Return to Index of Topics
- Notes: 1) This page is a work in progress and does not yet
comprehensively cover its topic or include all the COTC and web resources its
topic deserves. 2) Bold is used to emphasize our [COTC] sense
of importance and does not necessarily reflect gestures or tones of emphasis in
the original source. This color indicates COTC edits for
brevity or flow. See referenced original for exact quotes.
Robert Wedgeworth: There are two things that
strike me about the material that you sent to me. One is that like most
orientations towards formal education, we tend to put nearly all of our
resources into teaching children how to decode, and we put very few of our
resources into what is the more critical step, and that is developing reading
comprehension skill. And the only way you develop reading comprehension skill is
through continuing practice with increasingly more difficult reading material.
And so we teach people how to read, how to decode, that is, thinking we've
taught them how to read, not recognizing that reading is comprised of two very
difficult skills. One is learning how to decode, and the other is developing the
reading comprehension skill.
David Boulton: Well, my sense
is -- and I appreciate diving right into this, is that these two are very
related. First of all, "decoding"
is a misleading term. I mean, you could say that it's
decoding in a phonetic language,
but when you talk about a written system that has such letter sound
correspondence ambiguities, what we are really describing is disambiguation.
It's a process of buffering up these code elements and working out the right
sounds for them according to the context in comprehension and the rules of
David Boulton: There are two things that plug in here that I want to explore
One has to do with assembly processing time. It’s clear in talking to the
phonological side of neuroscience that fuzzy representations in the phonemic,
dimensions require more processing time to disambiguate and cause a processing
stutter – again purely on the auditory processing side.
To the extent that that’s true, then it seems equally true that
the time it takes to disambiguate the code is also causing a
This is one of the problems I have with terms like ‘alphabetic principal’ or
‘breaking the code’ because they over-simplify what we’d other wise call, more
in the computer world so to speak, ‘disambiguation’,
which is to take this stream of letters, some of who’s sound values depend on
words that haven’t been read yet, buffer them up and construct these approximate
word sounds from these fuzzy letter variables.
Dr. Charles Perfetti: Right.
David Boulton: And that the more time it takes to do that, just at that
level in this module we’ve been describing as the language simulator, then the
more that module
is not delivering the
language stream in time for comprehension.
Dr. Charles Perfetti: Yes, I think that’s right.
Alan Lesgoldand I developed an idea that I put in my 1985 book about this. We called it
code asynchrony; the idea being that orthographic phonological and
semantic codes that had high levels of skill come out all at once. And in low
levels of skill there can be an asynchrony in a sense that you’re getting
some of the graphemes and some of the phonemes but you’re not getting the whole
thing yet and things get all out of phase. Instead of mutually strengthening
each other so that at the end of the decoding episode you have a stronger word
representation that’s accessible by orthography, you’ve got bits and pieces and
only partial success.
Now what you’re adding to that idea. I think specifically what you are saying
is if the phonological space is too fuzzy because the letter hasn’t made
phonological differentiations that turn out to be relevant for English
vocabulary then that’s going to be an additional problem. There’s not going to
be a differentiated phonological coding that comes out of any given word reading
event. Then the question is how that develops.
Some of the pre-literacy research on children’s development of spoken
language, I think, is suggesting that fuzzy phonological representations are
normal and characteristic of early language development and that they become
less fuzzy, more differentiated and more articulate only in response to
increasing demands in the linguistic environment, which usually amounts to
having to learn a new word or having to distinguish a new word from one that you
already have and that can force you to make new phonological distinctions.
I think the fuzziness is normal and I think what can happen with reading when
things are working well is that getting good feedback, either internally
generated or externally, on a decoding attempt can have the same effect, that is
forcing phonological differentiation. So, you can say an approximation. It
doesn’t map onto anything that you know and so you either get feedback that it’s
actually this word rather than that word or that the word that you’re trying to
decode is novel and has its form and that produces new phonological
representation. That, I think, is an interesting possibility for understanding
this in general.
David Boulton: Right. So, they’re feeding into each other. I think at one
level we’re a fuzzy processor in a myriad of ways.
Dr. Charles Perfetti: I think you’re speaking formally, a formal idea of
fuzziness, which is probabilistic category membership. That’s the formal sense.
David Boulton: Yes, but where I’m going with this is that to the extent that
the time it takes to get from elemental recognition through
disambiguation, through to an approximated word to move to recognition
with… if that assembly takes too long then there’s a stutter that radiates
Dr. Charles Perfetti: Right, because it turns out you’re actually not
assembling a unit that you can then use as a representation. Things are too
David Boulton: Yes.
Dr. Charles Perfetti: I talked about this in terms of the theory of what it
is that children learn to represent when they learn to read, something I called
specificity representation. So that before acquiring specificity as a
characteristic representation, I would put in these formal terms: it has
variables instead of constants. Instead of always having this sound, it has sort
of something like this sound or something like that sound.
David Boulton: It’s very much like a quantum wave collapsing to a particle
in the context of the process.
Dr. Charles Perfetti: Yeah, maybe. I haven’t thought about that. That’s an
interesting way. Okay.
interviews: Participation in a Children of the Code interview does
not constitute or imply an endorsement of the
Children of the Code project or
documentary by the interviewee. Conversely, including an interview does not
constitute or imply an endorsement of the views, organizations, books or
products of the interviewee, other than
as explicitly stated, by the Children of the Code Project and documentary.
For more information about Children of the Code events please click here or call:502-290-2526
Dr. Grover (Russ) WhitehurstDirector,Institute of Education Sciences, Assistant
Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education Dr. Jack
ShonkoffChair, The National Scientific Council on the
Developing Child; Co-Editor: From
Neurons to Neighborhoods
Edward Kame'enuiCommissioner for Special Education Research, U.S. Department of
Education; Director, IDEA, University of Oregon Dr. G. Reid LyonPast
Director,National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Dr. Keith Stanovich
Canadian Chair of Cognitive Science, University of Toronto Dr. Mel
LevineCo-Chair and Co-Founder,All
Kinds of Minds; Author:A
Mind at a Time, The Myth of Laziness &
Ready or Not Here Life Comes Dr. Alex
District Psychologist, Past President, Oregon
School Psychologists Association
J. HeckmanNobel Laureate, Economic Sciences 2000; Lead Author: The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children
Dr. Timothy Shanahan President
(2006) International Reading Association, Chair National Early Literacy Panel,
Member National Reading Panel Nancy
Hennessy President, 2003-2005, International Dyslexia Association Dr.
Marilyn Jager Adams Senior Scientist, Soliloquy
Learning, Author: Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print Dr.
Michael MerzenichChair of Otolaryngology, Integrative Neurosciences, UCSF; Member National
Academy of Sciences Dr. Maryanne
WolfDirector, Center for Reading & Language Research; Professor of
University Dr. Todd Risley Emeritus
Professor of Psychology, University of Alaska, Co-author: Meaningful Differences
Sally ShaywitzNeuroscientist, Department of Pediatrics, Yale
University, Author: Overcoming Dyslexia
Director, Professional Development and
Research Initiatives, Sopris West Educational Services Dr. Zvia BreznitzProfessor, Neuropsychology of Reading & Dyslexia, University of Haifa,
LavoieLearning Disabilities Specialist, Creator: How Difficult Can This Be?: The F.A.T. City
Last One Picked, First One Picked On Dr.Charles
Professor, Psychology & Linguistics; Senior Scientist and Associate Director,
R&D Center, U. of Pittsburgh, PA
Senior V.P. & Dir. of Research,
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; Co- Author:
Economics of Early Childhood Development
Dr. Richard VenezkyProfessor, Educational Studies, Computer and
Information Sciences, and Linguistics, University of Delaware
Dr. Keith RaynerDistinguished Professor, University of Massachusetts, Author: Eye
Movements in Reading and Information Processing Dr.
Paula TallalProfessor of Neuroscience,
Co-Director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers
SearleMills Professor of the Philosophy
of Mind and Language, University of California-Berkeley, Author:
Mind, A Brief Introduction
ResearchCenter, Penn State Dept. of Human Development
& Family Studies;
CASEL Leadership Team Dr.
Terrence Deacon Professor of Biological
Anthropology and Linguistics at University of California- Berkeley Chris
Doherty Ex-Program Director, National Reading First
Program, U.S. Department of Education Dr. Erik Hanushek Senior Fellow,
Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Dr. Marketa Caravolas
Director, Bangor Dyslexia Unit, Bangor University, Author: International
Report on Literacy Research Dr. Christof
KochProfessor of Computation and
Neural Systems, Caltech - Author:The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
Professor of Languages and Cultures of Ancient
Mesopotamia, Holland; Author: Unfolding
Language Robert Wedgeworth President, ProLiteracy, World's Largest Literacy
Organization Dr. Peter Leone Director,
National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice Dr. Thomas CableProfessor of English, University of Texas at Austin, Co-author: A History of the
Ecologist and Philosopher; Author: The
Spell of the Sensuous Pat Lindamood and Nanci Bell
Principal Scientists, Founders, Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes Dr. Anne Cunningham
Director, Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education, Graduate School of
Education at University of California-Berkeley Dr. Donald L.
NathansonClinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at
Jefferson Medical College, Director of the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute Dr.Johanna
DruckerChair of Media Studies, University of Virginia, Author:
The Alphabetic Labyrinth
John H. Fisher Medievalist,
Leading authority on the development of the written English language, Author:
The Emergence of Standard English Dr. Malcolm RichardsonChair, Dept. of English,
Louisiana State University; Research: The Textual Awakening of the
English Middle Classes James
Executive Director, National Center
for Learning Disabilities
Physician; Best-Selling Author:
The Alphabet vs. The Goddess Robert SweetCo-Founder,
National Right to Read Foundation
The Children of the Code is a Social Education Project
and a Public Television Series intended to catalyze and resource a social-educational transformation in how we think about
and, ultimately, teach reading. The Children of the Code is an
entertaining educational journey into the challenges our children's brains
face when learning to read. The series weaves together archeology, history,
linguistics, developmental neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, information theory, reading
theory, learning theory, and the personal and social dimensions of