S2 E10: Reading Science: What Teachers Really NEED To Know with Dr. Jennifer Buckingham

S2 E10: Reading Science: What Teachers Really NEED To Know with Dr. Jennifer Buckingham
Reading Road Trip
S2 E10: Reading Science: What Teachers Really NEED To Know with Dr. Jennifer Buckingham

Mar 04 2024 | 01:04:23

Episode 10 March 04, 2024 01:04:23

Hosted By

IDA Ontario Kate Winn

Show Notes

Season 2 of Reading Road Trip closes out with a conversation with Dr. Jennifer Buckingham. Kate and Jennifer dig into reading science - what do teachers really need to know? From syllable types to comprehension strategies, linguistic terms to cognitive science, this episode distinguishes between what is a "need to know" and what is "nice to know." 


Dr. Jennifer Buckingham is the director of strategy and senior research fellow at MultiLit, and is the founder and director of the Five from Five Literacy Project.


Show Notes:


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Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kate Winn: Hello to all you travellers out there on the road to evidence-based literacy instruction. I'm Kate Winn, classroom teacher and host of IDA Ontario's podcast Reading Road Trip. Welcome to the show. We are so excited to be bringing you episode ten of season two, which is our season finale. Before we get started, we would like to acknowledge that we are recording this podcast from the traditional land of the Mississauga Anishinaabe. We are grateful to live here and thank the generations of First Nations People for their care for and teachings about the earth. We also recognize the contributions of Métis, Inuit, and other Indigenous Peoples in shaping our community and country. Along with this acknowledgement, and in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, we'd like to amplify the work of an Indigenous author. And this week we are sharing the picture book kā-āciwīkicik / The Move by Doris George and Don Philpott, illustrated by Alyssa Koski, a magical children's picture book written in Cree and English depicting the transformation of a barren landscape into a rich natural world where an elderly couple can spend their remaining days. Rooted in the historical displacement and relocation of members of the Chemawawin First Nations from their ancestral homeland, the move is a bilingual story of two Cree elders adjusting to life in their new environment. The story presents two contrasting landscapes of the old community, the homeland of the Chemawawin people, and the new community of Easterville, which at first appears barren and lifeless. Gradually, the couple begins to incorporate their old customs and traditions into their current surroundings. Family members begin to visit, and eventually nature begins to bloom all around them. Through traditional Cree storytelling techniques and vivid imagery, the new landscape springs to life and becomes a true community filled with life and happiness. Add this book to your home or classroom library today. And now on with the show. [00:02:09] Kate Winn: What a pleasure it is to introduce our guest this week here on Reading Road Trip, Dr. Jennifer Buckingham, OAM, which for non-Aussies means that she was appointed a member of the Order of Australia, is the director of strategy and senior research fellow at MultiLit, and is the founder and director of the Five from Five Literacy Project. She is a board member of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and a member of the National Catholic Education Commission Standing Committee for Educational Excellence. Jennifer works with government and nongovernment systems in schools on literacy policy and practice, including chairing an expert advisory group for the Australian government on a year one literacy and numeracy check in 2017. She is the co-editor of Effective Instruction in Reading and Spelling, which came out last year, 2023, from MRU Press. Jennifer is here to talk about a great research report she wrote called Need to Know or Nice to Know: What is at the Heart of the Science of Reading for Teachers. So glad to have her here with us. Dr. Jennifer Buckingham, welcome. [00:03:12] Jennifer Buckingham: Thank you so much, Kate. It's a pleasure to be talking to you. [00:03:16] Kate Winn: I am going to jump right into the questions that I have for you today. And the first one, I'm going to quote something that you wrote in that piece when you said, “the problem is that the scientifically derived knowledge about reading is still widely unknown or is actively resisted among educators and those who influence what goes on in schools in all English speaking countries.” So this was a report that you just wrote in 2023. Why do you think that this knowledge is still relatively unknown and why are some still resisting it? [00:03:47] Jennifer Buckingham: I think those of us who are involved in this area and have been for some time tend to make the mistake that, because we've known about it for a long time, and all the people that we speak to on a regular basis understand about the science of reading and the basic principles and concepts and research that everybody does. But in fact, that's not true. And I'm consistently surprised about this. And obviously, this is changing, and it's changing on a monthly basis, let alone on a yearly basis. So I do find, though, that we make the mistake of being in a bit of an echo chamber and not remembering that there are other people who have different echo chambers and they're listening to different sources of information. So even if they are aware of the sorts of things that we talk about on a regular basis to do with what we now think of as the science of reading, it's not something that they're engaged with. And even if they have engaged with it, it may not have made its way into the way that they teach or the sorts of advice that they give to teachers. And I think there are two key culprits here and in Australia, and I couldn't necessarily speak for Canada, but certainly for Australia, it's professional associations around English and literacy for teachers. They are still providing information for teachers that is not as rigorously based on scientific research evidence as we would like to think that they were. But the main one is the universities. So universities that are both training teachers and also influencing the professional associations and policy in states and territories around Australia are very resistant to adopting this scientific research evidence base and the practices that are associated with it. So we still have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of people who have changed the way they think about teaching reading, but there are still a lot that have yet to make that change. [00:05:51] Kate Winn: Well, you're certainly helping with the work that you're doing and with reports like this. I love how you frame this particular one around need to know and nice to know. There's so much information out there right now for the educators who want to learn, right? It's almost overwhelming. I want to talk about one specific topic first, the idea of the reading brain. We know that's where everything starts, right? But the scientific piece, what do you think frontline educators really need to know? We're talking cognitive science, neuroscience. There's just so much. What's the need to know in that piece? [00:06:24] Jennifer Buckingham: I don't want to discourage any teacher who's interested in learning about neuroscience or cognitive science to spend their time thinking about that and reading about that. It's fascinating in terms of how helpful it will be as teachers of reading. I think that there's a marginal benefit there beyond sort of knowing the fundamental kind of facts around the reading brain, and particularly cognitive science. I think there is some evidence from neuroscience that its main value is helping to convince people who are still skeptics about the way that children learn to read, and then the implications we can take from that in terms of how to teach reading. So one of the best communicators on this is Professor Stanislas Dehaene, who your listeners will be familiar with, I am sure. He is really good at making those connections between what you see on those brain scan images and the bits of the brain that light up when you do certain things. And the idea, which is really fundamental, that there are changes that take place in the brain when children learn to read, and that a brain that knows how to read looks different to a brain that doesn't know how to read. But the more fundamental piece of information from that is what needs to happen in that intervening period between the non-reading brain and the reading brain. So what role does instruction play in making those connections between the different areas of the brain and some sort of fundamental ideas about the fact that there isn't just a light switch that comes on and that reading isn't something that develops spontaneously, it's a deliberate creation of connections of areas in the brain. But I think really beyond that in terms of terminology and the nitty gritty of the research is interesting but not necessarily essential. I think what's more important and more necessary is for teachers to understand some of the research from cognitive science, which is really much more applied research which tests hypotheses about cause and effect if we do this, then this happens, this learning happens, or it doesn't happen. So particularly I'm thinking there about the research around memory and transfer, so how the brain retains and recalls information, and therefore what sort of things that teachers need to do to enable that retention of information, and then the transfer and the ability of people to recall and use that information. So that is necessary. And it's going to impact teaching practice because it helps them to understand or to make decisions about instruction. You know, how many times you need to repeat information, how to present that information in a way that's more likely to be learned, how often you need to ask students to recall it. Things like spaced practice and recall, and those sorts of things are going to make a big difference. So those are principles of instruction that come from cognitive science and what we think about as a science of learning, which is that broader kind of category that science of reading fits within. I also think it's really important for teachers to understand scientific research evidence and the different standards and quality of evidence. So there's a lot of that word is bandied around a lot, and there are different types of evidence, and those different types of evidence give us different levels of confidence in how much we can rely on that evidence to make good instructional decisions. So teachers are being bombarded with information about reading instruction and research and reading instruction. And so being able to be good judges of the quality of that evidence is really important. And again, not necessarily to have to do a very lengthy course that is going to take up every Monday night for a year, but there are certain things that are really important for teachers to know so they can make those good judgments and they're not wasting their time doing things that are not effective, going down rabbit holes, that are going to waste their time and their students’ time. [00:10:54] Kate Winn: What I appreciate about your work is that you seem very open, and it seems like you're sort of open to nuance. You're not really black and white about things. And in this particular piece, you write about some topics or some areas of the science of reading where people may hold on to really hard and fast rules, but you argue that it might not be wise to sort of have that perspective. So I'm going to ask you about a few of those and just to quickly get your thoughts. So one that you mentioned was that sort of dichotomy of speech-to-print versus print-to-speech. Why do we not need to think of it that way? [00:11:28] Jennifer Buckingham: Well, they are really two sides of the same coin. So obviously we know that the written code has been invented to represent spoken language in a way that can be used to communicate with people over time and over geography. And we understand the function of the writing system. But just because speech came first doesn't necessarily mean that you need to start with speech in terms of instruction. And in fact, the writing system is more stable, even with all its complexity. We know English is a complex orthography, and there's all of these exceptions, but it is still more stable than speech in terms of the way that you can separate out the bits of the code. So from graphemes to morphemes and so on to words and building up from there, whereas speech is highly dependent on your pronunciations, can vary in some countries within 50 kilometers, different pronunciations, particularly of vowel sounds. So starting with speech can be really difficult, and it's really difficult to sort of create a scope and sequence to start with phonemes rather than graphemes. So in the end, we're teaching about the connections between those two things. And over time, the distinction between print-to-speech and speech-to-print becomes irrelevant because they're reversible concepts. And learning to decode and learning to encode should happen at the same time anyway, because they are reversible concepts. But in terms of the evidence that we have, at least, and this is where what relates to what you said when you're sort of introducing this little topic, is to not go beyond the evidence, to not get too caught up in ideas and principles and theories that make sense. But actually, there isn’t evidence to support them. And the evidence really supports having a good scope and sequence of graphemes and learning the associated phonemes that go with them. And again, it's reversible, rather than trying to come at it from the other direction. Having said that, there are teachers who are getting really good results trying to teach in the other direction. I just would argue that it's more complicated than it needs to be. And there are greater benefits from thinking about a print-to-speech approach. But again, I wouldn't say don't do speech to print. I just think print to speech is more effective and more efficient. [00:14:17] Kate Winn: Next one. What about those people who are very rigid about yes to teaching letter names or no to teaching letter names? What are your thoughts there? [00:14:26] Jennifer Buckingham: The evidence is not very strong one way or another. I mean, I understand the principle behind the idea that introducing letter names or teaching letter names can confuse the paired association task that we're trying to create. So trying to simplify things. So children are seeing a grapheme and learning the phoneme that's associated with it, and vice versa. And then if you introduce a different piece of information, that this squiggle that you see on the page has a name and a sound that perhaps that can create conflict. There isn't really strong evidence to suggest that is the case. And we also know that children come to school more often than not knowing the names of letters. They know the alphabet. They need to know the alphabet. They need to know the names of letters for all kinds of different reasons. So just ignoring that knowledge that they already have doesn't seem to make a great deal of sense. And also, there is research around the knowledge of letter names and how that benefits spelling in particular. So we don't want to forget the spelling piece. So in teaching children to read, they're also learning to spell. And in the spelling piece, knowing letter names is useful because you can actually name the letters. So there are all these irregular words, and we're going to come to talking about irregular words and regular words, but there are irregular words that you can't just spell by sounding it out. The individual graphemes. You need to be able to know the names of the letters in order to be able to learn to spell those words because you're using a different bit of information there in order to retain that into memory. So there is that element of it as well. And we're not talking, letter names are not huge amounts of information. It's useful information, so it doesn't make any sense to exclude it from that early reading instruction. I do agree that in those first couple of months where children are really just grasping the concept of the idea that letters have a sound that you wouldn't want to get too caught up in knowing letter names as well. And at risk of me sort of babbling on, I'm not a great believer in testing letter names in a letter fluency, letter name fluency assessment. Letter name fluency, I think, is a little bit of a red herring. And I know it's a part of DIBELS and it's part of the DIBELS suite, but being able to say letter names rapidly is more of a measure of rapid, automatized naming than of a reading skill, per se. So knowing letter names, but knowing how to say them really quickly, they're two different concepts. There's no real benefit to being able to say letter names really fast. That's just a RAN task. But knowing them for spelling and for dictation, there's all kinds of reasons why you need to know the letters of the alphabet. So I would argue that leaving it out is not a wise thing to do. [00:17:45] Kate Winn: Okay. .And you mentioned irregular words. So what are your thoughts on that? Some people are very passionate about? I'm putting in quotes around irregular words. What would you say about that? [00:17:54] Jennifer Buckingham: Again, this sort of shows how interconnected all of these bits of research and these notions are. But this is an area where there's been a bit of an overcorrection. So there was a period of time where kids were taught these very long lists of words just to learn by heart on flashcards. So just to remember the way the word looked, rather than any of the sort of subcomponents of the word. And those are the bad old days, where we taught these long lists of sight words without paying any attention to the subword units and the grapheme-phoneme correspondences. But in shifting away from that approach, there's been a bit of an overcorrection, where there's a belief that you shouldn't teach any words just as a word in the course of learning how to read in those early stages of instruction. So there's a bit of nuance there where we're now sort of talking about, well, if our aim is to teach or to be able to get children reading connected text as quickly as possible, if we stick rigidly to a phonic scope and sequence without introducing any of those high frequency, but initially irregular, words during that teaching, it's going to be a long time before they can read sentences. It's a word like two. Yes, am is a regular word, and you can learn that fairly early in the phonic scope and sequence and at. But even a word like is, so to and is and go. And there are many just really useful little words that kids won't have learned. The less common vowel sound for o, that it can be ooh or it can be o as opposed to o in those first, sort of, perhaps even the first term of school. So it's really helpful to know those. And that's just not an idea. There is some good research now around that shows that that does not interfere, a bit like learning letter names, that information, knowing some high frequency words. Again, not just simply in a look at the shape of the word way, but look at this word, too. Here's the sound that we know. It's t. And the o in this word makes an u sound rather than an o sound, and it's the word to. So it's the way they're taught that can make the difference as well. But there's no harm and there's a great deal of benefit. But it's being judicious instead of teaching 200 high frequency words in the first couple of weeks of school, then having a scope and sequence where they're gradually introduced as well. So again, we come back to knowing about cognitive science and how much information can be presented at once for beginning readers and expecting them to know or to be able to retain that information. So that interplay between the content and the principles of instruction are what's quite important. But yeah, that idea of teaching some irregular words or the other argument is that there are no irregular words. And of course, that's a purist kind of response. Yes, of course. Well, there are very few irregular words, but it's really more a scale of regularity and irregularity. And we can talk about regular or irregular in the context of the scope and sequence at that point of a child's learning as well. So not getting too caught up in those what's technically true and what's true at this point in a student's learning. [00:22:06] Kate Winn: The next area where some people really hold to these hard and fast rules is teaching syllable types and syllabication rules. Where do you fall in there? What are your thoughts? [00:22:17] Jennifer Buckingham: Oh, it's so easy to get caught up in syllabification. And some people say syllabication, some say syllabification. So excuse me if I switch between the two, but there are a couple of syllable types that it's helpful for kids to know about, particularly when they're learning to spell as well, and open and closed syllables, for example. But also remembering that even that is one of the most stable ways of thinking about syllables. Even that has loads of exceptions. Even that is not particularly reliable. So sort of drumming that in as a hard and fast rule is going to get teachers into all kinds of difficulty because you know that one kid in your class is going to come up with an exception to that rule immediately. So it's a matter of teaching about, okay, well, this is going to work most of the time and having some sort of way of explaining why it doesn't work all of the time, so that you're not sort of getting kids too caught up in why and when, but the fact that this is the first way you could think about it. If that doesn't work, then think about it a different way. So starting with the regularity and then building in the irregularities. But when I look at some of the social media, the Facebook groups for teachers talking about science of reading, this is really where teachers get so bothered and so worried about syllable types. How do I break this word into syllables. And it's probably not really worth the amount of thought that you're putting into it because someone can come up with sort of complicated linguistic explanation of that. But in terms of you being able to teach children how to spell and read that word, probably not going to be all that helpful to them. It's just going to create more cognitive load for them. So I guess the final message or the take-home message is that there are a couple of syllable types that are useful to know. And again, it's one of those things that falls into teacher knowledge that is useful rather than student knowledge and making some decisions about, is this something that is good for me to know versus something that's good for them to know? But I wouldn't get down in the weeds on syllable types. They've only got kind of really limited usefulness. [00:24:50] Kate Winn: And we're going to get to what's useful for teachers to know versus what's useful for students to know, too. I love how you mentioned there the idea of try it this way and if not, try it another way because I think that's where that flexibility is that important piece, too. Right? We can teach some helpful rules that might work most or some of the time as long as kids know you tried another way. And what other way would you try if that didn't work? The last one I want to ask you about, you didn't write about in this particular report, but you have written a whole other great report about comprehension. And so I just wanted to ask you, what about the arguments out there? And this is another one of those Facebook group things, too. I can't even do the Facebook groups anymore, where it's okay, this is one bucket of exact comprehension skills. And then over here, these are the ones that we call strategies. And we're going to do this with skills and this with strategies. And one is good and one is bad and one we can work on and one we can't. Whatever. What are your thoughts on sort of dividing things between those two categories? [00:25:50] Jennifer Buckingham: Been doing a lot of reading and talking about this lately, and I'm really pleased to see that, I think we're sort of generally coming to a place which is a more kind of common sense approach as well as a more evidence-based approach towards teaching reading comprehension. So there was, as part of the growing awareness and understanding about the role of background knowledge in reading comprehension and the unreliability of reading comprehension assessments because of the role of background knowledge and that that had been underemphasized in a lot of classrooms over a very long period of time, there was a rejection of the idea that comprehension strategies are a useful thing to teach and that children can actually be taught comprehension, or there are instructional approaches that can improve children's reading comprehension skills, that this will just as soon as they can decode and have some background knowledge, then reading comprehension will just fall into place. And that's just simply not true. It is more true when it comes to, say, language comprehension. If children are being something is read to them, as long as they have some background knowledge, they'll probably be able to understand. The vocabulary, they'll be able to understand. But we know that written language is different to spoken language, that there are sentence structures, there are connectives, there are bits of information, there are inferences that need to be made because there are bits of information that are left out that they might be able to glean from spoken language because they can pick up from other signals like body language, or they can ask the person what they meant, or there are various different cues that you can get from spoken language that just aren't there in written language, and that children need to know how to work that out from what they're seeing in front of them in terms of text. I think that now is sort of really coming more to the idea that you can't sort of separate skills and strategies into separate buckets, that what might start out as a strategy that children learn, that's taught to them explicitly, then becomes a skill. And some skills are things that do develop relatively spontaneously and without too much deliberate, explicit teaching and practice. But there are other ones that do need some explicit teaching that don't necessarily just spontaneously occur. I think I find it useful analogies to think about it, like phonics that we know. It's useful to children, for children to know about the phonic code and be taught that explicitly. And over time that becomes a skill that they just use implicitly. But to begin with, they were taught explicitly. But beyond a certain amount of teaching, there's a marginal payoff to none. The instruction is going to be useful, or explicit instruction is going to be useful for a limited time, and then it needs to be applied in practice. And it's really similar with comprehension strategies. So make these strategies that skilled readers use when they're reading to comprehend text explicit, use some meta-language, make it transparent to students. For some, it will know be duck to water and they will straight away understand what they need to do, and away they'll go and do it. Others will need some more support and more practice application across different types of texts. And this is, I think, where comprehension strategy instruction came unstuck was this idea that you could just take this little piece of text on a card and say, use this strategy to read this piece of text and then just pull this other bit of text that is unrelated to anything else and apply a strategy to that, and then that students be able to then generalize that to any other piece of text that they read. And that's not right. Different types of text require different sorts of approaches and different types of comprehension strategies, and so they do need to be taught. There was a really nice piece just written by Dan Willingham in the last couple of days, which you'll find. I put it on the five from five social media. So we're on Twitter and on Facebook, but if you look up, it's on his blog. So if you look up Daniel Willingham's blog where he talked a bit about this idea that, yes, there are some skills that there's no point labouring with in terms of instruction and asking kids to practice a particular skill or a strategy every day, all year, that's not going to be effective. It's going to be a waste of time. But that doesn't mean to say that there are no comprehension strategies that should be taught explicitly, that there are some more sort of detailed thinking that's required around that. [00:31:08] Kate Winn: You write that educators need to strike a balance between the technical accuracy of the curriculum content and the ideal pedagogical strategies for the developmental stage of the learner. And I'm thinking about the fact that some of this new learning from the science of reading is great for teachers. I mean, for me, over the last few years, it's just been like an incredible amount of learning. But that doesn't mean that we need to necessarily share all of the same terminology and that sort of thing with our students. I'm wondering if you could give a few examples in your mind of terms or information that are maybe best to just stay teacher-facing. And I'll just give one example. My co-producer Una and I were talking about this. She said her pet peeve is when teachers are under the impression that they're brand new, kids learning to read need to use terms like an affricate, and we're just trying to get them used to those sound-symbol correspondences. But they're supposed to be able to name all these types of sounds, right? So that's one that she brought up. But just wondering, what examples do you have of things that might be new learning for teachers? We're so excited. We go back to our classrooms. But maybe we don't need to actually teach the kids this part. [00:32:19] Jennifer Buckingham: Yeah. And this is something that a few people have been talking about over the last couple of years. So I wrote this paper that we've been talking about today, first of all, in 2020, as a presentation for the Reading League conference when we were all in lockdown, so it was an online conference keynote. And so I'd started thinking about it then, and at the time, I don't know how well it went over. I felt like I was sort of bursting a few cherished bubbles, but there are a few people who talking about it then and have been over time. So Mark Seidenberg, for example, has done a few presentations where he sort of expressed some concern about this downloading of all of the stuff that a teacher has learned into the lessons for students. But that is, again, making that mistake of conflating a skilled reader's brain with a beginning reader's brain. They, at that point in their learning, don't need to know everything that you know. And it is the task of the teacher to work out how to decide in what order to teach the things that students need to know in order to learn how to read and what is extraneous information. So keeping the eye on the goal. So is learning this or is teaching this going to help the students in my class to learn to read? If not, then it's probably not necessarily, and in some cases just sort of, it's nice information that is of interest to them and it makes them, it's something they might like to know about, but in some cases, it can actually interfere. So that's a bit of a judgment call as well. But generally, I think the principle is about simplicity and opportunity cost and thinking about do you want to overload lessons with stuff that's extraneous load and is going to interfere with the learning of the core thing? So some of the things that come to mind are some of that neurosciency stuff that even once a teacher learned it, sometimes there's this real compulsion. I know this, and I want to share this information with my students. But does it help them to learn to read? Not necessarily. It doesn't mean that it's harmful necessarily, but it's got to be additional. It's got to be the icing rather than the cake. And thinking then also, what other things might they be learning during this time that might actually be more useful at this point? So some of that neuroscience stuff, but also linguistic terms. So exactly the example that you gave. So linguistic terminology can be helpful for teachers to know. So thinking even things that aren't necessarily a technical linguistic term, but things like continuous and stop sounds. It's used for a teacher to know the difference between there are phonemes that have continuous sounds and phonemes that have stop sounds for planning for lessons and the way they teach them. So there's research showing that children learn to blend more readily when they're blending continuous sounds. So the first sets of CVC words that you might teach would contain continuous sounds while you're getting them to get to that point of being able to blend. But when you're introducing them those GPCs and those CVC words, you don't need to explain to children the difference between a continuous and a stop sound. That's extraneous cognitive load at that point in their learning that's not really relevant to the task at hand. But then there are loads of other, as you said, those more kind of technical linguistic terms that are even less useful, I think. But there are some, and I don't want to get into a list of do's and don'ts. Don't use this word, don't use this because that will get me into all kinds of hot water. And I really just sort of want to just put forward that principle. Does it help or doesn't it? So I'm not going to say never. I think it can be helpful just to use the word digraph. A digraph is a fairly simple word that is shorthand for two letters, one sound. And so there isn't really a better way. There's no better word than digraph for that. It conveys information. It's not complicated. And so I don't think it's necessarily never or always. It's a bit of a judgment call. But there is certainly, I think in some cases, just a bit of over-enthusiasm for sharing some of that, what is actually background knowledge rather than essential content. [00:37:08] Kate Winn: And I certainly know I've been guilty of that, too. And the next thing I wanted to ask you was, what do you think are some of the newer pieces of learning, like for people who are new to the science of reading, some of those pieces that definitely should be sort of student-facing. And I mean, you mentioned there could be a good reason to use digraph, for example. That's important. I know you mentioned some of those linguistic terms. An example that I find helpful in kindergarten is I do teach them voiced and unvoiced sounds, for example. And I find that helpful because it's not just, look, you're little linguists. And you can name this. I find it helpful, like just for a little bit of the articulation piece, but also with spelling because we've gotten to that little morphology piece too, of, okay, you add s to pluralize. How come sometimes the s sounds like s and sometimes it sounds like z? Well, it has to do with the letter before it. Right. So that's where I didn't know what voiced and unvoiced sounds were until a few years ago. And so that's new for me. But it's like, okay, like you said, the opportunity cost and is there a reason for this? So that's an example. And I'm thinking of another example. We have reading buddies with the grade seven eight class at our school. So I teach kindergarten, the grade seven eights, we buddy up once a week. And one thing I taught the grade seven eight was dialogic reading. My kindergarten kids don't need to know dialogic reading, but the seven eights, when we pair up, a lot of them didn't even know the word dialogue. So a little bit of lesson for them there just on that piece, but so that they understood the idea of the back and forth that we're looking for them to have with their buddies. And what could that look like? And what are some examples? So again, dialogic reading was new to me a few years ago, but that's one little piece of terminology that I did find helpful to pass on. So just wondering if you had any other little examples of some of those pieces that are probably new for teachers that are actually helpful for students too. [00:38:55] Jennifer Buckingham: I think that the example that you gave is a really good one because it can help to make what we understand implicitly explicit to students. So sort of something that we sort of don't. As you say, you knew implicitly what the difference was between a voice and an unvoiced sound. You didn't necessarily know it had a name. And the idea that you can put your hand on your throat and feel the difference between a voice and an unvoiced sound. So switching children on to that understanding as early in the piece as possible can help them to make the right spelling choices and the right pronunciation choices, but you wouldn't necessarily kind of assess them on that. Then, in your reviews of learning, be asking them to explain to you the difference between a voice and unvoiced sound. It's background knowledge. It's sort of supporting knowledge rather than something that they need to necessarily bring out as something that they know. They sort of gain that knowledge implicitly. You've put me on the spot here in terms of trying to think of things that, again, I guess, because I've absorbed it all implicitly. And so now, thinking about an example, I'll no doubt, as we continue the conversation, think of something else. So if I have a little break comes to the surface, I'll jump back in. [00:40:28] Kate Winn: Feel free to come back to it, or it may come to you in the middle of the night tonight. I should have said that. And then you can message me, and I'll just add it into the end of the episode. [00:40:37] Jennifer Buckingham: It's very likely! [00:40:41] Kate Winn: Always happens to me! You write about the importance of reading practice for students, and we know that kids do learn so much for that piece, right, like, there's that Matthew effect of the rich getting richer. We know that quantity does matter to a certain degree. But you warn that reading practice at school is not as simple as 15 minutes a day of silent reading. So I think a lot of us have started to hear that. Some of us are embracing it. Some of us are still kind of holding fast to the way we used to do it. But what do you recommend if we want to get that effective practice in? What do we do instead of your 15 minutes SSR? [00:41:14] Jennifer Buckingham: Well, it depends, obviously, on the age and the ability level of the student and how, well, I guess, with beginning readers, obviously be looking at in terms of reading practice decodable text, because that's the thing you want them to practice, is how to decode and read words accurately and fluently, and that's going to be read aloud. So practice in the form of read-aloud for younger students of decodable text, plus read aloud as a whole class with some sort of children's literature or something else similar to something that's more difficult than what they would be able to read on their own, exposing them to the language. So for vocabulary and comprehension, those are the kind of dual streams in terms of actual reading, rather than sort of learning the subskills of reading. As students get older and kind of display the ability to start reading independently, then for many students, if you just say, go and choose a book and read it for 15 minutes, then you don't know whether they've actually got anything out of that or not. And so I think student choice is an important part of it. But also guided text choice by the teacher is another part of it, because kids tend to go with their comfort level. They stick with just the things that they're interested in and the thing that they know that they'll be able to read. Occasionally you'll get the kid who will pick up something that he has no way of being able to read because he doesn't necessarily have the decoding skills yet. So he'll be looking at the pictures or only really understanding every second word, which obviously isn't enough for comprehension. So you want to try and strike that sweet spot between something that has an appropriate level of challenge. Because most kids, everybody learns most of their vocabulary through reading, not through being taught vocabulary explicitly. There's just a numbers game there. There's no way you can teach all vocabulary explicitly. Just isn't enough time in the day. So that's going to be learned through reading. So trying to find a challenge level that is right for that student without overwhelming them. So getting away from this idea of just open the book at silent in the classroom and you just assume that kids are reading, but still having that independent reading practice. So things like having a whole class text that everybody is reading, so it's going to be a bit more difficult for some students, but supporting them through their independent reading. So perhaps starting with a whole class read, not necessarily having all children read aloud in front of the whole class, that's really confronting for some students. Perhaps the teacher starts by reading the first few pages now, okay? Everyone read the rest of the chapter together, and there will be some students in the class who will be able to go ahead and do that. There'll be others that you might need to have as a small group and have them reading together. But the benefit of that approach is that you are not denying your weaker readers the opportunity to read really engaging at grade level text. They're not always only reading the thing that they can read independently. You're providing some challenge with some scaffold. And the other way to do it is asking kids questions about what they've just read. So instead of as a teacher sitting there and you read while they're reading, it's all very pleasant, but going around and asking them to tell you a little bit about what they read, reading over the shoulder and saying, do you know what that word means? So just sort of checking in on their reading. But again, it's an opportunity cost thing. Ideally, kids would be doing a lot of reading at home, but doing that reading in the class might be the only time they do any independent reading that day. That's just the reality. The ideal and the reality are often a long way apart. But also having that time to read in class, even if it's not necessarily a long period of time, can be enough to sort of get them involved in the text, which will mean they're more likely to read it at home. So finding that bridge between in school reading and at home reading through some really careful choice of texts, but also that scaffolding in the classroom can encourage the greater reading volume outside of school as well. [00:46:12] Kate Winn: Those are great ideas. Thank you. I'm wondering if you think there are any areas where educators may be overcorrecting in response to learning more about what research and evidence support in literacy instruction. Is there anything like that that you're seeing? [00:46:27] Jennifer Buckingham: Yeah, actually, before I do that, can I just go back to the previous question? Something else that I thought of is just to not think about reading practice as only occurring within the literacy block or the literacy lesson. Reading happens over the entire day, and the same with writing. Writing shouldn't just be taught within the context of the literacy lesson. Writing is best really taught within the context of something that's being learned. So same with reading. So just to not sort of partition them in that way in the school day. So, yeah, coming back to the other question about overcorrection, I think we've already touched on a few of those, and this is a natural sort of progression, I think in some ways, through research and through practice is as new information comes to light, integrating it into our existing cognitive schema takes a little bit of time. And so that happens in terms of instruction as well. So I think we saw for a while some overcorrection in terms of too much phonics instruction. I mean, whoa, betide me to ever say there's too much phonics instruction, people will say shock, horror, but I think that there was a bit of, in some places, a real overcorrection of an hour a day of phonics, that's too much. So I think we're gradually finding the place of phonics, the more proportional place of phonics. It's essential, but it's one part of the equation, I think, that's settling into a better place. We did have an overcorrection for a while in terms of phonemic awareness. There was a lot of people doing huge amounts of phonemic awareness practice all the way through primary school. I feel like we're now coming back into a position, a much more evidence-based position around phonemic awareness as well. And then we've already talked about reading comprehension strategies. So an overcorrection there of abandoning the idea that you can actually teach reading comprehension explicitly in any way, that it's all about background knowledge to a place where you say, actually, there's a place for both of those things, and it's knowing when to teach it and how long to teach it and when to come back to it and those sorts of things that are actually a more accurate way of thinking about it than to teach them or not. [00:48:54] Kate Winn: There's another quote from your report that I think is so important for some people to hear you write. There is nothing less noble or less virtuous about using a published program. And I'm not going to name names, but I know there are boards, even here in Ontario where I am, who actively discourage the use of programs. And I think sometimes it's in the name, like the well meaning sort of name of, we need to differentiate for everybody. And so one program is not going to do it. And so nobody's allowed to use a program, for example, a board that really, really discourages UFLI, which I know from experience and from the research that I have seen, is a very strong phonics program. So obviously, you wrote in the report what you think about this, but what would you say to people who feel like, no, no, a program is not good because kids have all different needs, that sort of thing? [00:49:44] Jennifer Buckingham: Yeah, I think sometimes that position comes from the sort of educational notions that you've mentioned, that every child learns differently and you can't differentiate. And that's often, I think that's a bit of a misnomer. It's not true that every child learns to read differently. They've got very similar brains. Yes, there are some differences for dyslexic children, and they need not a different type of instruction, but different intensity of instruction. Some of that is misguided, if not well intentioned. Some of it is just an ideological kind of hostility to the idea that you would spend money on a reading program like that. There's this sense, I think, in some places that everything in education should be free, but often that's an inconsistent position as well. So happy to spend, a lot of schools, spend loads of money on certain things in schools, but then say, oh, all reading curricula should be free. And that is our main kind of approach to this, when in fact, I think it's going to be much more practical about that and think, okay, well, you can think about, there are certain programs that you can download, a download and go program that looks on the surface as though it's free, but then actually, the hours that teachers spend translating that download and go printable things into an actual instructional sequence, not to mention the money that's spent on photocopying, so there's often a trade-off there that's not necessarily well understood, that nothing is kind of entirely cost-free in terms of a school's budget. So even thinking about that in a much more kind of open way I think is really useful. But coming back to the educational sort of proposition, it's really, really difficult to create. It's much harder than it looks to create a reading program that has all the content that needs to be covered, as well as building in all of those instructional principles that come from cognitive science. So there's a huge amount of knowledge that's required in order to understand all of the pieces that need to fit together, not to mention the amount of time and resourcing that goes into creating that program. So to me it seems silly to expect every teacher just to do that. It doesn't make any sense from all kinds of different perspectives. And there are a range of. It's not as though even there's just one program that's being billed as this is what everyone all over the world must use from K to six. There are a range of programs that meet some core criteria around an effective program that will meet the needs of different schools. And often that's to do with not so much just budgets, but the amount of knowledge that already resides in the school around reading instruction. So some schools will need a more comprehensive, some teachers will benefit from a more comprehensive program than others. And there's a few different sort of considerations to make. But to have a blanket ban on published programs just seems to be people just making life more difficult for teachers and for students than it needs to be. I work for MultiLit, so full disclosure here, I work for a company that publishes reading programs. I work for MultiLit because I think their programs are fantastic, not the other way around. So I do think their programs are brilliant. They are really comprehensive programs, and I know how much work goes into and research goes into those programs. It's a five year minimum of good ten to twelve really highly qualified people spending their time on writing the program, testing it in schools, coming back, revising, testing again, revising again, doing a full scale, a trial over a year, collecting pre and post data. Then, you know, finally there's a whole lot of stuff that goes into that and the idea that every school could do that is just completely unrealistic. So the Reading League, for example, publishes a nice little piece of guidance on their website around choosing reading program, or this is called some places, reading curricula and the sorts of things that schools and teachers should look for if they're thinking about using a published program and just being, I guess, practical about it, saying, could we produce something like this ourselves? Does it make sense to do that? And even if a teacher was on the same grade every year, that's a big ask to produce a reading program. But they're not. They move around through primary school. And so coming up with something every year for that grade level is just unrealistic and it's just not likely to be as effective. So again, just coming back to those principles, simplicity and opportunity cost, what makes sense to do? What could that teacher be doing as opposed to writing a whole reading program when they could use one that's been published and spend their time on assessing and providing targeted instruction and working with the struggling readers? And what other things could they be doing instead? Lots. [00:55:50] Kate Winn: So I think some of our listeners will be quoting you, pulling some pieces out of this podcast and taking them to their higher-ups. So thank you for that. We're starting to wind down here. I just wanted to ask about where to find good research science for educators. I mean, most educators are not going to primary sources and reading complete studies and I don't blame them. And I mean, most homeroom teachers are teaching various subjects. I mean, I'm passionate about literacy right now and so I'm reading some research on that, but I'm not really reading the research on the social studies and the arts and all of the other things that are being taught in the classroom too. And even when I do go to a primary source, I'll be honest, I'll read the abstract like, okay, is this going to apply to me in any way? Is this worth reading? Kind of skim all of the middle and then, okay, go for the discussion. What are kind of the main points there? And then even when a teacher goes to that primary source, the translation piece, you could read the research, but does that mean that what happened, there is something exactly that you should try in your classroom? There's the translation piece, right. From research to practice. So where would you suggest that teachers go? Where would we look for that practical classroom advice? But that's based on evidence and research. [00:57:05] Jennifer Buckingham: When I started five from five about nine years ago, there really wasn't anything in Australia at least that was providing that access to a sort of translation from the primary research into what could be used by teachers in the classroom. Over time, that has changed a lot. So there are many more credible sources of information now than there were then. Reading Rockets has been around for a long time. Reading Rockets is amazing. It's been probably 20 years or something reading rockets has been adding to their website. But if you haven't been onto that website before, then take a map and a compass because you get lost in there for weeks. It's brilliant. But that's a lot as well. So there are a few different places. The Reading League that I've mentioned before has great professional learning. There are some sources that provide written information. So a website with some stable information you can go back to really regularly. So I'd put Reading Rockets, Five From Five website in that category. And then there are other organizations that provide great PL or sort of reports that they will produce and then publish and that you can use for that purpose. In terms of the teachers reading primary research, again, I don't want to discourage that, but it's just really hard to get to. So it's in journals that, and again, this is changing a little bit because more and more now journals are publishing open access articles, which is great. And that's because there's been an increasing opportunity for the authors of articles to pay upfront to make that article open access. So can I just say now to any researchers out there that have done that, thank you very much. It's brilliant because it's so nice when you click on that link on the journal article title and it says open access, it's wonderful. But again, there's hundreds of those that come out every week. How do you decide what to read? Have you got time to do that? So, yeah, some of those sources of information that I mentioned are a good start, but you can just move on from there. I think it's still, as I mentioned earlier, I think it's still useful for teachers to have some sort of understanding of reading research and you can get a sense from the abstract of whether something is worth spending your time on reading the full article or not. Something that might look as though it's really interesting might be a case study in two schools, or it might be. And again, that's not nothing, that's still good information, that's fine. But then just where do you place that in your hierarchy of evidence? Or it might make grand claims and then actually when you read the article, you find that it's actually quite a small effect and it might be statistically significant, but not actually all that educationally meaningful. So having some understanding of that is useful as well. But if you're reading, say, a policy document or some guidance and it refers to a piece of research, then if there's one study that they're relying on really heavily to promote a particular idea, then that's when you go and look at the primary study, because if it's so reliant on one thing, then you wouldn't really know what that says and whether or not it actually provides the level of confidence that's being placed in it. [01:00:47] Kate Winn: Before I let you go, is there anything we haven't talked about? Any last message you want to leave with our listeners? [01:00:54] Jennifer Buckingham: Oh, really, just to try not to be overwhelmed. If you're one of those people who fall into that category of you're relatively new to this area, that there are some basic principles that will get you started and expand knowledge from there and also just say you know, I sympathize. I get the journal alerts that come into my email inbox every couple of days and that slight feeling of relief when you get to the you read the table of contents and there aren't three articles there that I'm going to have to read. So I share some of that sense of there's so much to know. But it's also true that there are some core things that are going to get you well on the way to getting really great results with teaching reading and to not lose heart, not to sort of think it's all too much and I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. Some small changes, small changes in instruction can have really big impacts, and so a sequence of small changes can be life-changing in terms of your students. [01:02:08] Kate Winn: Thank you so much for being with us. Dr. Jennifer Buckingham that was all fantastic. You're leaving me with lots to think about and I really appreciate you joining us for this episode of Reading Road Trip. [01:02:19] Jennifer Buckingham: Thank you so much for inviting me, Kate. It's been fantastic to talk to you. [01:02:24] Kate Winn: Show notes for this episode with all the links and information you need can be found at podcast.idaontario.com. And you have been listening to season two, episode ten with Dr. Jennifer Buckingham. Now it's time for that typical end of the podcast call to action. If you enjoyed this episode of Reading Road Trip, we'd love it if you could rate and or review it in your podcast app as this is extremely helpful, and of course we welcome any social media love you feel inspired to spread as well. Feel free to tag IDA Ontario and me. My handle is thismomloves on Twitter and Facebook, and Katethismom loves on Instagram. We couldn't bring Reading Road Trip to you without behind-the-scenes support from Katelyn Hanna, Brittany Haynes and Melinda Jones at IDA Ontario. If you're enjoying Reading Road Trip, please consider making a donation to IDA Ontario, a volunteer-run charity that depends on donations to do our work supporting educators and families. I'm Kate Winn, and along with my co-producer, Una Malcolm. We hope this episode and this entire season of Reading Road Trip has made your path to evidence-based literacy instruction just a little bit clearer and a lot more fun. Now, you have all spring to get caught up on our first two seasons and maybe even re-listen to your favourite episodes. And then join us this summer when we bring a busload of fabulous guests along for the ride, for season three of Reading Road Trip.

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