The Sounds-Write Podcast

Episode 10: Speech to Print with Nora Chahbazi and John Walker

May 06, 2023
Episode 10: Speech to Print with Nora Chahbazi and John Walker
The Sounds-Write Podcast
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The Sounds-Write Podcast
Episode 10: Speech to Print with Nora Chahbazi and John Walker
May 06, 2023

In the tenth episode of The Sounds-Write Podcast two of the most prominent champions of speech to print phonics, Nora Chahbazi and John Walker, discuss their strikingly similar backgrounds in the world of phonics, the similarities and difference between their approaches and, of course, speech to print. Enjoy!

Some helpful links:
Sounds-Write Symposium on Speech to Print
EBLI's website
Episode 9 of The Sounds-Write Podcast on phonics research
Find out more about Sounds-Write
Pre-register for the Sounds-Write Practitioners' Portal!
Sounds-Write's Facebook
Sounds-Write's Instagram
Sign up to our mailing list

Show Notes Transcript

In the tenth episode of The Sounds-Write Podcast two of the most prominent champions of speech to print phonics, Nora Chahbazi and John Walker, discuss their strikingly similar backgrounds in the world of phonics, the similarities and difference between their approaches and, of course, speech to print. Enjoy!

Some helpful links:
Sounds-Write Symposium on Speech to Print
EBLI's website
Episode 9 of The Sounds-Write Podcast on phonics research
Find out more about Sounds-Write
Pre-register for the Sounds-Write Practitioners' Portal!
Sounds-Write's Facebook
Sounds-Write's Instagram
Sign up to our mailing list

Laura:  00:02
Hello and welcome to the Sounds-Write podcast. I'm Laura, the host, and in this episode I spoke to Nora Chahbazi and John Walker. Nora is the founder of EBLI, which is a speech-to-print phonics programme based in the US, and John is the founder of Sounds-Write. The two discuss their strikingly similar backgrounds in the world of phonics, the similarities and differences between their approaches, and of course, speech-to-print. Before we begin, I want to let you know about the Sounds-Write symposium on speech-to-print, which is coming up from the 16th to the 19th of May this year. The online conference will show talks from experts in the field of phonics, including Nora and John. And even better news, you can access the event for free, so I'm going to put the link to that in the show notes for this episode. Anyway, let's get on with this episode of the podcast. It was such a privilege to listen to this conversation live and hear Nora and John talk about all things phonics, so I hope you enjoy it as well. Hello, Nora and John. Thank you so much for being here on the podcast today.

John:  01:17
Hi Laura.

Nora:  01:18
Great to be here.

John:  01:19
Great to be here and especially great to be talking to Nora Chahbazi, whom I met at the Plain Talk conference recently. And to tell you the truth, people had to prize us apart because we couldn't stop talking.

Nora:  01:34
We wanted to run away and just say, leave us alone and let us talk.

Laura:  01:40
Excellent. Well, here's your chance.

Nora:  01:45
That's how this came about, actually, was from that.

John:  01:48

Nora:  01:48
They said, we'll let you talk more.

John:  01:50

Laura:  01:51
Nice. So just to introduce you both to our listeners, Nora, could you talk a little bit about your background and EBLI and your work there first?

Nora:  02:03
Sure. I am actually a neonatal intensive care nurse by education. I have two degrees in nursing, and I came to literacy back in the 1990s because of my own child's struggles with reading. She was in gifted and talented in math, very bright child, but a year below grade level in reading, in 2nd Grade. So that kind of changed the whole trajectory of my life and put me on this path to literacy. And I opened a reading centre in 1999. I created EBLI in 2003 and trained teachers, classroom teachers and intervention teachers from all over the world. We're now in 37 states and 9 different countries where we have people trained, which is very exciting. And so my mission really at the core, is to prevent the suffering like my daughter experienced, and that's being experienced by millions of kids and adults by basically, I always say, putting a fence at the top of the cliff. And let's teach kids to read from the beginning as opposed to the ambulance at the bottom and the millions that are fallen off the cliff and needing intervention and remediation and there's not enough to go around to help  - we have a waiting list at our centre which we try to keep hidden, but it doesn't work very well, of 128 people, I think it was last count, which is pretty crazy. So I have devoted my life to literacy and improving literacy and really our tagline is teaching the world to read and that is my dream and my goal.

Laura:  03:33
Brilliant. And nine different countries, that's quite the achievement. Congratulations.

Nora:  03:38
Yeah, thank you.

Laura:  03:40
So, actually Sounds-Write, has a pretty similar timeline. We started in 2003 as well, funnily enough. So, John, why don't you tell us who you are and what Sounds-Write is as well.

John:  03:52
Yes, I was going to say. I mean, it's a great metaphor, Nora, the ambulance metaphor. And it does seem that we've been running in parallel all these years, because...

Nora:  04:04
I've known about you!

John:  04:06
Right, and I've known about you too! Certainly we started off at pretty much the same time. I think I started my reading centre in something like 1998. I was teaching literature until that time, and sociolinguistics at university, all sorts of things in that sort of realm. And then I decided, when I was teaching at Warwick university, teaching a course on post-colonial literatures and English on a master's programme, I decided who's going to benefit from the kind of experience I have more? These very, very clever kids at Warwick or kids that can't read? So, to tell you the truth, I made the switch at that time. And of course, like you, I started off teaching small group, one-to-one, that kind of thing. And I started off in Phono-Graphix, as you know. And because Phono-Graphix didn't offer a whole-class alternative, we started to work on developing a whole-class programme so that we could train teachers right from the start. Because it's all very well putting these sticking plasters on all over the place, actually, you need to get to the root of the problem and I'm pretty sure you feel the same way or felt the same way.

Nora:  05:28
Yeah, the sticking plasters, I love that. I've never heard that term, but they aren't working. It takes so much time and energy. And really, the trauma that's experienced in the angst and anxiety that continues to build on people that have struggled is tremendous. And I actually was teaching classroom teachers in Phono-Graphix for those years that I was a trainer, trying to, and it wasn't going very well. So, yeah, we've got to get into the classrooms and have this start out from the beginning for everyone. Nothing bothers me more than people saying, 'Oh, yeah, I know a few students that this will work for'. There's no one that this won't benefit, including, you know I've taught doctors and lawyers and all kinds of stuff, too. Everybody benefits from learning, because most people don't really understand how the code really works, and applying it to reading and writing. So we've got a big job.

John:  06:17
Yeah, no, I completely agree. And I think that you've just put your finger on it, because as far as I'm concerned, I say to people, listen, if a kid can hear, if a kid can hear, then they can learn this. And even for children who find speaking difficult or have speech problems, if they can hear, they can learn how to do this. And I think, was it Mark Seidenberg, said that the starting point for reading is the sounds in the language, is speech.

Nora:  06:49

John:  06:50
And that's where we start, isn't it?

Nora:  06:52
You know, an interesting point, too, as far as if they can hear, and this wasn't with us, we've taught nearly deaf people, but we've had students in classrooms where we've trained teachers, where completely deaf students have started to read. Isn't that interesting? Even kids who don't speak can learn to read. So really, the bar, there's no limit as to what is possible, which I think is what's really exciting about teaching the way that we do. It's very thrilling, and we just need to get it spreading like wildfire. That's my intention.

John:  07:26
Get the message across, that's right. But I think one of the things for me that's been so important is conceptual understanding. And I know that we teach the code, you teach all of the code, I know you teach all the common spellings. In fact, people were saying to me at the conference, Nora's EBLI programme teaches all the stuff all the way through, so you've got a great curriculum for teaching the code. But I know you also teach the skills, and I know you teach all those elements of conceptual understanding.

Nora:  08:04
Those are the key. Those are the key, if we don't have those, what do we have?

John:  08:09
Yes, that's it.

Nora:  08:09
And actually we don't teach the whole code explicitly. It's disconcerting to people who come to us from traditional phonics because we teach such a small amount of it. But those kids moving to that self-teaching, how quickly they do that when we teach these conceptual pieces about the code and how to manage it. Everything explodes and they just go flying so fast. That's what I think is so exciting. But so many people want to focus on, well, you know I just had an email today about, 'Well, I want to teach this sound because they're struggling'. I'm like, you don't need to explicitly teach everything in the English language. It's not about that content. It's about the process and the concepts and the skills that we're teaching to manage this whole code because it applies to all of it. Even if you teach it, this basic idea, it applies to all of it. And that to me is really thrilling. And I've learned over the years how much faster all kids - like, I went into a preschool, a school that has preschool. There was nine classrooms that the teachers were training in. And I'm like, I don't have as much experience in preschool, but this was several years ago. And so I thought, well, we're going to do this and try that. And I had in my mind an understanding of where they should have been to when I came into coach in the end of October - they were so far beyond, further than what I would have thought. The first classroom, I thought, well, this is wild that they're this far. I mean, that's interesting. And by the second, the third, the fifth classroom, they just kept getting better. These kids were reading the words, they were saying the sounds, they were writing the words. Some of them were even doing four-sound words. And I'm like, they keep showing me by accident, everything I feel like I've done has been by accident, but they keep showing what they're capable of. And it's so much more, even with my high expectations, so much more than we even thought they were capable of, which I think is just thrilling.

John:  10:00
Yeah, we had a similar experience, actually, because we started this off, as I said before, we were teaching small group, one-to-one. And what happened in the school that I was working in is that the kids with whom we'd worked were actually answering math questions in a math test better than all the rest of the class. And the headteacher immediately said, 'Hey, listen, we need to have everybody have this', and that's really where we started. And interestingly enough, we use something called the Dennis Young's Parallel Spelling Test, we've always used that. And we thought that -

Nora:  10:39
I love spelling for assessing reading. I mean, why wouldn't we? Right?

John:  10:46

Nora:  10:46
Spelling is so much harder than reading, and it tells you so much about the kids. I listened to your podcast, of course, about your research on all of that. What was it, 1607 kids or something like that? A lot.

John:  10:58
Exactly. Exactly that! [Laughter]

Nora:  11:00
Was that the right number? See, look at me. I can't remember my name sometimes, but I remember that. Because it's just like, people love to say, 'Oh, this linguistic phonics structure and linguistic literacy, there's no research'. And I'm like, what? We have all kinds now. Then it's like, 'Well, we don't like the way you did your research. We don't like that there's not a comparison. We don't like the test used. We don't like the -', and it's like, here's the deal. Do we like, this is what we all want to like, is that all of our kids are highly literate, right? Isn't that what we like? And all of these little side kind of niggling conversations take our time and energy away from that. But how can you not look at 1607 kids over time and what happened with their spelling? Because what does everybody say? 'Oh, I'm a pretty good reader, but I'm a horrible speller'. Well, you're not that great of a reader then, right? If you're not spelling accurately the you're not... So, you guys, that gave me a really big 'aha' about looking at the spelling. Then you made it simple. I'm talking to a researcher this week, actually, about doing some EBLI research. And I think, with research, that's the problem. It's so complex and so expensive and so hard to pull apart and tease apart and do comparison. I always feel bad for the control group. Right?

John:  12:11

Nora:  12:12
What do you think is the solution for all of that?

John:  12:14
I think it's very difficult. We've offered several times to match schools, for instance. So in one school that we did where we were teaching Sounds-Write, they were a two form entry. And so we started by having one form do Sounds-Write and the other form doing business as usual, which I think was actually Letters and Sounds. I don't mind saying it, the old Letters and Sounds. And by half term, the kids in the Sounds-Write group were so much further ahead that the head said, 'Listen, we can't do this anymore. It's unethical. We need to have everybody do it'. And I remember we did try to get a match with some schools for similar SES, socioeconomic circumstance were similar, and the other schools would have nothing to do with it. The Sounds-Write schools were happy, but the other schools, no, they didn't want to play, and obviously they didn't want to play because I guess they didn't want to be shown up, for what they weren't doing very well.

Nora:  13:15

John:  13:15
But as you say, spelling is absolutely fantastic because it's so transparent. It gives you a much clearer insight.

Nora:  13:22
And you can look at it. It's right there.

John:  13:24
You get a much clearer insight of what they know and what they don't know.

Nora:  13:27
Which is so huge. There's two things that I wanted to touch on that you said. One was about the math and the kids improving. Even their computation somehow improves with this type of instruction. But of course, obviously reading the story problems. But what I think is so important for people to understand that how we are teaching, you and I, with our systems, it's not like just to get these lessons done and then we're done with the lessons. It's skills and concepts and information that transfer across the curriculum, across, whether you're reading a restaurant menu or a birthday card or your science textbook, that transference is so fast and thorough. And, you know, when I ask EBLI teachers, when you teach EBLI, the ones who - you know, unless they're very beginning, starting, and they're at that sensory motor level - but what they say is like, all day long, whenever there's reading, writing and spelling, this is how you do it. It's just like a process of what you do. And I think I know, with Sounds-Write, it's the same thing. And I think that that's huge, because what else does that?

John:  14:23
Yeah, I tell you what makes me laugh, you know. Because of our conceptual framework, the conceptual framework we teach in, you don't need silent letters. There's no 'hard C' or 'soft C'. There are no letter names at the beginning. There's no linking all this stuff to characters like 'Annie Apple', or whatever. There are no long and short vowels. When people start saying to me, is that a 'long a' or a 'short a'? And I go, what are you talking about? It's /a/ or it's /ae/. What the hell is this?

Nora:  14:57
Right. Well, and then the other thing, this is something that I'll say in training with teachers. I'm like, okay, we have the /a/ like in 'at', your 'short a' per se, if people know that language. Or /ae/ like in 'gate', the 'long a'. But then what are you going to do with the < a > in 'was', okay, what about, that's /o/. In father, it's /ar/, in 'water' it's /or/, you know? In luggage it's /i/. Do we call those midget and giant? Or how are we going to explain those? Like you say, 'hard and soft C', I don't even know what the heck that means! all of these things that come from the letter leading, I don't even know them, so of course I can't teach them. But when we put that into kids brains, they try to use it to do something, and it so overloads their cognition, and it so slows down everything, because it's like glued up in there. And it's just so easy, when we go from the words we speak, we're just talking about, the words you speak. Let's tease them apart. Let's match these symbols that could be flowers or they could be birds. We could have put birds to match, any kind of shapes, whatever. These are just symbols representing the sounds that are parts of the words that we speak. And so you're taking your speech and putting it down, which is why the whole alphabetic system was created. And then when you read, you take that and bring it back up, for decoding. It's almost too simple, really. It's almost too simple in a process where people have been so, thinking it's so complex, to do that.

John:  16:22
Yeah, go on, Laura.

Laura:  16:24
I was going to jump in and say, we've been now going for 15 minutes, and we haven't really gone into the topic of the podcast yet, which is sound-to-print. So, I was about to say that's a brilliant time to go into the first question that I have for both of you on the topic of this podcast, which is speech-to-print, sound-to-print, whichever one you want to call it. So, would one of you, or both of you, for listeners who might not be completely familiar with the term, would you talk a bit about what exactly it means to go from speech-to-print in a phonics programme?

John:  17:03
Sure. Yeah. I think that we both start from the same premise, actually, that what do children learn naturally? What is it that you don't have to teach them? What's biologically primary? All kids everywhere in the whole world learn to speak, and they learn to listen. You don't have to go to school to learn to speak. In fact, the very idea is absurd. What you do have to do, though, is you have to go to school to learn your writing system. And I know a couple of researchers who say that no child learns their own script by themselves. All children need to be inducted into how their writing script or their writing system works, and that's exactly what we do. Do you want to take it from there, Nora?

Nora:  17:48
Yeah. I always say that when somebody has written to you, whether they wrote a book 300 years ago, or whether they wrote an email to you today from the Philippines, wherever they are, their speech is down now in print. That's what print is. It's talk, what we say, written down. And so what we do with EBLI and with Sounds-Write, is we take advantage of that. Kids, almost all kids come to school being able to talk. So we use what they already know, which gives us a head start on everybody else. So, that's natural, okay? In that cognitive load theory, like John says, it's biologically primary. It's what they already know. What is biologically secondary or things that have to be taught, is the code that we've used to match these sounds in your words to print. And so when we go with what they already know, and then we match the sounds to print, and we teach them the concepts that are unique to English, because we've borrowed from so many other different languages to get our spellings. Then kids, especially when I'm teaching high schoolers or adults or whatever, they're like, 'Wait a minute. This makes so much sense. Why didn't anybody ever teach me this before?' But so few people know it, including teachers and doctors and lawyers and anyone. I mean, I didn't know it, and I was a really very good reader and writer before I learned this. But learning this takes it to a whole different level. And for me, that is the key, to take what you already have. We're leading with what you have, is your speech, where traditional phonics is leading with something that's man-made, all right? Which are letters, and then trying to shove our speech into it, which isn't working very well because then you have to use things like silent letters when no letter has ever spoken that I've known, right? They're all silent. They're just symbols that represent sounds. And then literal kids, who are very literal at that age, nine and below, you know, and that propositional logic, 'if this, then that'. And they're like, what's going on here? They don't understand that like, 'Wait, this says that? I'm not hearing it say that. But they're the adult and they're saying it says this', right? So we don't want to confuse kids and we don't have to, when we start with what they already have, which is their speech. And I think it's so liberating for all learners to be able to understand that they have that and they take their mouths with them everywhere, right? We take our mouth and our ears with us everywhere.

John:  20:14
No, that's right. I bet you find that, it's actually, when I do some special needs teaching and I'm doing an intervention, I have a child sit in my reading centre with me, I always have the parent in as well. And so I teach the parent how it works. The parent just sits a little bit behind so they're not tempted to intervene and say, 'Hey listen, I told you that before!'.

Nora:  20:39
Like Driver said, they just can't help themselves.

John:  20:43
I know! But parents say, 'God, this is really straightforward, this is really simple'. And that's because they haven't had their heads messed up with all this stuff that teachers get out of teachers college, which is usually incredibly confusing, I think really. One of our concepts is that many spellings represent more than one sound. And I saw on this website at one point that this professor just couldn't get their heads around this idea at all. So for instance, < ea > can represent the sound /ee/, /e/, or /ae/. And this person really, how can you possibly teach this stuff? And sometimes what I do is I draw a circle on the board and I say, what can this be? And people say, 'It's a circle'. Yeah, but what else can it be? 'Oh, it can be a ball, it can be an orange, it can be this, it can be that'. Actually, to tell you the truth, four year old kids are much better than adults at doing this and come out with more things. If that's the case, then 'ea' can be /e/, it can be /ee/ and it can be /ae/. As long as you've taught those things as well, of course.

Nora:  21:57
Yeah. And I think that piece, for vowels like the letter < s > can be /s/, right, or /z/ in 'is' or /sh/ in 'sure' or whatever, and kids are just like, well, that makes a flower is a flower, even though they all look different, or a house or a dog or whatever, we can categorise them for sure. But I'm curious and I kind of want to ask a question on one of these concepts where the same sound that we say, let's say it's /ee/ or /s/, let's say /s/, there's a whole bunch of ways to spell all of our sounds. So, we usually teach, depends on the age, four to seven ways to spell, let's say, /s/ . So people really, especially if they're familiar with traditional phonics, are like, you can't do that. You have to teach one one week and then one the next week and then one the next week. How do you answer that, John? I was wanting to know that from you.

John:  22:41
Well, one of the ways we answer it is that we say, look, it's very common in the UK to teach, say < ai > as a spelling of /ae/. And then sometimes some people teach < ay > as well, but a lot of people don't teach another spelling alternative for quite a few weeks. So, in the mind of the kid, they don't make the association. These are two ways of spelling the sound /ae/. And one of the problems is that every time they write a word with the sound /ae/ in it, if they're using the < ai > spelling, then that starts to become solidified in their mind, and it's hard to break them then away from incorrect spelling. So, much better to show them some common ways of spelling a sound and, of course, spending some time on it. But once they've got the concept that there's more than one way of spelling a sound, that changes their whole mindset, doesn't it? Because they're asking qualitatively different questions of you. They're saying to you, Miss, how do you spell the /oe/ in 'stone'? Or how do you spell the /s/ in 'psychotherapy', it's two letters, but it's one sound.

Nora:  23:58
'Tsunami' was a good one, too, and it's okay. But when they understand that, and then you don't have to teach all of the ways to spell /s/, or all of the spellings for all of the sounds when they understand that concept. And another thing I like about how - I know you do this, too, and we learned this from Phono-Graphix, really - is < s > can be /s/, and < ss > like in 'miss', and < c > like in 'city', and < ce > like in 'nice' and < se > like in 'house' and all that. So, we show them all of those, but then we can say, look at this pattern. Where do you see this one? Oh, it's at the end. Oh, this one has an < ei >  or < y > after it. Interesting. This one's usually at the end. So, they get that as far as the patterning, right? Because what do humans do best? They suck up patterns from birth, really. And so then they have that kind of embedded, and they apply it to other things without explicit instruction. It's absolutely fascinating to watch and to see how even we don't start with five things. Of course, with kindergarten and preschool, we start with < w > can be /w/, and < wh > can be /w/, like in 'wet' and 'when', right? So we start small and then add on to it, and they have no issue whatsoever. But the adults often have a harder time. And I think that what you said, something really important is, that we've learned as adults a lot of other things that aren't that. So then it's kind of like kids who guess words or look up at you or look at the picture, they'll have those habits. You have to undo that habit of what you've been thinking or doing and then replace it with a new one. And the teaching them how to read is easy compared to removing all those habits that have been ineffective.

John:  25:29
Absolutely right. I completely agree. And actually, I've got a question for you because we touched on this when we were at Plain Talk. We've been teaching the split-spelling now in the UK. When we started teaching Sounds-Write, we thought, you know, everybody taught the split-spelling. If we don't teach that, this is so wacky, this is turning the world upside down to such an extent, if we drop that then nobody will listen to us. So we kept it. And one thing I like it for, is I like it for kids who find learning more difficult. The cutting the square for the word 'came' or 'home' or something like that is something that they don't forget, but something that I like very much about what you do, it's something that we've started to adopt in the first Year 1 of teaching, is this idea of 'consonant plus < e >', instead of teaching a split-spelling. Do you want to say a few words about that? Because I think it's a great way of doing it.

Nora:  26:38
Yeah, I'm going to say, know, I was such a clean slate, really. I knew that traditional phonics didn't work for my daughter. She had been taught Abeka when we lived in Guam. I knew that whole-language didn't work for her because that's what she was taught back when we moved back to Michigan. She couldn't read. She could memorise really well and she looked like a good reader and she could do well on a spelling test, but she couldn't spell her words. So I was a clean slate, really, because I knew those things didn't work, I wasn't really trying to dig deeper into that. I was looking for something else. And this professor from Michigan state led me to Diane McGuinness's book. So I have always gone from what makes sense to me, you know, what doesn't make sense to me? Rules. I don't get them. I don't know most of them. Syllable types, don't know those either. Schwa. I'm like, I don't get it. There's nine sounds that go with the letter < a >, and you're going to tell me we can do long and short and the other seven have to be called a schwa. How do I teach that? I don't understand. And I know that if I don't understand, how can a five year old or a seven year old or a struggling twenty year old understand? So, for me, I didn't understand. Why are we splitting that vowel? It's almost like with the < e > at the end, why are we doing that? When we read left to right and we do it sequentially, that doesn't make sense. We have all kinds of words with consonant < e > at the end, like 'house', or 'peace', or 'little'. There's all kinds of them, right? Or even 'have' and 'dove' and those kinds of words that are...

John:  27:59
Like 'have' and 'give' in the Initial Code.

Nora:  28:01
Yeah, all those! They don't work. So to me, if we're going to go left to right and we're going to match our spellings to our sounds, and we're doing this consonant < e > at the end with every other word, but we're going to make an exception. This was a thing that I had with Phono-Graphix, too. We're doing these things, but for our suffixes, we're going to leave those together. Well, why? That doesn't make sense to me. If we're going to teach something, and I'm kind of a little bit of a purist, too, why would we not teach it consistently? Why are we going to confuse kids with saying, okay, say every single sound. Now, don't. When do you know when you do and when you don't? Right? So for me, it didn't make sense. And really, interestingly, I don't think I've ever been asked that question. No teacher has had a problem with it. Nobody has ever had an issue. I think that a lot of people who have taught traditional phonics are so attached to that that they may still teach it with their kids for their comfort, really. But for me, it makes much more sense to do it in order, sequentially. And that consonant < e >, we do it all over the place. Why aren't we splitting it and taking it off in words like 'house' or 'peace' or 'little', right? So, that's why I did it. And you know, the only thing, the things that I have gotten the most pushback about with EBLI and more recently, since more people who teach traditional phonics are moving over to EBLI, is that A) especially at the beginning, you can't say that this happens that quickly. That is a huge trigger. You can't say that you can teach in just a matter of hours that are not many instead of years. And the other one is, and this is very consistent, 'you can't teach all those ways to spell that sound'. I've been told so many times what I can't do, and I've been doing it thousands or tens of thousands of times over the last 25 years. I'm like, but you can. I mean, I understand that you haven't. I get that. But just because I haven't done something doesn't mean it can't be done. Right? Or you haven't done something doesn't mean that it can't be done. So, I think that for me, the question always is what makes the most sense to the learner and to me, doing that consonant < e > thing. And also you're going to map words, I mean, how do you do that? I don't even know how you do that. How do you do that, when you're mapping a word?

John:  30:09
Well, it certainly doesn't make sense, does it? It doesn't make sense in words like 'done' and 'come' and how do kids make sense of that?

Nora:  30:16
And 'have' and 'give' and 'love' and all kinds of words.

John:  30:19

Nora:  30:19
Yeah and that's what we'll say to them. You know what? When you see this consonant < e > at the end and there's a single vowel before, right, try the letter name first. We don't say it's always the letter name because that's a lie, right? So, try the letter name first because that's going to happen more often. But it also, the /oe/. And then I'll say for the /oe/, try /a/. If it's not /oe/, try /a/ because that's usually what it's going to be. If it's not /ie/ try /i/ because those are the ones that happen the most. So we're giving them things. I'm all about, obsessively, obsessively about application. I don't really want to talk all up here about the research and this is this and have a debate and all that stuff about - that's not teaching teachers and not teaching kids. I want to know, how do I make teachers' lives easier? By applying this so kids can understand, to make kids lives easier. And so just like with Sounds-Write, it's a system. So it's not like the static thing that you can never change. And that was another thing, Diane was not - or Carmen McGuinness was not interested in changing anything. Phono-Graphix was, that's what they had and that was it and that's how it's going to be. Instead of, like, things evolve and we learn more. And so with your system and with mine, we have that flexibility to be able to continue to grow and refine because it's not this static thing.

John:  31:30
That's right. Well, when Diane came over to the UK for a while, I think, she'd gone beyond Phono-Graphix and she was interested in speculating how things could be made more flexible and so on. The only problem was, of course, that for her, she was too old to teach and to get into school and try it all out. So, she didn't have anybody that she could work with on that. In fact, if there's anything that I would disagree with Diane about is just a few of these things. For instance, she said that you should teach 40 plus sounds and their spellings. Well, we teach an Initial Code to start off with, and then we teach different ways of spelling the sounds systematically as we go along, and that isn't doing what she did. But I think that she hadn't seen a model where that could work.

Nora:  32:26

John:  32:27
And if she'd seen us, if she'd seen what we did do, she would have seen that that's quite possible. In fact, when I told her about it, she was very interested and she seemed to approve.

Nora:  32:42
She was a very, I mean, Diane McGuinness was a pioneer, unlike anything I've ever known. You know, her book saved my child's life, I think. And I, you know, I would say, and still, of all the books I've read since, 'Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It' remains my favourite, because it was the first thing that ever made sense and it actually helped my child, you know, me help my child. But I will say from her, all of her theory - and I never met her in person, I know you did and I'm jealous about that now that she's gone, rest her sweet soul - but hopefully she's looking down and saying, 'You guys go, come on. I started this snowball down there and you guys get moving it'. But she was so brilliant and ahead of her time and all of that. She was a little abrasive, I know, and I kind of like that about her, actually, because she was not going to mince words and I talked...

John:  33:33
Yeah, she didn't suffer fools gladly.

Nora:  33:34
No, she was not interested. And you can see in her work, her book turns off educators I know sometimes, with that, because you can see that coming through, but it is frustrating when you're doing this work and people are ignoring it. And I get that she was frustrated with that, but she would say to me, because we would email and talk and I never, as I said, met her in person, but she's like, how are you in any schools, much less a lot of schools? I don't get it. I have tried all over the United States to try to get into schools and I'd get close, but then I could never do that. But I think that she did not have, like you say, that practical application. So her theory was so sound. But then when you got to her book with the allographs and all that. I'm like, this makes no sense to me.

John:  34:15
Yeah, that's right.

Nora:  34:15
So I just kind of ignored that.

John:  34:17
Absolutely, me too.

Nora:  34:17
Reading reflex made sense, right? So, I was just like... And I've read it since and I still don't get it. So, again, if I don't get it, I'm pretty sure that a six year old or a seven year old isn't going to get it. So, yeah.

John:  34:28
No, I completely agree.

Nora:  34:29
But she was brilliant.

John:  34:30
Sorry, Laura.

Laura:  34:31
You two are doing my job for me. I don't have to ask any questions. I would really like to bring it back a little bit to the speech-to-print topic, and I'm really curious to know. There are very few phonics programmes that take that orientation from speech to print. So, I wanted to get your opinion on why you think that is? Why aren't more people doing this?

Nora:  34:59
There's a good question.

John:  35:01
I think it's pedagogy, personally, I think it's all in the pedagogy. And one of the things that I've certainly not tried to hide is the fact that I think Elkonin - this guy, Daniil Borisovich Elkonin, invented word building, as far as I know, might have been invented before that, but certainly he was the person that I read about. He invented this idea of word building. So, word building, I think, is absolutely brilliant, because first of all, it links sounds to print. We're going to build the word 'mat', 'mat'. What's the first sound you hear when my fingers under this line, when I say 'mmmat'? And any of these kids in the class can tell you that the first sound, where you're pointing, is /m/. And everybody says, '/m/. Who can show me which of these is /m/?' So even for kids who've never seen this before, they're accommodating to the idea that words are made up of sounds and those sounds can be spelt with these spellings. Now, I don't know, and Nora might want to say something about this, I don't know how long it takes for them to understand this clearly, conceptually. I think it probably takes a while, and I think they need to have a lot of, they're working with material, so you'll teach them 'sat' and 'sit' and 'not' and 'cat' and all that sort of thing. But I think that the beauty of this Elkonin approach is you're linking sound to print, you're teaching them to segment at the same time, and then you're also teaching them to blend, too. So all of these things are happening in this same word building lesson. And for that reason, I think that it's genius. And it shows kids that what the sounds that you say in common or garden words, that all these kids know, can be broken into their constituent sounds. And these are the spellings for them. And as soon as they get that, they can write anything, can't they, Nora? Once you've taught them a bit.

Nora:  37:17
They really can and they can move quickly. Why is it that this is so rare? That's such a good question, Laura. And I think that traditional phonics and having the letters lead as far as be the focus and the lead of instruction is such a habit. It's been around for decades, centuries, probably, I would say, with teaching that way. And I think that sometimes with some of the things with the letters leading and some of the things that we talk about, like the rules and all of those things, it's just been such a habit. I think of this story where this woman would cut the ends off of her ham before she'd cook them. And her husband said, 'why do you do that?' And she said, 'because my mom always did'. So he asked the mom, 'why do you do that?' And she's like, 'well, because my mom always did'. So he asked the grandma, 'why'd you cut the ends off the ham?' And she said, 'well, when we were married, we didn't have many pans. And so the pan wasn't long enough to fit the ham, so I'd cut the ends off'. So everybody was doing it because she had done it, not knowing the reason for doing it, right? So I think that that is a lot of it. And so then it's become an industry for sure. Because if we're talking about the phonics part with the print leading the instruction, that's what has been happening way back from Noah Webster and before. That's been going on, and everybody's familiar with it and everybody's used to it and let's teach our kids the letter names and let's teach our kid, you know when they're at birth. I have five grandchildren under the age of three. The three year old is actually doing word building and handwriting and beautiful job. He's not three yet, but he's two, but he'll be three in a couple of months. But anyway, they can do that very easily. But I've been speaking to them. I have four month old twin grandsons and all of them since birth, I talked to them. I'm like, oh, my gosh, you are so you /k/ /ue/ /t/, 'cute', so they can hear that segmenting. They talk in sounds, they can blend sounds together. Not the four month old, but my almost three year old can. So, I think that it's a mindset, and the mindset is so deeply ingrained that it's almost insulting to suggest that we have a different mindset. But I said this the other day to, I don't know, somebody that I was talking to, or a group I was talking to, and I said, you know, if we want to look at the Wright brothers, we all should be thankful to them. You, Laura, flying to the Philippines, me flying, us going flying to New Orleans, right, John? Whatever. We should be thankful to them. Do we want to fly to New Orleans and the Philippines on a Wright brothers plane?

John:  39:46

Nora:  39:46
No, it has evolved since then. We want to fly on the planes that are going to get us there faster and probably less likely to crash. Are we thankful for what happened 100 years ago as far as the alphabetic system and that print-first reading instruction? Absolutely, they were pioneers. But things have evolved and we know differently. And so I think that change is hard. I think another thing is that most everybody who teaches this way, like John said, almost all have done it in small group or especially one-on-one, and thinking it's for remediation. Teachers will say to me all the time, 'Oh, I know of some kids that EBLI will work for', please don't say that. My daughter, who was in gifted and talented, would have been falling through the cracks. This works for every single child.

John:  40:31
Yeah that's right. Absolutely, yeah.

Nora:  40:33
So, almost everyone, and I've talked to many, we're doing this group. And John, if I could nail you down, you would be great to join this group. It's called, those of us who do speech-first instruction, Marnie Ginsburg, Stephen Truch from Canada, there's Donna from the science reading page. Many of us, Nikki, who does the linguistic phonics page, have come together. How do we move this forward and how do we do this? And almost all of them, and especially even smaller ones, they don't want to deal with the education system. It's prickly and it's a huge industry, that -

John:  41:10
It's tough!

Nora:  41:12
We've all stayed - including me - I've stayed in my cave. I have never, until recently and even now, not very well, advertised EBLI. If you want EBLI, come on to me and we'll sell it to you. We do not have a salesperson. We never have. We do not go out and say, try to cold call anybody or anything. If you hear about us and you want us for your school or whatever, then get a hold of us and we'll talk to you because there's so much divisiveness about it and so much, I think, fear and feeling threatened, I'm not sure. But I'm not a person who really likes, I'm kind of like, I don't know if it's a people- pleasing - I like peace - I'm a good, peaceful person. I am not an arguer, I'm not a debater, I'm not really interested in that. And I don't want people to suck my energy to have a debate about something where I have for 25 years and tens of thousands of kids and thousands of teachers known and shown what is possible. Bring me more teachers and kids, and that's where I'll put my energy. I'm not going to debate it. And there's so much debate around that because I think it's fear. It's fear of change. We all want change, but really don't want to change. Right? It's all good to talk about change, but to actually change is hard. And if we're looking at even like the Science of Reading movement that's all around traditional phonics, from the college level and all the change and even the legislative stuff in the United States, I don't know about England, but all of that is about, focused on this. If you're going to write and be on our list to be taught in the classrooms, in the schools, then you have to go along. I have looked at applications to be on certain state lists and said, I'm not going to do that because it says you have to teach the syllable types or rules and do a quiz on that. I don't teach them, I don't even know them. I can't teach them. So taking all that time to fill out this great big, huge list, or application to be on your list, it's going to get refused. Right? So there's not enough awareness, I think. I think that it's shifting, though. And John, I would like to know your thoughts on that, too. I think that the mindset is shifting because we are getting into more and more schools. And when you have the kind of results that they're experiencing. I quit even looking at data back in 2003, 4 or 5, I think it was somewhere back in there, our teachers that I was training were saying, where's your data? Where's your data? Where's your data? So this wonderful man, independently of us, went to a whole bunch of schools that were teaching EBLI, who were using like the word ID, word attack from a form of the Woodcock, got their pre and post data. Matt Burns out of Missouri, he analysed it all, and we have these beautiful charts, effect sizes close to three. Lovely. I'd start to show it at training. They're like, we don't really care about data, we don't want - So, we haven't focused on getting data, because if you look at, and I think we talked about this, John, too, that ten year study with direct instruction, where their scores are so much higher than anything else, and the study never even got reported from the federal government.

John:  44:03
Yeah, that's right.

Nora:  44:04
I didn't come up through the education system, a lot doesn't make sense to me.

John:  44:08
It nearly broke my heart, because at the time, when we finished doing this study, by 2009, I was still working for the Open University, teaching there sociolinguistics, and I presented it to my colleagues and peers. And the people who were interested in it were the engineers, the mathematicians, the physicists, the people who weren't interested and whose eyes were rolling were the people, the literacy people, and they just didn't care. And yet this sort of thing was really powerful stuff, to get the kind of data that we'd got, that over 90% of kids are spelling either at or above their chronological age, which nobody had ever seen!

Nora:  44:49
Which means reading is even higher.

John:  44:50
Which means reading is even higher. Absolutely, that's right. But I think it's very difficult to... We never advertised at the beginning. There was absolutely no point in advertising or cold calling, like you. What we've done is we've gone into schools and we've spread it by word of mouth. That's been the only way, really. And people have got the sorts of results that we'd always said. But even then, and you must find this as well, you do get people who've used traditional phonics, as we call it, and you train them in a sound-to-print approach. They can't help bringing in something that runs a counter to what you've shown them. And Jeanne Chall, you call her Jeanne Chall, don't you? The Reading Revolution woman. I mean, she was absolutely wonderful, but she once said that if you train a bunch of people, 25% of them will do it because they think it's absolutely fantastic and they'll do it with great fidelity, 50% will do it and be able to bring in stuff that runs counter to it, and maybe 25% either won't get the chance to do it or they won't do it properly. And in a way, I've always found that an iron law of training, in a way, and I don't know what on earth you do to shift that.

Nora:  46:16
I haven't figured that out either. What I say to people, please just do it with fidelity. I don't mean do it perfectly, you can make a lot of mistakes with teaching EBLI, and I still make mistakes all the time. You can still make a lot of errors and it's tremendously forgiving. What it's not forgiving of - we're going to do EBLI, here's our recipe, we're going to make a cake. Now we're going to throw in some hot sauce and some shrimp and some - you can't do that and expect to have an outcome. You confuse the kids too. And it's so much more work for the teachers. And I see this with Balanced literacy teachers. They want to throw in the look at the picture and you got to read fluently and we can't mess with this learning to read thing. They'll teach EBLI in the morning and then they'll teach the workshop stuff in the afternoon where they're spelling wrong and trying to read on their own and teach themselves to read, because it's hard to undo. But also with the traditional phonics, we're going to do this then we're also going to throw in some rules and some letter first stuff and all these things. And the kids are like, what is going on, right? It's interesting, at my centre here, most of the people have been here for anywhere from over 20 years, probably 15 to over 20 years, almost everybody, definitely over 10. And none of them have a background in education.

John:  47:27
Oh right?

Nora:  47:29
So we have no undoing. All they know to teach is EBLI because they've never taught anything else. So I really, until recently, probably in the last year, even, didn't understand how beneficial that was. As we're trying so hard, because people start in EBLI and you can't see the whole picture of this puzzle when we're doing our speech first stuff and how it all ties together with reading, writing and spelling and application. And until you get a little bit into it, right? And so they don't trust, they don't trust, they don't trust. And they're throwing in, they're throwing in, they're throwing in. And they're still getting more gains than they did before, but it's certainly not to the degree that it could. And we do find, especially more now that we're online, that they will shift, in time. Most, not all, you're right. Just because the mantra in education, and again, I didn't come up through the education system, but it is; the more tools in your tool belt, the better. Right? So, we need to have 25 screwdrivers and 15 hammers and all these different - We need to have all kinds - not only all these different tools, but a bunch of all these different tools. And so I was in one school once, they had nine different reading initiatives, and they all contradicted each other. How does a teacher do such a thing?

John:  48:38

Nora:  48:39

John:  48:40
Yeah. You find that all the time, don't you? And so a kid goes from one class to another, and there's a different vocabulary for what they're doing every time. How confusing is that? It's completely crazy. The thing that amuses me about traditional phonics is the teacher is going, okay, everybody, today, everybody say this sound /m/. And the kids all go /m/, and half the class, because they're lovely. I always joke about this and say, because they love you, you're their teacher. But the other half go, 'Yeah, so what? What do I care? I don't care that it's /m/ it doesn't mean anything.

Nora:  49:19
It's not meaningful or relevant.

John:  49:21
Yeah. Unless it's put into the context of a word.

Nora:  49:24
What I see more is like, < m >, /m/, 'man,' or whatever, you know. So, like the letter name, the sound and then the word. And I understand that. But then we're like, you're going to tell me, so, John, and then your middle name and then, whatever, person. But am I supposed to remember John, or am I supposed to remember Alan or whatever, I don't know your middle name, but what is the important information here? Right. Because it's not meaningful or relevant and it's in isolation. So, I'm always thinking from the mindset of a child, because, quite frankly, my naivety, or however you say that word is significant because I don't have background in how this is supposed to be. And so sometimes our bar can be so high because I didn't realise that you weren't supposed to get there. To me, 12 hours of instruction. That professor at Michigan state who told me about Diane McGuinness, she said, it shouldn't really take more than 12 hours. Diane McGuinness' work, it shouldn't take more than 12 hours, so that's all I knew!

John:  50:23
Yeah. And we talked about this, didn't we, before? We talked about this in Plain Talk. Well, I've seen it time and time and time again, that you can do a fantastic intervention for kids with their reading in around 12 hours, maybe a bit more with some kids and with kids who've got more serious problems then certainly 18, 24 hours, something like that.

Nora:  50:50
Yeah, I mean the average of 12, yeah.

John:  50:52
Yeah, the average. But actually spelling, I think, takes longer.

Nora:  50:56
Oh, yeah, spelling for sure. Spelling is always going to take longer for everybody because it's a much more complex test. But if you've given them the skills, the concepts, the information and that foundation, it's going to continue to spiral up. But it does take longer, because you've got to read more and you've got to see, all of us still misspell some words. I just misspelt a word in a 4th Grade classroom we're videotaping in. I went through the whole process doing multi-syllable spelling with 'characteristic' and they all spelled it. And I had a spelling wrong. And the teacher in the back tells me at the end, after 15 minutes of doing it, and I'm like, oh, my gosh. So then, I had to reteach the right thing and they did spell it all right. But, I still spell words wrong once in a while!

John:  51:35
I saw that as well. In one of our classrooms, we were filming something once and this teacher was teaching 'Philippines', and actually she spelt it with double < l > and one < p >, whereas I think, Laura, correct me if I'm wrong, it's one < l > and two < p >'s, isn't it.

Laura:  51:50
Indeed it is, yeah.

Nora:  51:53
But the thing of it is, nobody's going to be a perfect speller, is my point for that. Right? Nobody is going to be a perfect speller. But spelling is so much more challenging. People are like, what about their spelling? My daughter, it took me, I'm not even going to say how many hours it took me to teach her to read. And the first thing she read was a chapter book when she'd never read a book on her own in her life, besides ones she'd memorised. It took two years for her to quit spelling 'was' < wuz > or < waz >. It took two years, - maybe < wu > - I don't know what it was, but it was wrong for two years. But every time I would fix it, she would go back in school and she'd still be allowed to misspell. So that's the other problem, is the spelling is not only allowed, but I've actually been in classrooms where it's taught wrong so that you can do that inventive spelling. So there's a lot of problems against spelling, but of course, we're talking about the reading, but the spelling is a whole different animal and it's got to happen over time, for sure. And if you've done it wrong for a lot of years, it's going to be a whole lot more to remediate.

John:  52:51
I mean, I don't necessarily want to get into this now because it's going to take us hours to do, but we both have really good ways of correcting errors, don't we?

Nora:  53:02
Immediately. So critical, yeah.

John:  53:03
Immediate feedback is absolutely brilliant.

Nora:  53:06

John:  53:07
Because kids can learn from it, you know, incorrect spelling doesn't get time to fossilise or anything. No, it's great.

Nora:  53:16
Yeah, I like that, fossilise, and it fossilises really well. And digging out that fossil to replace it with a new neuro connection is a lot of work.

John:  53:28
Yeah. And that's why, again, back to your metaphor of the ambulance again, of course, your analogy of that, because once it gets fossilised, it's so much harder to get rid of, isn't it? Much better to do it right from the start? Yeah.

Nora:  53:44
Yeah, it is. I think of my niece, who's now, I think, forty years old, but when she was in college, she went to Notre Dame law school and graduated at top ten of her school of about 300 kids. But she had written, for my mom's birthday, 70th birthday, I think, written something in her page. She was seventeen at the time, a page we were all doing in this little book, and she had, like, four misspellings in it. She would misspell. She's like, 'nobody cares about spelling'. She's a great reader, but her spelling is still. And she's like, it used to drive my mom crazy. Like, my mom would pre read some of her stuff that she'd written for English classes and stuff. She's like, Bridget, this is all misspelt. And she's like, 'Oh, nobody cares. It doesn't matter.' So, she had no motivation to really work to spell, you know, accurately. And that's a lot of the problem, too, that it's almost - not even almost - it's very much embedded and fossilised, too, into teachers that, 'Oh, don't fix their spelling because then that's going to squelch their creativity', which we have not found to be true.

John:  54:43
Absolutely not. No. It's just very low expectations, I think, and yeah, not something we go along with.

Laura:  54:51
Yeah, brilliant. I think that's time to wrap it up now. Since we're coming up to an hour-long conversation, I'm sure we could listen to this for forever. And we'll have to have you back on the podcast at some point, Nora, to have more of a chat with John, because this is definitely just a pleasure to listen to. So, thank you both so much for this.

Nora:  55:15
Yeah, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity. It's great talking to you, John.

John:  55:20
Yeah and always wonderful to talk with you, Nora. And I learned so much, after all these years, it's great!

Nora:  55:29
Always more to learn, right? You know, it would be kind of fun if we could have people ask questions that they're wondering and we could do a podcast and answer those, that'd be fun.

John:  55:37
Maybe we can do that, I don't know?

Laura:  55:39

John:  55:40
Laura, if you could organise that.

Laura:  55:41
Absolutely. We'll set that up, yeah.

John:  55:44
All right, good.

Nora:  55:46
It has been a true pleasure.

Laura:  55:48
Thank you so much.

John:  55:49
Thank you. Thanks.