Friday, February 11, 2011

Reading Instruction Today: A Little Bit of This and That

Several decades ago “Whole Language”, a philosophy of teaching, came onto the reading education scene. Advocates within this trend favored a more holistic approach to teaching reading. That is, whole language and authentic literature based instruction.

At the outset there was confusion about what the “Whole Language” method or philosophy advocated. Teachers who had been teaching reading in a “traditional” fashion misinterpreted the philosophy and falsely concluded direct teaching of phonics was unnatural and ineffective – believing children should be taught whole words in the context of sentences. Many teachers threw phonics out the window with the dish water. The reality is, proponents of the “Whole Language” camp never said stop teaching phonics i.e. vowel sounds, vowel digraphs and consonant clusters – components of words. To the contrary, what they said was they favored analytic phonics –analyze the whole word, then look at its parts. They believed this was a more natural approach to phonics instruction. Rather than, putting letter sounds together, synthesizing it parts, vowels and consonants, into to a whole word – synthetic phonics.

The argument of how to effectively introduce and teach reading has come full circle since the 1950's. Here in 2011 we again are back to teaching the way we had at the turn of the century. Specifically, using basal readers, a collection of reading selections, worksheets and supplementary materials; where vocabulary is controlled and the pictures reflect and convey the meaning of the text or story – accompanied by direct phonics instruction at each grade level. Also know as, synthetic phonics instruction or the “Traditional” way of teaching reading

Today, more than a century has gone by. Direct phonics instructions reigns again, while aspects of the “Whole Language” philosophy remain. If you step into an elementary classroom today, while the daily reading lesson is taking place, you will most likely find teachers using leveled readers (basal readers) workbook pages, while concurrently incorporating authentic forms of children’s literature – books written by professional authors to engage and entertain children.