I keep getting drawn into situations where I feel a need to defend my work. That’s what you get when you say things publicly, I guess. I don’t mind at all, because every time I get asked for comment, I get to refine my thinking on my works. But let me clarify a couple of points before you tag me and those who you perceive as my opponents in the same social media post.
- If you’re feeling dissonance because what you held true yesterday, due to the works of a different educator, now seems at odds with something I wrote, yet both approaches seem plausible, neither I, nor my “opponent” should be obliged to help you figure that out.
- If you’re hoping, by tagging us both, that we’ll have some kind of entertaining debate simply because you tagged us, well, for my part, I’m not interested in that.
- If my “opponent” and I say something that appears to be at odds, chances are we both have a pretty good reason to say it and have laid out evidence in a large and continuous body of work. Neither of us would be particularly inclined to reverse the steps that led to our conclusions. Our steps have simply resulted in approaches that differ.
- Please bear in mind that in many cases, approaches that have differences are part of a system with many moving parts. It’s the systematic nature of the approach, not the differences within the parts that leads to the successes of those who apply the system.
- When you understand 5. above, you will see that authors of systematic synthetic phonics programs and systematic spelling programs have more in common than they do in conflict.
Yes, I’m talking about Spelling for Life and Sounds Write. Spelling for Life is a rule-based approach to spelling. Sounds Write is a systematic synthetic phonics program and one of its core tenets is that rules should not explicitly taught. So what? I mount a very good case for teaching spelling rules. Sounds Write owner John Walker mounts a very good case for not doing so. Teachers either get along fine with one, or the other, or both. What would you like us to do, dismantle our approaches in mutual deference?
That’s not to say I wouldn’t like John what Walker one day to declare, “I was wrong about split digraphs!” Just as, I am sure, he’d love me to declare the same about silent letters. But I’m pretty sure that that ain’t gonna happen. So what is the greatest good for the greatest number of people? The commonality or the conflict?
I’m still going to lay out my evidence for my thinking. I’m still going to push for more focus on explicit handwriting instruction from day one. And boy am I going to train every teacher I get my hands on to love those rules!
But I’m not doing public punch-ups with John Walker. Not when both of us face the dismal reality that teachers all over the world are still led to believe that children learn to read and write naturally, that running records are a valid and reliable assessment, that prompting a child to look away from unfamiliar words is helpful, that memorising a word by its shape is the best use of time and energy, and all manner of pernicious falsehoods about teaching and learning that still dominate the landscape. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.
I’ve said it privately before to John, and now I’m saying it publicly.
For more information on this subject, I refer you to Stephen Dykstra’s talk this year’s Reading League annual conference: How Science Works: Teaching Beyond the Science We Have Without Violating that Science. Join The Reading League and sign up for the conference if you haven’t already. This talk alone is worth the fee.