What do you know about how we teach reading? See how struggling readers may benefit from using more than one method to learn how to read.
The importance of reading in education cannot be overstated. Reading is the foundation for nearly all other learning. Having a child who is experiencing difficulty in acquiring this important skill can cause quite a bit of stress. What many parents may not realize is that, even among experts, there are varying theories regarding how students best learn to read. If one reading instruction strategy does not seem to be working for your child, there is good news: there are other options!
The Big Picture
The “whole language” approach to reading emphasizes the importance of a child being immersed in print-rich environments where he or she is read-to frequently. This approach counts on the child “picking up” words — basically memorizing whole words all at once and using the structure of the sentence to anticipate which word will come next. It teaches the child to rely on strategies such as using picture clues to figure out an unknown word. While “whole language” may incorporate some phonics instruction, such as vowel sounds and digraphs, phonics (relating letters or combinations of letters to a specific sound) is not the main focus.
Whole language reading instruction spread in popularity through the 1990s and many kids learn to read well using this approach. The problem is that there are others who do not respond as well to this method when trying to learn how to read.
A phonics-based approach teaches a series of rules for sounding out new words. Phonics teaches letter sounds, blends (br, dr, fr, wr, bl, cl, fl, sm, etc.), then digraph sounds (sh, ch, th, etc.) and so on. A longtime part of the “classical education” philosophy, the phonics approach may seem more old-fashioned, but research shows that for certain kids, it is an absolute necessity.
In this documentary by American Public Media entitled Hard to Read: How American Schools Fail Kids with Dyslexia, many families tell of how their children — some young, some adults themselves — were never able to learn how to read in public schools. Each of them was (eventually) diagnosed with dyslexia. As one researcher points out, these kids CAN learn to read and there are strategies that are proven to work, all of which are phonics-based. In one school in Columbus, OH, a lawsuit by parents of dyslexic kids forced the district to change reading instruction for all students to a phonics-based curriculum. The results were positive — even for the kids who were not dyslexic.
If your child is struggling with learning to read, even if he or she does not have a learning disability, a systematic study of phonics may just be the answer. Some will argue that English is a language full of exceptions and teaching the rules of phonics cannot help kids learn words such as “the” and “because.” But the pro-phonics crowd will chime back that just because there are a few exceptions to a rule, doesn’t mean there isn’t still a rule. Teaching children a systematic way to decode unknown words is still of utmost importance if that child is going to be a good reader.
The Best of Both Worlds
Perhaps a more balanced approach would be the blending of more than one method, which in fact, many schools do. Debates over reading instruction have raged for years and the pendulum is always swinging. Whether your child is in public or private school or is educated at home, being aware of the different ideas and knowing how your child is being taught can give you real insight into how to approach the issue if there are problems.
What’s a parent to do?
Choose the method that works best for your child. If your child is struggling with reading, try going back to phonics. Reading is so important, but it also should be fun. There is hope. Your child CAN learn how to read!
More Resources on Reading:
About the All-Star Blogger
Melanie is a home educator of her four children ages 6, 9, 10, and 12. Melanie’s background is in science and she has a bachelor’s degree in Biology. Before becoming a mom, she worked in biomedical research. Melanie has many interests and whether it is science, literature, history, art, or music, she enjoys learning alongside her kids and helping them discover new things about the world. Her kids are involved in 4-H, Girl Scouts, horseback riding, piano, drums, and some sports, but at the same time, Melanie guards her family’s time and believes in leaving enough space in the schedule for rest and relationships.