Friday, April 22, 2011

Constructivism in Reading Education ~Keith Stanovich (1994)

Tenets of Constructivism: Self-discovery is the most efficacious way of learning; learning is natural (like walking and talking); cognitive components cannot be extricated from the whole - the job of the learner is to discover these if real learning is to occur.

Differentiating Levels of Processing: Is Reading Like Reasoning?

E.L Thorndike and R.L. Thorndike (1917, 1974) posited that reading was best thought of as reasoning. Stanovich & Cunningham (1991), however, explain that word recognition is a different cognitive process than comprehension of text; these are two very different processing levels.  Word recognition follow an exogenous Constructivism - external instruction resulting in learning about subprocesses, then applying the knowledge to word recognition; while reading comprehension is better explained by dialectical/endogenous Constructivism - constructing meaning in a social context, based on individual prior knowledge and understanding of language (schema theory).

The comprehension process is similar to reasoning; but word identification requires the knowledge of discrete skills, and how they function together (i.e., phoneme awareness, letter knowledge, phoneme-grapheme correspondences, blending, adequate knowledge of language, and the metacognitive ability to connect the blended sounds to words in the reader's lexicon.)

"Word recognition in the fluent adult reader is the part of reading that is not like reasoning or problem solving. It does not recruit information from general knowledge bases and is not directed by central processes of expectation generation." p. 262

Central Processes: The Part of Reading That is Like Reasoning

A firmly established principle: readers must make use of background knowledge in sentence processing. Studies have provided evidence that "variations in topic knowledge modify the quantity and quality of information recalled from text" p 263 (Lipson, 1983; Taylor, 1985) Components of comprehension training for at risk & LD children include: activating prior knowledge and expectations (Pearson & Fielding, 1991) The learner is viewed as an active information processor (Harris & Pressley, 1991; Pearson & Fielding, 1991; Pressley & Van Meter, 1993). The reader requires some knowledge of cognitive resources in selecting and interpreting a text: how textual features like structure, clarity and difficulty influence memory and comprehension are metacognitive abilities. Declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, and conditional knowledge work together as the reader makes strategy decisions. This falls into the realm of active, engaged thinking. Increasing a reader's knowledge of strategies and when to use them improves comprehension (p 263 for studies cited). Reading theory is bifurcated: background knowledge permeates the "central processes of text inferencing, comprehension monitoring, and global interpretation" (p. 264) direct and explicit instruction allows the development of word recognition strategies.  Reading is thus better described as constrained reasoning, that is, reading as reasoning can only occur when automatic word recognition predominates.

Different Instructional Philosophies for Different Contexts

Because the processes are so different, instructional programs must align with theoretical differences based on distinct cognitive processes.

'Training programs for at-risk and LD children in these different subdomains of reading differ in the degree of explicitness in the instructional procedures and in the degree of analytic versus holistic experience provided. Differences follow from assumptions about the naturalness of learning. Pressley (1993) noted "self-discovery and lack of explicitness" as defining features of most constructivist approaches: "Educators with constructivist orientations contend that various forms of knowledge, including knowledge of strategic procedures are applied more generally if constructed by learners than if explicitly taught to them (p. 264)." The tenets of endogenous constructivism contradict empirical evidence on how early word recognition skill is acquired and on efficacious treatments for at-risk/LD children. Strategies for word recognition apply to non-disable children as well.

"There is no known teaching method that has resulted in good reading comprehension without simultaneously leading to the development of at least adequate word recognition ability. Furthermore, an overwhelming amount of evidence indicates that the primary processing problem that characterizes at-risk children and children with LD is a phonological processing difficulty that impedes word learning and word recognition (Adams & Bruck, 1993; Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Perfetti, 1985; Share. 1994; Siegel, 1993; Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987) (p. 265).

Is Reading Natural?

Goodman makes the claim that it is natural and that it can be learned through "authentic literacy events" defined by a need. He charged that educators made it hard by "trying to make it easy" (Goodman, 1986).

Evidence that it is not natural: all communities have developed spoken language but only a minority have a written form. Speech is about as old as the human race but written language wasn't discovered until 3 or 4 thousand years ago. Most children learn to speak in normal environments but they require explicit instruction in acquiring reading and writing, with many not "getting it" after intensive efforts from teachers and parents. Liberman & Liberman (1990) explain that all oral language uses a universal strategy in constructing utterances but written language takes many forms: alphabetic, logographic, morphologic. Oral and written language are dramatically dissimilar with elaborate code learning for the latter. Research continues to conclude that reading is not a natural human activity in the same way that speech is. It requires analytic processing and not mere pair associations. Pre-literate children could not learn to discriminate Fat from Bat or Fun from Bun with greater than chance accuracy (Byrne, 1992). Environmental print, when decontextualized, is not recognized by a preliterate child (Masonheimer, Drum, and Ehri, 1984). Children are attentive to unrelated clues if given the task of learning whole words on flash cards. They will focus on a thumb print or other salient feature rather than the letter features or shapes of the word (Gough, 1993; Gough & Juel, 1991). Seymour & Elder (1986) studied children new in school and their acquisition of sight vocabulary learned via whole word methods and no phonics instruction. The children could not recognize unfamiliar words that were not taught after two terms, unlike children receiving letter-sound decoding skills instruction.

Fractionating Language Processes Helps

"Successful reading acquisition requires the development of an analytic processing stance toward words that is not natural"

A deficit in segmental language skills (PA or phonological sensitivity - PS) precedes difficulties with phonological coding (Ball, 1993; Brandley & Bryant, 1985; Bruck, 1992; Stanovich, 1982, 1992; Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987; Wagner, Torgesen, et al., 1993).  A minimal level of phonological sensitivity seems to be a prerequisite to fluent reading. Low levels of PS inhibit learning the alphabetic principle underlying automatic word recognition (Tunmer & Hoover, 1992; Tunmer &  Nesdale, 1985).

Justification for my study:

"Instructional interventions for preschool children at risk for learning difficulties that involve the conscious and explicit teaching of sound segmentation have been found to lead to faster rates of reading and spelling acquisition. Explicit, analytic teaching of spelling-sound correspondences has been found to be particularly efficacious for at-risk chldren and children with reading disabilities" (p. 268 ~ see article for lengthy empirical studies cited for these two statements).

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