Phonics and teachers: Overconfidence bias?

Teachers don’t test well in phonics.

When their own understanding and knowledge of phonics is assessed in research studies, they give wrong answers to questions about how many speech sounds and morphemes are in words. In a multiple-choice question, many are unable to identify the correct definition for phonemic awareness.

Most people can be forgiven for this, but not reading teachers.

A new study tested college instructors of reading teachers and found that they performed just as poorly. Was this a matter of differences in reading teaching philosophy? No, most study participants said they believed that good phonics instruction is fundamental to teaching children how to read.

So what gives? There are many factors at play, I’m sure, but I’ll wager that the “overconfidence bias” is one of them. The overconfidence bias can be downright hazardous. I saw it with my teenage daughter when she was first learning to drive. If I could drive and her father could drive and every other dim-witted adult could drive, how hard could it be? But she eventually learned that driving a car is a more sophisticated skill than she at first appreciated.

Drinkers are also known to be overconfident about their ability to drive and even to fly an airplane. Construction crews are overconfident about their ability to meet a deadline and aging parents overconfident about their ability to live independently. Writers (guilty as charged) are often overconfident about their mastery of grammar and of the English language. And I believe many teachers may be overconfident about their knowledge of phonics.

“Of course, I know how many speech sounds are in box,” might be the natural reaction of a teacher to such a question. Only many reading teachers and college instructors got this wrong in the research study. (Did you know there are 4 speech sounds in box?) OK, that was a tough one, but you get the point.

As skilled readers and users of the language, it would be natural for teachers to assume that they know more than they really know about phonics. A recent study in the Journal of Learning Disabilities serves as a reality check that many teachers need training in this area even if they have newly minted teaching degrees.

The good news is that many educators accept that phonics instruction is very important to reading and that with professional development can easily become more skilled and knowledgeable about phonics.

Read about the latest research study:
College instructors of reading teachers flunk phonics test

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