I’m intrigued by passion. It’s one of those weird emotions that people can never seem to decide is good or bad. There are valid arguments for both, but I tend to think it’s good (bad if taken too far). So, when a passionate conversation started over a link to our recent Orton Gillingham webinar in a LinkedIn Group, I couldn’t help but pay attention.
As I watched the discussion progress I noticed several strong comments coming from one person: Bob Rose. And even though passion can be taken too far, I couldn’t help but wonder what was fueling his strong opinion that writing practice was the ultimate reading solution for every child. So, I contacted Bob Rose, and asked him to write a guest post explaining what he has learned about the importance of writing in regards to teaching children how to read.
The following explains his teaching experiences and research. After reading his post I had a few questions and the answers to those questions are also posted here.
Guest Post by Bob Rose
I'm a retired internist from Long Island, now living in Georgia. I've always had a strong interest in education, and in the 15 years since I retired I've been studying how kids can learn to read in the early grades. Decades ago I decided that “dyslexia” couldn't possibly be an inborn biological condition.
After a few years talking to interested folks (especially on this amazing internet), I joined a listserv for teachers to test my idea that Montessori had been right, and that fluent writing of the alphabet would lead to spontaneous literacy. My favorite quotation was from Hillyer (ca 1923) who wrote, “If you teach a child to write, you needn't bother teaching him to read."
My experience on a listserv of Whole Language first-grade teachers was wildly positive, so the next year (2003) I began my own yahoogroups list and five kindergarten teachers helped me prove what I had learned: kids who can write the alphabet at a minimum of 40 letters per minute (more that the first thirteen letters in 20 seconds) can name 40 randomly presented letters per minute and virtually all of them can read with comprehension.
More than a dozen education-related journals were interested in publishing a description of our controlled study, and I had little luck sending the text on the internet (my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org).
Finally, I published articles in the newsletter of my med school (an associate dean was a friend of mine), on EducationNews.org, and in a journal called Pen World. In the meantime, my listserv remained active, and we repeated the study with several other groups of teachers, always with positive results. (So far, we’ve never seen a failure.)
The teachers in our study (the WL kids, about 100, were control subjects. The kindergarten teachers in my subsequent study contributed about another 100 “experimental” kids) found that with five minutes of writing practice each school day, the medial kindergartner became “writing fluent” in about three months. Contrary to what the WL teachers feared, the children were delighted to take weekly timed tests, and to gradually watch their writing fluency improve.
Have you used this with students that have been diagnosed with dyslexia? What were the results?
On my yahoogroups listserv, many teachers have reported the results on hundreds of students without a single failure. I believe that in such a large group, many would have been "dyslexic" (as my then seven-year-old son supposedly was) and that therefore, this method should result in no future "dyslexics" at all.
Why do you think dyslexia cannot be an inborn biological condition?
I never heard the term "dyslexia" until the early 1970's, when I was already practicing medicine. Because the condition was becoming popular, the hospital where I worked hired three experts (from Harvard, Rockefeller University and the School District of Baltimore) to come lecture us in a symposium that was supposed to get us up to speed.
The first lecturer stated, "There is no way to diagnose dyslexia except to observe that a student hasn't learned to read when his teacher thinks her should have. Secondly, some kids with dyslexia suddenly "see the light" and go on to read normally. But before that happens, there is no way to predict which kids that will be. And thirdly, there is no known treatment for dyslexia except to use the same methods used forever with normal kids. (A subsequent lecturer from Stony Brook University demonstrated his own favorite method: a pack of filing cards with some simple written word families.)
So I thought to myself, "If I claimed to discover a new disease without a way to diagnose, prognosticate or to treat it, no one would believe in any such disease".
This idea simmered for a long time. I knew my own son wasn't "dyslexic". He turned out to be a very literate, intelligent and successful adult. After I retired I began to ponder the problem in terms of observation, neurological and computer science and logic. Then I developed the idea of writing and brain imaging. Soon after I stumbled onto Maria Montessori's 1912 writings. Then I started a free listserv and tried the idea out.
From your research what do you think causes children to be slow writers? Simply a lack of practice?
Exactly! None of the K-1 teachers in our studies had ever been told to time for fluency. When they did, all were astounded by the results. We found that kids can identify randomly presented alphabet letters at the beginning of first-grade (or end of kindergarten) about as quickly as they can write the alphabet to auto-dictation. The medial American kid enters first-grade writing 30 LPM. That rate (of RAN/letters) will insure a large percentage of reading problems. Our K teachers found that with five minutes practice per school day (and occasional LPM tests) the median kid can become "writing-fluent" (and literate) in three months.
Does that 5-minute daily writing practice alone lead them to being able to read? What other instruction do they need? If they only used that 5-minute daily writing practice and no other reading instruction, would they still learn to read? My guess would be no… so what else do they need?
Yes, becoming writing fluent (>40 LPM) DOES seem to work by itself in K-1. My youngest two grandchildren, once writing fluent, taught themselves to read during the first weeks of kindergarten. What they did was go up to their bedrooms and take a kiddie book they knew by heart (from being read to them so many times). If a story started, "Once upon a time...", he or she looked at this text and said to themself: "Hmmm....that seems to make sense!" Descending from the bedroom, they were readers, and then only had to learn about a thousand new words to read about every word in their oral vocabulary.
How does this work with older students and adult learners? What are the results for them?
I don't really know. Everyone knows it's easier to prevent a reading problem than it is to cure one.
However, my experience is encouraging. I once tutored a 17-year-old severe dyslexic and had him reading well after only two sessions. He said he "got it" after he had written, over and over, a short list of simple word families (like cat, fat, rat).
One of the WL teachers in my control group, a first-grade teacher in Indianapolis (Ruby Clayton), had a student in her class who failed to become writing-fluent or literate during the year. She offered to tutor the girl after school during the early weeks when she was in second-grade. A few years later she was surprised to learn that girl had one of the highest reading scores in her class.
I tutored another very severe dyslexic who was in second-grade. Actually, I quickly learned he could indeed read (his parents were distracted by his older sister's illness). He told me he had "clicked" after his second session with a Sylvan Learning tutor who had told him, "Just think of what each written word MEANS".
I explained that was impossible, and asked, "Is it possible that her advice just made you stop trying to "sound out" and give your computer-brain a few seconds to recognize each written word?"
"That's possible," he answered.
You refer to whole language a lot in your article… is this approach considered to be part of the whole language approach? How does this approach relate/ fit into the whole language approach? Is it in support of it or against it?
I am actually very much against the concepts of "whole language." In my opinion, this is just a rehash of the ideas of Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Dewey, namely: children are either born with the ability to read or they aren't....there's nothing else a teacher can do about it. So I don’t agree with Ken Goodman. However, he once wrote two things I agree with. One was "kids learn the alphabetic principle through writing" (WL/Montessori and WRTR folks seem to agree). The other was, "If there is ever a breakthrough in reading instruction technology, it will be made by classroom teachers and not by education professors." He also said: "There is no magic bullet" and "One size doesn't fit all." These are wrong. The magic bullet is writing practice, and this was known for ages until the first decades of the twentieth century. It indeed teaches them "words as a whole." Additionally, it teaches word recognition and identification, spelling, fluent writing, phonemic awareness, and the essence of phonics, all simultaneously.
I know a lot of the views in this article are against what many teachers believe. So I would love to hear your thoughts! I would love to hear from anyone who tries this approach with their students.