There is strong evidence that affect counts, that positive emotions
enhance performance and learning, and that negative emotions hinder
them (for evidence supporting this "pleasure hypothesis," see
Krashen, 1994; Coles, 1998). If this is correct, a recent report on
children's attitudes toward phonemic awareness (PA) training gives
us strong reason for concern.
Castiglioni-Spalten and Ehri (2003) compared the effects of regular
PA (segmentation) training ("ear treatment") and PA segmentation
training that included instruction in articulatory gestures (this
group, the "mouth treatment," "learned to position pictures to depict
the sequence of articulatory gestures in words, " p. 25). The
control group had no special treatment. (The mean age of all subjects
was 5 years, 9 months.) Castiglioni-Spalten and Ehri reported no
difference among the two PA groups on segmentation tests, and
spelling, although both groups were better than the group that got no
training, a familiar result: PA training results in improved
performance on tests of PA (but not necessarily reading; Krashen,
2000, Coles, 2002) and is better than doing nothing (Coles, 2002).
There was no difference among the groups in reading pseudowords and
on a test in which children were taught new words.
Castiglioni-Spalton and Ehri reported that the articulation group was
better on the latter test when a post-hoc analysis was done and
partial credit was allowed.
Of interest here is the children's reactions to the training: In the
pilot study, the experimenter recorded "several off-task and
resistance behaviors committed by students: refusing to use the
mirror (during articulation training); leaving their seats without
permission; playing with blocks by building a tower, house, or train;
throwing the blocks on the floor; talking about extraneous topics;
interacting with others in the room; and expressing reluctance to
finish the instruction" (p. 36). In the actual study, the
experimenter had a "procedure for curbing such behaviors. When one
occurred, she reminded students that she would be reporting back to
their teacher about how well they did and surely they wanted a good
report. In addition, a screen was positioned to isolate children from
distractions in the room" (p. 36).
During the actual study, "the experimenter recorded instances of
off-task and resistance behaviors. However, students rarely
committed such behaviors more than twice because the experimenter
discouraged them" (p. 43). Castiglioni-Spalten and Ehri reported
there was more disruption for the "ear" condition than the "mouth"
condition but do not provide details, only the incredible statistic
that 87% of the children in the ear condition "exhibited at least one
of these behaviors such as playing with blocks by building a tower,
horse, or train" (p. 43).
The training sessions lasted only between 20 and 30 minutes, and
there were only "three to six" of them. Despite the short treatments,
these children were clearly bored. (1)
Compare this to children's reactions to hearing stories. Here is one
typical description: Feitselson, Kita, and Goldstein (1986), a study
that took place in Israel, is an empirical study confirmed the
positive impact of read alouds on language development (see also
Blok, 1999; Bus, van IJzendoorn, and Pellegrini, 1995). In addition
to providing test scores, Feitelson et. al. also presented this
interesting report on how children reacted to hearing stories. First
graders in Israel were read to from the Kofiko series, which dealt
with the adventures of a monkey. The following is a quote from a
teacher's observational record, two months after the reading program
began: "11:20: The class is busy copying home assignment questions
from the blackboard. At 11:25 the teacher reminds the children that
'we need to hurry because we want to read Kofiko.' There are
immediate shouts of approval and children hurry to finish the task. A
few faster children to to the desks of the slower ones and assist
them. Cries of 'hurry up' and 'let's get it done so we don't lose
time,' are heard from various directions ..." (p. 348).
In addition to the enthusiasm for hearing stories in the classroom,
Feitelson et. al. reported that children asked their parents to buy
them Kofiko books: "By the end of the study 13 of the 31 children in
the experimental class personally owned one or more Kofiko books; all
together the children owned 45 Kofiko books. Four additional children
were borrowing Kofiko books from relatives, neighbors, or the public
library. In comparison, there were single Kofiko volumes in each of
three homes in one control class, and one Kofiko book each in four
homes and two in a fifth home in the second control class. In every
case these belonged to older siblings and the interviewed first
grader had not read them" (p. 350).
It is hard to imagine a similar response to phonemic awareness
The empirical research confirms what most parents know: The vast
majority of children say that they enjoy being read to. Walker and
Kuerbeitz (1979) reported that 35 out of the 36 children they studied
said they liked being read to: Mason and Blanton (1971) and Wells
(1985) reported similar results. And of course, the single best
source for compelling case histories confirming the pleasure of read
alouds is Trelease (2001).
Ironically, research suggests that read alouds also boost phonemic
awareness: Neuman (1999) is a report of the Books Aloud project, a
book flood aimed at three and four year old children in child care
centers. "High quality" children's books were provided (five books
per child), and ten hours of inservicing was provided for staff,
which included techniques of doing read alouds, reading-related
activities (e.g. manipulatives, hand puppets, flannel board
activities), and the design of libraries. It is important to note
that many staff members felt that direct teaching of skills was
important. Neuman's goal was to "... alter heavily skill-based
instruction" but still "acknowledge and work within teachers'
beliefs" (p. 294). (2) The project lasted eight months.
Tests of phonemic awareness were given six months after the project
ended. In the rhyme test, children were asked to indicate which word
of three did not rhyme with the others. In the alliteration task,
children were asked to indicate which word of three did not begin
with the same sound. Children in the Books Aloud group were better
than controls on both: I calculated effect sizes of .57 for rhyme and
.54 for alliteration, which are quite substantial, and especially
impressive considering that the tests were given long after the
treatment ended. (3) Citing Ehri, Neuman notes that this result
suggests that "these skills may indeed be a by-product of exposure to
books and learning" (p. 305).
Even if phonemic awareness were in fact a prerequisite to learning to
read (which has never been demonstrated), it may very well be that
children exposed to stories and meaningful print develop all the PA
they need to insure their continued progress.
Shouldn't we study ways of developing literacy via pleasant and
engaging activities? Shouldn't we continue to test the hypothesis
that negative emotions hinder performance and learning, while
positive emotions enhance them? Instead, I fear that research will
investigate how to keep children quiet and docile so that they will
endure boring (and ineffective) PA activities. How about Ritilan?
1. One wonders how often this occurs. Reports of children's affective
reactions to PA training have not been included in other studies. I
applaud Castiglioni-Spalton and Ehri's honesty in including these
descriptions, despite the fact that it opens them to charges of child
2. Neuman did not describe the direct instruction component of the
project in detail. But it is doubtful that was the intensive phonemic
awareness training that is done in training studies, or anywhere near
what is recommended by some people these days.
3. Recall that in the Castiglioni-Spalton and Ehri study, PA
posttests were given immediately after the training session and one
week later. Their sessions were, however, few and short.
Blok, H. (1999). Reading to young children in educational settings: A
meta-analysis of recent research. Language Learning, 49 (2), 343-371.
Bus, A., van IJzendoorn, M., & Pellegrini, A. (1995). Joint book
reading makes for success in learning to read: A meta-analysis of
intergenerational transmission of literacy. Review of Educational
Research, 65 (1), 1-21.
Castiglioni-Spalton, M. & Ehri, L. (2003). Phonemic awareness
instruction: Contribution of articulatory segmentation to novice
beginners' reading and writing. Scientific Studies of Reading,. 7
Coles, G. (1998). Reading lessons: The debate over literacy. New
York: Hill and Wang. (See also http://www.readingonline.org/critical/coles.html ).
Coles, G. (2003). Reading the naked truth: Literacy, legislation, and
lies. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Feitelson, D., Kita, B. & Goldstein, A. (1986). Effects of listening
to series stories on first graders' comprehension and use of
language. Research in the Teaching of English, 20, 339-355.
Krashen, S. (1994). The pleasure hypothesis. In J. Alatis (Ed.)
Georgetown University round table on languages and linguistics. (pp.
299-322). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Krashen, S. (2001). Does "pure" phonemic awareness training affect
reading comprehension? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 93, 356-358.
Mason, G. & Blanton, W. (1971). Story content for beginning reading
instruction. Elementary English, 48, 793-796.
Neuman, S. (1999). Books make a difference: A study of access to
literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 34 (3), 286-311.
Trelease, J. (2001), The read-aloud handbook. New York: Penguin.
Walker, G. & Kuerbitz, I. (1979). Reading to preschoolers as an aid
to successful beginning reading. Reading Improvement, 16, 149-154.
Wells, G. (1985). Language development in the pre-school years.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Article by Stephen KrashenProfessor Emeritus, University of Southern California
2003 ESL MiniConference Online