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Phonics vs Whole Language

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Phonics

Phonics is one method of teaching children how to read. Children are taught how to "sound out" new words by learning the following items:
  • Consonant letters sounds: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z
  • Blend sounds: br, cr, dr, fr, gr, pr, tr, wr, bl, cl, fl, gl, pl, sl, scr, str, sm, sn, sp, sc, sk,
  • Short vowel sounds: a, e, i, o, u
    Always teach short vowel sounds first: a - apple, e - elephant, i- igloo, o - octopus, u - umbrella)
  • Digraph sounds: sh, ch, th, wh
    Two letters combine to make a totally different sound.
  • Double vowel sounds: ai, ea, ee, oa
    These pairs say the name of the first vowel.
  • Other double vowel sounds: oi, oo, ou, ow
  • Silent e: Silent e is bossy, it doesn't say anything but makes the vowel before it say its own name.
  • R controlled vowel sounds: ar, er, ir, or, ur
    Notice that er,ir and ur make the same sound.

Phonics is a series of rules that children have to memorize and apply when they are sounding out new words. Children are taught a rule, i.e. Silent e, and then they practice reading words with Silent e. Then children do skill sheets at their desk highlighting the Silent e rule. Children must learn letter sounds to an automatic level - they must be able to see the letter(s) and say the sound immediately.

Critics point out that the reading/practice materials aren't very interesting, "See Spot run. Run Spot run. Spot runs fast." It is a contrived atmosphere of reading practice using the phonic rules.

Here's the bigger problem: children who struggle in reading memorize phonic rules, and then are unable to apply phonic rules to connected print. To remedy this problem, two things must happen:

  1. Only the most important phonic rules should be taught in the least complicated manner possible. For example, in teaching vowel sounds, it is distracting to talk about "short versus long" vowels. Instead, a child should be taught the short vowel sounds first. Then when a child encounters a long vowel as in the word find, tell him, "That vowel says its own name."
  2. Phonics must be taught in a way that allows these children to immediately practice phonic information in real stories. Every time a child is taught new phonic information, he should be given a short reading selection that highlights the phonic rule. Completing a skill sheet is good, but even better is to help the child practice applying the phonic skill to connected print.

A child cannot learn to read without proper knowledge in phonics. It is the foundation for success in reading. She will succeed to read if she knows phonics.

Whole Language

Whole language is a "whole - part" method of teaching children to read. (Phonics is a "part - whole" reading method.) Teachers use connected print to introduce reading to children. Children are encouraged to memorize words as whole units. They do hands-on activities such as writing in journals, and analyzing words in context, by using pictures, for meaning.

Whole language has strengths in that children begin to write early. They are involved in connected print, and they are using personal language skills making the process of reading more interesting. The weakness of whole language methods is that some children never get a full phonic foundation. They are unable to decode unfamiliar words. Research has shown that good readers always use phonics to decipher new words.

Reading is best taught using a combination of three methodologies:

  • Auditory training - training for the ears to prepare the child's brain for phonics.
  • Phonics - knowledge of letter(s) sounds.
  • Whole Language - immediate application of phonics into connected stories.



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