The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 2 - Page 12


According to the simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Hoover & Gough, 1990), comprehension is a product of the ability to decode and the ability to understand spoken language. The view leads to instructional and assessment approaches that prioritize speed and accuracy in word reading and oral comprehension ability. The formula R = D x C is used to represent the simple view of reading. In the formula, R stands for reading comprehension, D stands for decoding and C stands for listening comprehension. This view implies that instruction should focus on decoding skills and listening comprehension. In turn, assessments such as DIBELS (Good & Kaminski, 2002) that are based on the simple view of reading focus on decoding skills and listening comprehension.

We are using the term “sociogenetic” (Gavelek & Whittingham, 2017; John-Steiner, 1983) to describe a family tree of theoretical and pedagogical perspectives that emphasize the social context of meaning-making, mental development, and literacy development. This group comprises what has been called the “social turn” in literacy which advocates consideration of how cultural interactions shape mental concepts and frameworks (Pearson, 2008) while embracing so-called “new literacies” of non-traditional texts related to digital media (New London Group, 1996). The family tree of the sociogenetic movement includes social constructivism (Searle, 1995), reader response theory (Rosenblatt, 1978; Tompkins, 1980), sociolinguistics (Gee, 1999), pragmatism (Dewey, 1986), cultural historical activity theory (CHAT; Cole & Engeström, 1997), and activity theory (Engeström & Sannino, 2010). Additionally, included in the broad family tree of the sociogenetic movement is the influence of critical theorists in literacy who contend that teachers need to raise questions of social and cultural empowerment by asking who is considered legitimate to speak on a certain issue and who is silenced (Lukes, 2005). Critical theorists hope teachers will develop the skills to “read the word and the world” (Friere & Macedo, 1987) by themselves critically examining language use within text. This will aid teachers as they respond to the diverse ways that children are impacted by life conditions that often include the denial of equitable opportunities in education (Bourdieu & Passerson, 1990; Giroux, 1988). The sociogenetic family tree stands in opposition to the simple view of reading. The debate has significant impact on instructional, assessment, and policy decisions.

Advice on How to Proceed

We recommend that teachers first make sure their literacy curriculum fits their students’ needs as much as possible while addressing the broad range of engagement, motivation, skill development and comprehension strategies related to literacy development among young readers (Tracey & Morrow, 2014). Young children actively construct meaning in texts while learning to use skills and strategies that are different from those used by older children (Dooley & Matthews, 2009).

A long debate has been raging over which is more effective: synthetic phonics, in which children sound-out words, or analytic phonics in which children do not sound out words. In synthetic phonics, children blend sounds to produce spoken words. Children in analytic phonics are guided to ‘‘learn sound-symbol relationships within the context of whole-word recognition’’ (Morris, 1983, p. 133). In analytic phonics programs, children figure out common letters or sounds in words that begin with the same letter: cat, cab, car. Later, children figure out common letters or sounds in words that end with the same letter: sat, bat, rat.

Lack of agreement exists in the literature on whether explicit and systematic phonics instruction improves reading comprehension (Wilson et al., 2004). However, improved reading accuracy appears related to systematic phonics instruction (Ehri et al., 2001). Our recommendation is for an approach that incorporates aspects of both synthetic and analytic phonics within instruction. The synthetic component should focus on teaching the direct major letter-sound correspondences, including short and long vowels and digraphs, or combinations of letters (such as ph) that represent one sound. This instruction optimally is engaging, motivational, social through conversation, even at times playful with word games, song and dance, while making use of assessment to guide instructional decisions.