Marching to a Different Tune

Jun 30, 2015 | Effective Practice, Literacy Leadership

We don’t have to live with the same old assumptions.


I have been a little perplexed at a couple of responses to one of my blog posts over the weekend which seemed to miss points that were either explicit in the post or well established in the literature.


Regarding the comment: ‘… there are (almost?) ALWAYS a select group of non-respondents.’

 The post explicitly states that all students within the normal range of intelligence can be taught to read. It implies that children with significantly low intelligence may not learn to read. @AndrewSabisky‘s comment is therefore an acceptance of what the post already states. It does not detract from the argument. It is also worth noting that ‘within the normal range’ includes those with a so-called discrepancy between IQ and reading achievement. More on this below.

We can argue over the size of that group but there is good reason to think that they will exist … in the case of reading also …

The blog asserts that, for students within the normal range, all can expect to read accurately. Using Thinking Reading as an example, I point out that all the students in the programme over a six-year period progressed to read at their chronological age. For the sake of clarity, this did not mean that they all had the same lessons, but rather that each student’s programme was adjusted depending on their response to the intervention.

A key point to bear in mind here is that I am not referring to an academic study carried out over a fixed term. I am talking about teaching students until they are reading as well as they should, whether that takes two months or twelve months. There is a big difference. The assumption is that some students must fail is exactly the kind of limiting expectation I am challenging.

…. and it’s not just a problem of intensity of / fidelity to intervention.’

The post points out that the reason interventions are designed is in order to meet the needs of those for whom other approaches have not worked. A good intervention will have the capacity for response to the individual student built in. In this sense, fidelity to the response contingencies of the intervention is the crucial factor.

A further post may be needed to explain how this can work. In short, skills and knowledge can be analysed by their components, and weak components taught to fluency before they are recombined. The impact of this approach in special education is well documented. For example:

Binder (1988) Measuring and Attaining Exemplary Academic Achievement 

Johnson, K. R. & Layng, T. V. J. (1992) The Morningside Model of Generative Instruction

Snyder, G (2012) Morningside Academy: A Learning Guarantee (PM Ezine, Aubrey Daniels International)

White & Haring (1980) Exceptional Teaching for Exceptional Children

One respondent tweeted:

 If you have to wait until the end of the intervention before you act on the data, it’s not a very responsive intervention, and will therefore, inevitably, fail some students. See, for example, the Response To Intervention model which specifically plans to collect monitoring data and make adjustments for students during interventions, in addition to providing interventions of increasing intensity.

Julian Elliot has written extensively about the use of a dyslexia label being counter-productive. The emotional, social and political functions of this label exist, but they do not actually enhance the learning of those to whom it is applied. In particular, Elliot points out that the folkloric definition of discrepant IQ has no evidence in the literature. Stanovich rejects this notion as well. As Susan Godsland’s website shows, it has, in fact, been discredited for some time, yet here it is being recycled.

Assistive technologies may be entirely appropriate in some circumstances, particularly compensating for physical disabilities. Despite a long-standing enthusiasm for ‘processing disorders’ in education, there is no evidence that such ‘assistive technologies’  improve reading (Hempenstall, 2013). They should never be a substitute for explicit systematic teaching of reading – except where they are adaptations to overcome a motor disability.

As for the comment that “my students will never hear the term dysteachia” – why would they? What possible reason could there be? As Zig Engelmann makes clear, it is a term coined to remind teachers that the onus is on us – to teach effectively.

The discussion continues:

A Call for Accuracy


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Hempenstall, K (2013) Keeping an Eye on Reading: Is Reading a Visual Problem? Retrieved from:

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The natural home for reading interventions

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