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Y Hole Langwidg Seams OK


Scholars who have analyzed the best methods for teaching young children to read all say that the skills that come from systematic, intensive, explicit phonics instruction are much better than the sight-reading techniques of whole language.


Phonics keys off the sound-symbol relationships of the alphabetic letters and the sounds they make, alone and in combination with other letters. Children are taught the 44 phonograms, or written symbols for sounds in English, in a particular order. Quickly, they internalize pronunciations of the phonograms so that when they read text, their brains silently "pronounce" them. It becomes lightning fast in just a few months. They also are taught the rules of spelling, proper handwriting, and do a lot of listening and speaking aloud under the direct instruction of the teacher.


Whole language is a more holistic, implicit approach. In it, the teacher reads aloud to children, and they are exposed to text in mini-books that come with illustrations. They are taught several cues for deciding what the words are and what they mean. But rather than directly decoding each word, they are to absorb the whole sentence and try to come up with the meaning as a whole. They scan the words, look at the pictures, check out what the first letter is and the last letter as clues to what they might be, and think about the context the word has in the sentence.


Adults who already know how to read do exactly that. Adults never take time to think about how to pronounce the individual words; they just scan along at a very fast clip and their brains take care of the "breaking down" of the phonograms automatically and accurately. However, that's adults who learned to read with phonics. Adults who rely only on sight-reading techniques rarely gain much function, and boy, does that show in our society today, with relatively low levels of literacy compared to generations past. Children today, who don't have phonics instruction, are basically guessing at what words mean, and it shows in everything from standardized test scores to literacy deficiencies in the workplace.


But it's easy to see how educators and educational psychologists came to believe that whole language was an effective reading method. It's how "able" readers already read. So they figured it's how we could make children into "able" readers. But they were wrong.


An adult who reads well can scan the following passage and know what it means, because the brain is already set up to scan and analyze text and discern meaning. But a child who's still learning to read, or without phonics skills, will flounder. But, without phonics training, this is what a lot of kids see when they read today:

I cduolnt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uendsatnrd waht I was rgdnieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh.


What's sad is that teachers' colleges and many educators don't realize that this "miraculous" ability to make order out of chaos, and read a completely mixed-up passage like that, only comes with proper instruction . . . and too many kids aren't getting it today.


By Susan Darst Williams www.GoBigEd.com Read to Me 029 2006


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