approaches in English tend to be more effective than single component approaches for students who are learning English at school (ELL), and for many other populations as well.
Gaining a clear picture of a student’s language and literacy abilities in both English and their home language is critically important in two scenarios:
the student has just entered your school and speaks another language at home (whether because he is entering the school system in kindergarten or is newly arrived from another country and entering in a later grade)
the student is in a bilingual program
Gaining information in both languages for bilingual students in these situations can portray a completely different spectrum of profiles than when assessing in English only.
My son just entered kindergarten. We received a folder from his teacher with two sets of materials: an overview of the Fundations phonics program (good!), and a list of sight words that he would be expected to memorize each week (um).
This is how the sight word overview began:
Did you know about 75% of words we read are sight words?
Sight word are words that do not follow the rules of spelling and therefore must be recognized by sight. The more sight words a student can recognize, the more fluent of a reader they will become.
*The “science of reading” has become a loaded term — partly due to how “science” itself may be conceived. Since starting this series (yes, I know, I take a really long time to write posts), there’s been a fascinating trend of articles reacting to the term in various ways. These takes seem only slated to increase, given the wide attention this recent tidy overview on the push for SOR in Time has received, just as one example.*
In Part I, we examined a 2003 article by Keith Stanovich that proposed 5 different “styles” that can influence how science is conducted and perceived. In that article, we learned that in education there may be a tendency to lean towards “coherence” in narratives or the “uniqueness” presented by silver bullet fads. These tendencies can and do subvert science-based reading practice.
In Part II, we began our analysis of yet another stellar 2003 piece by Paula and Keith Stanovich, which lays out the importance in drawing on the cumulative base of scientific findings on reading, rather than on gurus, personal agendas, and politics, as the field of education so often tends to. We learned that while peer reviewed research may not be a guarantee of quality, it is at the very least a minimum criterion that establishes such research as a part of the accumulating “public” realm of scientific knowledge.
The “science of reading” has become a loaded term — partly due to how “science” itself is conceived.
In Part I, we examined a 2003 article by Keith Stanovich that proposed 5 different “styles” that can influence how science is conducted and perceived. In that article, we learned that in education there may be a tendency to lean towards “coherence” in narratives or the “uniqueness” of silver bullet fads. These tendencies can subvert science-based reading practice.