Works in Teaching Children to Read:
Whole Language or or Phonics?
language" is embraced by some, cursed by many. For whom is it appropriate
and for whom is it inappropriate? (Is it possible to tell in advance for
whom it will work or won't work?) - David E. Rubin, MD, Medical director
of Laboratory, Saint Anthony Community Hospital
is unfortunate that the debates surrounding whole language versus phonics
continues to detract from the critical issue - what instructional approaches,
strategies, and programs are most beneficial for which kids at which phases
or reading development?
We are trying
to help people move away from simplistic dichotomies like phonics versus
whole language by ensuring that they fully understand:
(1) what it takes for kids (and adults) TO LEARN TO READ;
(2) WHY SOME KIDS HAVE DIFFICULTIES; and
(3) how can we prevent and remediate reading failure.
these questions, we have to go to the converging scientific evidence.
This is what the conclusions are at this time.
to read is an extremely complicated process that requires many skills
For example, kids need to understand the sounds of their language, how
sounds (phonemes) link to the letters and letter patterns in written language
(phonics), how to apply these skills accurately and rapidly and read with
expression (fluency), how to develop vocabulary and world knowledge so
that what they read can be linked to what they know about content, concepts,
and the world, and how to actively deploy reading comprehension strategies
to comprehend in an optimal fashion. For reading to develop, any program
or approach must be comprehensive and to ensure instructional interactions
of all these components.
Instruction must also be tailored so success is achieved and motivation
to read continues and is enhanced.
The whole language question gives us an opportunity to examine the scientific
evidence related to the philosophy under-girding whole language
Language is a Philosophy, Not a Teaching Method
language is hard to define because different people view it in different
ways. It is a philosophy of instruction and learning, not a teaching method
Many tenets of the whole language philosophy do not seem to be scientifically
accurate. For example, whole language espouses the notion that learning
to read and spell is like learning to speak. Therefore, kids can glean
the form and structure of written language through exposure to context
meaning-making activities that do not require direct instruction. This
idea flows from the notion that learning to read is natural and develops
in a similar fashion to listening and speaking. These philosophical notions
have not been supported by scientific evidence.
takes place over a relatively proactive period of time where many of reading
skills have to be very systematically and explicitly taught to kids.
of thumb is that the more difficulties kids are
having with learning to read, the more systematic and direct the instruction
must be. Reading instruction must also be comprehensive and
cover all components.
Even if kids are receiving direct instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics,
fluency, vocabulary and comprehension strategies, that does not mean that
reading lessons should be dull, drab, or painful.
try to move away from the whole language-phonics debate and ask these
1. What does
the evidence tell us about what it takes to learn to read?
2. Does the
instructional program or approach include all the critical reading components.
3. Have the
teachers received the necessary professional development to be able to
assess and target concepts for instruction?
4. Are we
continuously assessing progress across all reading domains to ensure that
instruction is adjusted for the student?
These adjustments may include teaching in a more sequenced and systematic
way, providing additional clear examples, making sure that kids are reading
text within their instructional reading level, ensuring that instructional
material is personally and culturally meaningful to the student and so
is complex!!! Teaching reading successfully requires a teacher who understands
the reading process, assessment, and different forms of instruction to
ensure that instruction is comprehensive and successful.
must know which programs are based upon solid evidence-based principles
and are effective, and which programs are based on (incorrect) beliefs,
philosophies, anecdotes, and untested assumptions.
from Wrightslaw: In October 2004, Education
Week sponsored a Live
Chatwith Dr. Reid Lyon, research psychologist and chief of the Child
Development and Behavior Branch, National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development, National Institutes of Health. Dr. Lyon answered questions
about reading programs, evidenced-based research, reading myths, and the
Reading First program. This question and answer is from the transcript
of that chat.
Meet Reid Lyon
G. Reid Lyon is a research psychologist and Chief of the Child Development
and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health & Human
Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. He is a strong
proponent of the scientific approach to reading instruction.
for Reading Success: Foundations for Teacher Preparation - A Position
Paper of the International Dyslexia Association
Reading IS Rocket Science, What Expert Teachers Should Know and Be Able
to Do by Louisa Moats, published by the American Federation of Teachers.
Research and Reason in Education - How Teachers Can Use Scientifically
Based Research to Make Curricular & Instructional Decisions by
Paula J. Stanovich and Keith E. Stanovich, published by the Partnership
for Reading, May 2003.
Recovery: Distinguishing Myths from Reality by William E. Tummer,
Ph.D. and James W. Chapman, Ph.D.
Research and Reason in Education. Because teachers find it difficult
to stay current with research on effective instruction, this paper helps
teachers become consumers of educational programs and materials, provides
guidance on how to recognize scientifically based instructional strategies,
how to use the concepts of research in the classroom.
or Multisensory Structured Language Approaches from the International
Science of Reading Research by G. Reid Lyon and Vinita Chhabra. Educational
Leadership, Vol 61, No. 6 (March 2004)
of Evidence-Based Research on Reading Instruction - Research has identified
instructional techniques that lead to observable, replicable, positive
results as children become fluent, motivated readers. This searchable
database from the Partnership for Reading is an initiative of the
National Institute for Literacy, National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development, and the U.S. Department of Education.
Works Clearinghouse - U.S. Department of Education
about research based instruction.