Skip to comments.Old-Fashioned Phonics Deemed a Winner in Washington State
Posted on 06/25/2003 7:58:25 AM PDT by Theodore R.
Old-fashioned phonics a winner 32 state schools part of 'Washington Reads'
By GREGORY ROBERTS SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
"O-O-O-O. E-E-E-E. A-A-A-A."
It's a reading lesson, heavy on phonics, with the kindergarten students in Reading Group 3 clustered around teacher Julia Matthews in her classroom at Seattle's African American Academy.
"Get ready to read the words on the page without making a mistake," Matthews says. "Get ready. Sound it out. What word?
"Yes, sound it out. Sound it out, get ready."
"Get ready. Sound it out. What word?"
"OK, everybody, touch the title of the story and get ready to read." The students -- Alexa Allen, Jhai Lewis and Marvette Charles -- bend over their books. "OK, everybody, read the title."
"OK, read, Marvette."
"But now Arf had to help the other sharks. A big fish that liked to eat sharks was going after the little sharks."
"Tell me, what would you do, Jhai, if the big fish came after you?"
"Call for help!"
The reading wars that rumbled through education in the 1980s and '90s appear to be over. The winners: the advocates of instruction built on phonics, which concentrates on teaching the correspondence between letters and sounds. They have largely prevailed over proponents of "whole language," a movement that emerged about 15 years ago and emphasized immersion in ordinary, natural language and literature, rather than stressing recognition of words through spelling drills and work sheets.
The debate suffers from oversimplification -- many educators say any reasonable approach combines elements of both strategies -- and it has taken on political and cultural overtones as well: phonics "fundamentalists" vs. whole-language "liberals." The victory for phonics was sealed in the No Child Left Behind Act, the sweeping federal education reform signed into law in 2002 by President George Bush, who campaigned for the White House in 2000 partly on his pro-phonics record as governor of Texas.
The law's Reading First program funnels $1 billion a year to states and schools for "scientific, research-based" reading instruction in grades K-3. That phrase is regarded as code for phonics-centered instruction, and also invokes the landmark 2000 report of the National Reading Panel, which touted the value of phonics.
But the pendulum's shift was marked earlier, in federal legislation passed during the Clinton administration: The 1998 Reading Excellence Act called for federal support of programs based on "scientifically based reading research."
REA provided $11 million to Washington state for the 2001-02 and 2002-03 school years, distributed under the Washington Reads program to 32 schools with low reading scores and a high percentage of students from poor families. The public African American Academy received $200,000 of that money to train teachers and buy classroom materials, including the off-the-shelf phonics curriculum with the lesson on Arf the shark.
School's out for the summer, and REA programs have expired. But Reading First rests on the same principles, which, through the power of the federal government, are likely to drive reading instruction and curriculum for years to come.
Teachers and administrators at the African American Academy, who have already applied for a $150,000-a-year Reading First grant, are sold on the philosophy.
"Phonics-based is the best way to go," Matthews said on her lunch break after the Group 3 lesson.
Results from tests administered through Washington Reads back her up. In the winter of 2001-02, just a few months after the program began at the academy in grades K-3, only 26.4 percent of first-graders were reading at grade level. A year later, when the inaugural Washington Reads class of kindergarteners were tested in first grade, 54.8 percent were reading at grade level.
A teacher of 15 years' experience, Matthews has taught reading with the whole-language approach as well. With that system, she says, students could not decipher unfamiliar words.
"With the phonics-based, you can decode the word," she said. "You may not know the meaning, but you can decode it, and that's a big plus."
And academy reading coach Patricia Evans said, "Children are successful when you teach phonics. It has to be explicit."
The National Reading Panel report examined existing research in five areas: phonics; phonemic awareness, which involves the ability to hear speech and discriminate among sounds and words; fluency, a measure of reading speed; vocabulary; and comprehension.
"We based everything we did on that report and continue to do everything based on that report," said Jo Robinson, the state administrator for REA programs and, now, for Reading First initiatives.
But Robinson said the divide between phonics and whole language is not absolute. "There are strategies in the area of vocabulary and comprehension that are very language-rich, and there are strategies in the are of phonemic awareness and phonics that are very systematic and explicit," she said. "We need to use both."
TIPS FOR PARENTS
If your child is just beginning to learn to read, educators recommend that you can help at home by:
Practicing the sounds of language. Read books with rhymes and teach your child rhymes, short poems and songs.
Playing simple word games. For example, ask your child, "How many words can you make up that sound like the word 'bat?' "
Practicing the alphabet by pointing out letters wherever you see them and by reading alphabet books.
Pointing out the letter-sound relationships your child is learning on labels, boxes, newspapers, magazines and signs.
Listening to your child read words and books from school.
Letting your child know you are proud of his or her reading.
Rereading familiar books so your child can get practice reading comfortably and with expression.
Reading together every day.
Visiting the library often.
Source: The Partnership for Reading, from the 2002 report of the National Reading Panel
My wife is a teacher, and has her masters' in Early Childhood Studies. She has this approach, where you blend phonics with "whole language". Personally, as a former high school English teacher, "whole language" is a pile of BS; my wife and I go 'round and 'round about the issue. Make no mistake, the "whole language" approach is heavily promoted in the colleges...its only after a teacher has been in the field a few years that they drop the goofy feel-good whole language methods and put some hardcore phonics back into their curriculum, (I've seen it over and over again.)
It began at the Columbia Teachers College with John Dewey. Believe it or not, Dewey devised the approach in order to prevent children from learning to read. He reasoned that preventing children from learning to read would prevent children from learning independently.
The purpose of education, according to Dewey, was to prepare children to live collectively. Independent thinking could not be tolerated. Children were to be conditioned to accept their assigned role in society.
Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth. In this way the teacher is always the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of heaven.
The idea of compulsory schooling as a means for ushering in the "socialist kingdom" goes all the way back to Fichte in Germany and is outlined in Gatto's book (above).
What thinkers like your charming spouse fail to realize is that you can not START reading with whole language. Just as you cannot START communicating in Morse Code until you "LEARN THE FRIGGIN' CODE."
This is the genius of the Greeks, who broke away from pictographic language codes to popularize a phonic alphabet. You learn the phonic code embedded in the alphabet, and you can SAY any word in any alphabetized language when you SEE it. This is why in 6 (or a lot less) months of patient work, any near-normal 6-year-old can be taught to read with phonics. The brighter ones will read faster and at a higher level than the less gifted. Voila, rocket science.
Five years later, the really bright ones will be reading in this "Whole Language," maybe even "Speed Reading" the process in which the eye is trained to treat a paragraph, or even a page, as a picture, and absorb it. "Whole Language," is nothing less than changing our alphabet into ideographs, which is what you do if you read a whole lot in just one language for 5 or 10 years.
This is why today kids from illiterate homes are not learning to read. It's TOO BLOODY HARD when you skip the first easy step of learning the alphabet and phonic code. Patient, literate grandparents all over the place are sneaking phonics principles into kids' heads. Unfortunately, when these reading kids return to their "Whole Language" classrooms, the teacher takes credit!
This "Whole Language" debate has led to the "Wholesale Dumbing Down" of the whole country. Pick up a 1950 Reader's Digest and compare it to this month's issue. It's the difference between steak and pablum. The Left, who like to keep intellectual achievement to themselves, like it that way.
Besides that Reader's Digest ditty you mentioned, I bet more seniors graduated from high school in the 50's than the graduating ratio these last two decades.
Yup. I used those books learning phonics, but they were designed for whole word instruction.
You can tell because the books use a very limited number of words (repeated ad nauseum) because the words must be learned by sight, hence the inane dialogue:
"Look Jane" said Dick.
"I see," said Jane.
"Look Spot," said Jane.
"Good Spot!," said Dick.
This rubric accidentally led to the success of Dr. Seuss. He was instructed by his publisher to limit the number of words in his book to 50 or less. The result? The Cat in the Hat. The rest is history.