Monday, 14 March 2016

Two giants in the field of reading research

I have to confess to having been very excited at the prospect of hearing Elena Grigorenko speak for the first time (having heard her co-author on the Dyslexia Debate, Joe Elliott previously).  I was less excited at the prospect of Maggie Snowling, as I have heard her many times and been disappointed in her narrow stance on reading and dyslexia .

At this conference, however, I was proved wrong.  Grigorenko was boring and uninspiring, spending far too long on the historical context and then whizzing through some rather difficult information from her latest research about mapping the phenotype of reading difficulty to specific points in the genome.  We were told of exciting news coming out in a journal soon... (too hush, hush for her to share it)

By contrast, Maggie Snowling brought well-reasoned insights into her now more balanced view of dyslexia, as broader phenotype that includes underlying language difficulties and possible co-occurring difficulties in motor and executive function (including attention and concentration).  Her account of longitudinal studies (so far from age 3.5 to age 9) was fascinating.  I do hope she and her group carry on to see those children into early adulthood!.

Clarification about what Tom Nicholson said

I have been asked for clarification about what Tom Nicholson actually said about phonological awareness.

His keynote address gave a historical overview about the impact on phonological awareness training on success in acquiring reading skills, with little input from more recent studies.  He comes from the point of view of "liking phonics and enjoying giving phonics instruction."

However, in his last but one slide he cited research from Castles and Coltheart (2004), Ehri (1998), Johnston and Watson (2005) to say that this could be an issue of chicken and egg.  Maybe we see good phonemic awareness in successful readers, not because they have been specifically trained in this, but because the process of learning to read itself gives a degree of phonemic awareness.

He reminded us of studies denying the effect of phonemic awareness training, though these are well outweighed by the studies that show a positive effect.  Finally, he made the remark (without  a formal reference) that phonemic awareness training should be combined with reading of text to help improve letter-sound awareness.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Insights from the BDA conference on reading

There are some really big names at the conference this year, many of them world experts on reading (though still no one who talks specifically about adults), Professors Susan Gathercole, Tom Nicholson, Karin Landerl, Don Compton, and this is even before Elena Grigorenko (coauthor of the Dyslexia Debate) later this afternoon.  Here are a few highlights for me:

  • In a recent study, Gathercole has been looking at underlying factors that might explain difficulties with reading, vocabulary and maths, concentrating on executive function, working memory and inattention.  Perhaps surprisingly she has found that poor working memory is not a good predictor of reading difficulty. However, good working memory may be a protective factor for problems with reading and maths. 
  • Landerl, researching German speaking children was surprised to find a link between problems with reading and maths but not between reading and spelling.  She is still not sure of the reason for this.  Relevant to my work with adults, a longitudinal study showed that reading difficulties are persistent through childhood, despite support.  Even more reason for us to find new approaches for adults. 
  • Tom Nicholson was speaking to the converted in urging us to combine phonics with real reading. He did however drop in a controversial point.  Phonological awareness may be a consequence of reading acquisition, rather than a requirement for reading.  
  • Don Compton has investigated more about comprehension and found a positive link between reading/listening comprehension and prior knowledge. Is this surprising?
  • A new version of the Adult Reading Test (ART) is due out soon, with improvements. Rob Fidler pleased me by mentioning not just their extensive validation data, but also case study findings that highlight the strength of a diagnostic problem solving approach ch to reading support, using qualitative observations from testing.
More to come!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

BDA international conference 2016

I will be commenting here over the next 3 days at this conference.  For more general  reflections on all the talks I go to, see www.dyslexiapositive.org.uk.  For headlines and possible gossip see also Twitter @unravellingread and @dyslexiapos. Please send comments back

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Review of Baron (2015) Words onscreen: the fate of reading in the digital world

Professor Baron is Executive Director of the Center for Teaching, Research and Learning World Languages and Culture, at the American University in Washington DC.

She has written an extremely thought provoking book, prompted by a concern that new media for reading and communication might, "alter the very nature of human interaction," and in particular the way we read.

The book is thorough in its academic rigour, citing a wealth of useful references and documenting her own research into the reading habits and opinions of students in 3 countries.  It is also extremely readable, illustrating points with reflections on her own personal preferences when reading.

Monday, 5 October 2015

What is happening with Unravelling Reading?

Those of you who have been kind enough to subscribe to an email alert when a new post appears on this website may well be wondering where I have got to...the only explanation is that things happen and distractions take over.

However, a few things have happened this week that prompt me to resume blogging:

1.  I am two chapters away from completing Unravelling Reading the book, and those chapters happen to include technology aids and maintaining an online community...hence the need to think about the future of this website.

2.  My bid to present a poster at the BDA International Conference in Oxford , March 2016, has been accepted, so I have to make progress against the abstract I submitted.  I will test things out between now and next March on this website, and hope to entice some of you to attend the conference!

3.  I listened with interest to a radio programme Word of Mouth, hosted by the children's author, Michael Rosen. The broadcast in question on 28 September (you can "listen again" on BBC i player radio ) is entitled Reading: Print v eBooks.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qtnz/episodes/downloads

This is a fascinating insight into the different types of reading experience, delving into the history of printed and electronic media, and examining preferences.  It introduced to me a book published earlier this year: Naomi S Baron (2015)Words onscreen: the fate of reading in a digital world. New York, Oxford University Press
 https://global.oup.com/academic/product/words-onscreen-9780199315765?facet_narrowbyproducttype_facet=Digital&lang=en&cc=gb

I am half way through reading this book (on my iPad!) and it is both fascinating and at times infuriating... so hopefully my next post here will be a review of this book.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Insights from the Dyslexia Debate

Elliott, J.G. and Grigorenko, E.L (2014) The Dyslexia Debate, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

I have just finished reading this book, which, it is fair to say, has caused and possibly courted some controversy in the media as well as in academic circles and among practitioners.  Even before it was published, there were two excellent commentaries on it by academics who had clearly obtained advance copies:

Dorothy Bishop of St John's College Oxford
http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/my-thoughts-on-dyslexia-debate.html

Anne Castles, Kevin Whedall and Mandy Nayton from universities in Australia
https://theconversation.com/should-we-do-away-with-dyslexia-24027

They are both well-reasoned arguments for why we should read the book and respect its evidence base, though not necessarily agree  with its ultimate conclusion that the term dyslexia should no longer be used.

Here are my thoughts.  You can also read some more general comments of mine on:
 http://www.dyslexiapositive.org.uk/discussion/

Elliott and Grigorenko should be commended for the thoroughness with which they review the literature on reading, touching on adults and their reading skills as well as, understandably, focussing on children.  They have refreshingly wide view of the facets of reading skill, both when considering how we assess and how we make meaningful interventions to help struggling readers.  They cover fluency, vocabulary and comprehension as well as decoding skills.  They comment that phonics is not everything, "as the use of phonics tends to be less powerful for older struggling readers" (p 957).

They have some really useful insights into the methodology for researching reading interventions, warning the researcher about large confidence intervals in standardised test scores that make it hard to judge whether an increase in test performance (which may be statistically significant) actually reflects a "real gain." They point out that teacher interventions often generate smaller effect sizes than lab-style experiments, making it hard to compare these two fields.

The book debates the tension, when designing an intervention strategy, between going for longer duration or higher intensity of instruction, rather pessimistically concluding that neither can guarantee success with older children and adolescents who are resistant to learning.  The authors seem to argue for the use of sufficiently "individualized and structured" (p 1046) programmes of support to address specific needs.  However, they conclude that there is nothing special about support that is designated dyslexia support, and are particularly down on multisensory strategies.

I applaud a book that says that the most important thing is to concentrate on developing approaches that will help a struggling reader.  However, I think their mission to discredit the term dyslexia has blinkered the authors, somewhat, to the strategies that those of us working in the field, particularly of adult dyslexia, have to offer to the reading debate!