Teaching Reading: Phonics or Whole Language?
The Chicken or the Egg?
When you get right down to it, the whole language/phonics debate is about what to teach first -- the whole or the part.
The answer, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, lies in a balanced approach. Neither "phonics" nor "whole language" is a sufficient teaching tool when used alone. Teachers need to use both approaches, beginning when kids are in preschool.
Emphasize word analysis. Children learn letter sounds (b=buh) first and then blend them (bl=bluh) to form words. They also learn strategies to figure out words they don't know.
Drawbacks: Some phonics programs use low-interest reading material and too many boring worksheets.
These emphasize literature and word meanings. Students use critical thinking strategies. In the younger grades, children use invented spelling to write their own stories.
Drawbacks: Some whole language programs place too little emphasis on word analysis or phonics. When that's left out, young readers may guess or skip over words they don't know and some children may not learn how to read.
The Balancing Act
"Everyone now wants a balance between literature and phonics. One important thing that has to be learned is the relationship between speech sounds and the alphabet -- this is phonics. Of course reading good literature is also important," says Jean Chall, Reading Expert and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University. The key to success lies in the balance between methods, and a constant attention to children's individual needs.
For more information, visit The National Association for the Education of Young Children's Phonics and Whole Language Learning: A Balanced Approach to Beginning Reading.
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