UW-Oshkosh professor Bob Nash, 71, could be called a guru of reading.
Among the foremost teachers in the nation who work with students suffering from the reading disability dyslexia, he's
the progenitor of a program he
optimistically dubbed Project Success. Nash
is also one of a growing number of people convinced that the below-average reading scores of Milwaukee children can be linked to the education establishment's failure to become hooked on phonics.
State schools superintendent John Benson wants to give Nash
a chance to prove he's
right, and the state picked up his
$80,000 salary and benefits in mid-January.Now Nash's pure phonics method is one of a handful of teaching programs the Department of Public Instruction is offering to help Milwaukee Public Schools meet state standards.
Since Feb. 2, Nash
has been, as he
described it, "spinning his
wheels" in Madison, sharing a voice mail line and waiting for the curriculum officials at DPI and MPS to finish choosing the programs that will help MPS the most.
, who was diagnosed with dyslexia in 1974, it is a chance to do what few phonics theorists have done, despite their 30-year Great Debate with other theorists over the best methods of teaching reading.He
now has the chance to prove in a large urban district that stronger phonics instruction will help more children to read at earlier ages--giving students the "rat-cat-sat" and "dog-pog-log" word-sound associations that are part of the foundations of the English language.
In Milwaukee and nationally, programs that skip these word-sound foundations have become dominant, Nash
said, "simply because the professors at teacher training institutions across the nation have not taught their students how to teach pure phonics." Nash
is proposing to teach it now, to any interested MPS instructors.Currently, the emphasis is on whole language teaching, in which children learn how to read in the same way they learn how to talk--picking words and their meanings out of context and learning to recognize them.
While teachers and education administrators are willing to accept Nash's help, and generally agree that some teachers might need to use more phonics, they say they already use it in classrooms as part of what's called the imbedded phonics method.And although Nash was hired by DPI recently, he admits, "To be honest, no teachers have yet expressed an interest."
But whether they use Nash's
program or another, the stakes are high in MPS.
, although he
has had some experience teaching MPS teachers, has no experience teaching school children in large, poor, urban school districts.The circumstantial evidence that teachers are not using enough phonics, he
said, is too strong to ignore.
"The evidence would dictate that they are not prescribing to the known research," he
said, pointing to an 18-year study in Connecticut and other research, including his
own, that shows a breakdown in phonological processing as the cause of student problems in reading, spelling, writing and math.
Phonological processing breaks down into two basic skills, the first being phonemic awareness--the mental awareness of sounds.The second is phonomic segmentation, the ability to take a word apart by its sound structure, and conversely, the ability to put it back together again.If children are taught phonemic awareness and segmentation skills, Nash
says, the processing problems will be cured.
"The one thing to make clear is that there is no logically thinking individual who is going to say that the concepts of whole language aren't relevant and critical," Nash
said."The point to be made is that if a person does not automatically respond to traditional instruction, especially by the end of the third grade, that person must be given a chance to learn how to use--directly--the entire sound structure of the American English Language."
In public schools, he
asserted, "It is not happening."Nash
then paused, realizing that this sort of rhetoric has locked educators and phonics advocates into an unresolvable debate."These statements will open me up to a lot of criticism," he
So, too, is whether or not Nash
will be allowed to introduce the program in MPS.
program identifies 72 sounds, and in using various combinations of the 26 letters of the alphabet, he
has designed an arduous 397 assignments for reading and decoding, and 373 assignments for spelling and encoding.At UW-Oshkosh, Nash
started working with dyslexic college students in 1980, and 57 percent of the students graduated, he
said.That's about the same rate as college students without reading disabilities.
Lund said Nash
is likely to have "some access" to teachers within MPS, and said that there are teachers who could use the help.
, however, "probably won't have as much access as he
would like," she
and the "reintroduction" of phonics leaves her
"Phonics never left," she
said."Teachers just don't like to isolate the skill.They like to teach it along with the other things that they are teaching.Children get bored if you teach them things in isolation.You cannot just dwell on [phonics].You introduce it and integrate it into the whole reading program."
Well, Bob Nash
, for one.And there is diverse and growing support for him to start as soon as possible.
"My intent is not to be critical," Nash
said, recognizing that it is unlikely his
work in Milwaukee will solve the disparities within the phonics-whole language debate."My intent is to persuade people to listen."But right now he's
sharing a voice mail line in Madison, spinning his
"Time is slipping by--and the only time that is feasible to train teachers is summer time.If there are no teachers available to be trained in the summer time, then my efforts up until then will be fruitless ...I have to have the opportunity to get to work."
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