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CASLL-L  March 1997

CASLL-L March 1997

Subject:

phonics and trolling (long; sorry)

From:

Russ Hunt <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 4 Mar 1997 20:47:28 AST

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (138 lines)

Jamie's questions deserve answers, and I've been so busy that I
haven't had time to get back to them.  I'm _still_ busy, but I know
if I put it off another day I'll never get back to it.

> 1.  What the heck is "trolling"?  If I'm going to be accused of
> it, I want to know what it means.

My dad used to call it "getting a rise out of [someone; usually, in
his case, it was my mother -- and usually, because she was who she
was, you tended to lose your lure, line, and rod & reel . . . if
you were unlucky, your arm as well]."  I think it's the same metaphor:
it involves "baiting," too.  I've only heard "trolling" on the Net,
but it's not a new metaphor.

> 2.  I feel that I've unknowingly made a Protestant faux pas in the
> One True Faith, the Roman Catholic church.  My original posting did
> not attack Whole Language.  It tried to use Whole Language &
> Phonics as metaphors to explore a notion in the world of reasonable
> competent adult readers -- the notion of what I termed slow,
> careful reading and fast, fluent reading -- and then to tease out
> some kind of cyclical or complementary relationship between them.

I'm sorry if I rose to that bait and went for the shoulder joint.
Learned it from Mom.  But the particular piece of bait was one I've
been engaged with for some time.  The whole opposition between Whole
Language and Phonics is a creation of an industry concerned to keep
basal readers and commercial enterprises like "Hooked on Phonics" in
business (well, there are some ideological adhesions involved as
well).  What makes me liable to rise to bait like that article in
the _Globe_ is my growing conviction that what I think of as an
eminently sane view of language and literacy learning has been
annihilated by a concerted effort to misrepresent it, create a false
opposition, and adduce as "evidence" stuff that wouldn't pass muster
in an undergraduate methodology course.  (Yes, I know some
"linguists" support it.  Read what they say and judge for yourself
if they know _anything_ about how real language works.)  You can get
to it on my website.

> 3.  Several postings emphasized that Whole Language includes
> Phonics or should inlcude Phonics.  Well, sure.  Of course it
> should.  The only purpose of phonics is to get kids to the level
> where they can read for meaning.

Here, however, is something I'd argue is just flat wrong.  Reading
for meaning comes _before_ graphophonemic recoding (or, at the very
least, simultaneously with it).  (Using the word "phonics" there is
almost like using a trade name: "phonics" is a peculiarly narrow way
to describe a rich and complex activity -- narrowed specifically to
make it measurable and salable).  The notion that the kids should
memorize the sound of /gh/ before they start messing around with
meaning has, well, profound political implications.

> I'm interested in the ages beyond this, where some people (like me)
> are reasonably good slow careful readers but aren't so hot at fast
> fluent reading.  I'm interested in the fact that some adult
> readers are excellent fast fluent readers but cannot analyse style,
> metre, or diction.

This is another, separate issue, Jamie, but I think this is a false
opposition. Speed has extremely little to do with it.  And slowness
doesn't enhance analytic ability.  Something else is central here,
and it's focus on and engagement with meaning.

> I'm interested in the claim that a certain form of whole-text
> comprehension goes up at the same time as and as a consequence of
> increased reading speed (the Speed Reading claim), a claim I take
> to be true, but which, leaves me wondering:  what forms of narrow
> attention ot meaning are not improved in speed reading courses.

I don't know how we got to speed reading here.  Maybe I missed
something.  (I had a office mate who took the Evelyn Wood Course as a
graduate student one summer in the late sixties.  In the fall, back
in the office, I asked him how it had gone.  "Russ," he said, "You
won't believe it.  When I read now, my lips are just a blur.")

> 4.  I did say (and this, I've deduced, is my faux pas -- I didn't
> know at the time that I had entered the Whole Language church)
> that there is some "evidence that phonics are apparently useful for
> many kids much of the time, and that a pure whole-language approach
> can have high costs."

Notice how the argument's turned around here: the WL folks, who
include _all_ meaning systems in their approach, become the
"purists," while the phonics people, whose whole position is based
on the fact that it's all one simple system, become the ones who
sound inclusionist.

> What's the big deal?  Among the many reports I've read that would
> support this (non-controversial I thought) claim is the October 96
> RTE in which it is reported / claimed that "phonics has been
> sidelined or abandoned altogether in teachers colleges and public
> schools.  In the late eighties, 'a survey of 43 texts used to train
> reading teachers found that none advocated systematic phonics
> instruction -- and only nine even mentioned that there was a debate
> on the issue'" (p316).

"Systematic phonics instruction."  See the totalism there?  Where
would you find a "systematic" system?  Guess . . . it's got a price
tag.

> When Russ accuses me, by dint of my posting, of exemplifying the
> "lost cause" of Whole Language, I feel I've been accused of
> desecrated his church, but I don't see anything in my posting to
> warrant the outrage.  I am not a phonics nut.  I do believe that a)
> phonics are a useful tool to get some kids reading; b) there are
> teachers who have been trained to believe that phonics are bad
> and/or unnecessary and/or merely a remedial aid; and c) some kids
> have suffered as a result.

No problem with (a), (b), or (c).  I wasn't accusing you, Jamie, of
being a phonics nut, and I'm sorry if I was read that way.  I _am_
arguing, though, that that article (and yesterday's editorial in the
local paper, arguing that we should get rid of Whole Language and go
back to an exclusively phonics based system because the Houston
"study" proved phonics was "better") represent the triumph of people
who _are_ phonics nuts.

> To repeat:  my real interest is in the roles and relationship of
> what I posit are two forms of reading:  slow-careful and
> fast-fluent.  This was the lightning rod, the ill-formed idea, to
> which I thought CASLL lightning might attach itself.

I've been seriously studying reading for a couple of decades.  As far
as I'm aware, there's no evidence to suggest that there are two such
"forms" of reading.  Nor, I'd argue, if there were, is there any
reason to connect either of them with either phonics or what I'm
henceforth going to call meaning-centered approaches to language
learning.

                                        -- Russ
                                __|~_
Russell A. Hunt            __|~_)_ __)_|~_   Department of English
St. Thomas University      )_ __)_|_)__ __)  PHONE: (506) 4520644
Fredericton, New Brunswick   |  )____) |       FAX: (506) 450-9615
E3B 5G3   CANADA          ___|____|____|____/    [log in to unmask]
                          \                /
       ~~~~~~~~ http://www.StThomasU.ca/hunt/hunt.htm ~~~~~~~~

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