Using nonwords in testing

Once again from the British education front we have a proposal to include nonwords in a reading test for little kids. The idea behind using nonwords is to make sure kids aren’t just memorizing the words that they need to know. But don’t we memorize the sounds behind the words as we read? We pound into our heads, for example, that the word “dog” is formed by three specific funny-looking strokes on a piece of paper, and we know the three sounds that form the word. The memorization is how we learn in the beginning. What the educators need to do is present phonetic words that the kids won’t have encountered at that point and see how they do, along with mixing up the words that the kids are expected to know so memorizing the order would be out. Telling a kid that a word on the test isn’t a word at all is a great way for them to wonder why they’re taking that test in the first place. It’s one of the consequences of speaking a language whose pronunciation rules make little sense at times. What do you think, Internet?

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