“I just have to keep answering the questions I think are important”: Dr. Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert on the Getting Smarter podcast

    by | May 9, 2024

    "I just have to keep answering the questions I think are important": Dr. Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert on the Getting Smarter podcast

    I maintain a commitment to the kids who come to school to learn to read, and to the teachers who are committed to teaching them. And I’m going to put the best stuff out there—all the things that I put on the website are based on research, a linguistic model of learning to read. My hope is that when a plaque gets put up for me some day, that people will see this unusual name and say: ‘She was committed to the kids, and to their teachers.’ And I review that commitment every single morning and every night… I just have to keep answering the questions I think are important.

    Other highlights from the podcast:

    • I’m incredibly interested in automaticity. I think a lot of the conclusions we’ve been making, based for example on the NAEP 4th grade data, really reflects automaticity… If you’re not automatic with vocabulary in certain bands of vocabulary frequency, I’m hypothesizing that can really make a difference in ability to navigate these texts.
    • I’ve long been concerned with the representation of American children and their capability as readers as a result of National Assessment of Educational Progress . Yesterday I was reading something where somebody was saying ‘1/3 of our kids can’t read’ . The point is that, yes, 36% on the last national assessment at grade 4 didn’t score at the basic level, but no one really knows what the below basic level means… I want to know what to know what kids know and when they know it, because I’m so tired of kids being classified as not being able to read on the basis of a pretty hard comprehension test.
    • What I’m interested in is the pace at which instruction moves in phonics, and the profiles of the children who come to school to learn to read. Some kids come to school with a fair amount of knowledge about literacy, and my hypothesis is that the curriculum is built for them… The question is how to differentiate curriculum while keeping equity? I don’t want anyone to thinking I’m talking about dumbing down curriculum, but having really sensitive assessments.
    • I’ve been writing books that are based on a model of phonetic regularity but also are based on a model of high imagery words, highly concrete words, I.e things that are familiar. Because those things have been found to influence kids’ word recognition, but we don’t hear a lot about that.
    • Syntax and semantics are always necessary because of the polysemous nature of English and because of its quasi regular orthography. You do have to test your hypotheses, and your hypotheses are not based on picture matching, or on guessing. If I can’t use context to verify my hypothesis, I’m never going to develop the set for variability. What it does, it takes meaning out of the mix pretty quickly… If we take meaning out of the mix at the beginning levels of learning, and just make it something else. that becomes problematic… As reading researchers, we need to see some good reviews of research that ask questions about making it a problem to teach kids to confirm their well-grounded hypotheses.
    • Let’s not argue about whether you need to guide students to letter-sound correspondences, that’s a done deal. We know that you need a set for variability. But there are other things we don’t know, like this business of coverage. If you advertise “all 150 spelling-sound correspondences” – for a little kid, that would kill you… And that’s said with pride, and its said under the aegis of science… One of the things about science, we believe in replication and the evolving nature of science, and that’s hard to communicate to policy makers.

    Articles and Resources mentioned in the podcast

    When students perform at the below basic level on the NAEP: What does it mean and what can educators do?

    What the Quasi-Regular Orthography of English Means for Bringing Students to Proficient Reading

    Enhancing Opportunities for Decoding and Knowledge Building through Beginning Texts

    Thinking through research and the science of reading

    TextProject’s Decoding + Knowledge Program:

    DecodableReads™ and TopicReads-Primary