The reading wars continue unabated

Despite evidence showing that phonics instruction is the key to learning how to read, there seems to be no end to the debate (“Schools Seen as Falling Short in a Pillar of Teaching Reading,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 27). That’s because supporters of the “whole language” approach insist that learning to read is a natural process that children can pick up from being immersed in appealing books.

That’s a little like saying children can learn about the Archimedes Principle by playing with duckies in the bathtub. Maybe some children can do so, but I doubt it is an effective way.  Likewise the “whole language” technique.  Maybe some children will look at the first letter in a word and correctly guess from a picture cue how to pronounce it, but it’s not nearly as productive as learning how to sound out words. The National Reading Panel’s report that was commissioned by Congress in 2000 confirmed this.  It said that systematic phonics instruction is an essential part of an effective reading program, much to the disappointment of “whole language” supporters.

What’s so disheartening is that too many teachers have not learned how to teach reading.  That’s because many teacher-preparation programs nationwide completely ignore, or give little attention to, the science behind how children learn to read.  When I was in elementary school, teachers used colorful charts to teach how to sound out words and then had us read small passages aloud.  Even in high school, I found that students liked to hear me read to them while they followed.

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2 Replies to “The reading wars continue unabated”

  1. This seems like the kind of issue that can — and should — be settled via empirical evidence compiled in peer-reviewed studies. Is there $ riding on which approach is adopted by school systems so that lobbying by those with a profit motive is interfering with a rational resolution of the issue?


  2. Labor Lawyer: In 2000, the National Reading Panel. which was convened by Congress, issued its report on the subject. It concluded that systematic phonics instruction is an essential part of effective reading programs. Of course, whole language supporters were disappointed and made their views known. The report did not dismiss whole language, but relegated it to a secondary role.


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