Friday 6 April 2012

False logic of decoding vs reading for meaning

At this blog:

you can find this statement:

"You can’t read for meaning if you can’t decode the words."

How logical! But how false...

The problem with it as a statement is that it would suggest that there are two separate activities and that the brain is a like a piece of machinery. That's to say, the machine is programmed to do something and then, and only then, it can do it. Luckily and wonderfully, the human brain isn't a machine. Amongst many things it's a reflecting, contemplative, reasoning organ. It looks, thinks, adapts, changes, asks questions, alters what it's learned and of course enables 'performance' ie speaking, writing, moving, dancing, facial expression etc etc.

So what anyone does when they're learning is do several things at the same time, learning, adapting, 'accommodating' what's new with what's old in their minds, reflecting on what they've learned and so on. When children learn how to speak, most of the time to start off with they are hearing things they do not understand. Between the ages of 0 and 5 they move from not understanding anything bar tone of voice perhaps, to understanding an enormous amount and,indeed to have internalised pretty well all the grammatical processes of the language going on around them.

Because this spoken language is bedded down in children's heads by the time we are asking them to learn how to read, it is complete nonsense to suggest that there is no reading for meaning,unless you can decode.

The point is we have all seen very young children do both at the same time!

To take an example, many parents have read and re-read books with their very young children. Most such children, at any age between, say, 3 and 5 will start to ask what this or that 'says'. They will point at words and letters and try to say them. As you're reading with them, they may ask you, or you may run your finger over the words. If you leave gaps, they will say the word that you're not saying because they have heard you say it before. If you substitute another word, they will tell you. If you leave them with that book and many more, you will hear them saying the book outloud, some of the time because they remember you saying it, some of the time, because they find the word on the page. Sometimes you hear them 'take' that reading of the word to another text and find that word in another text. In other words, they 'read' that word (or words) somewhere else.

Meaning and decoding and listening are in this way interrelated. Of course this kind of thing doesn't go on in all homes. However, because it does, that is why some children are learning to read by other methods, other than synthetic phonics, or in addition to, or, alongside, or as part of that process. To ignore this or to pretend  it isn't happening or indeed as the Woman's Hour Head (as I'm calling him) is suggesting should happen, is in essence to declare war on the use of picture books with young children.

It's yet another example of how education invents ways in which children should be deprived of art's way of thinking about us as human beings, reflectively, contemplatively, speculatively, imaginatively, symbolically and, above all, through narrative or 'story'.