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Homework Help > Reading Help > Phonics vs Whole Language

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PHONICS VS WHOLE LANGUAGE

What Yields Better Readers?

The question lingers: Should we teach children reading by phonics or by what is sometimes called whole language?

I Vote Phonics!  Now and Forever.

At least for older children.

Here’s why.

  • Phonics Reading instruction is an extension of our natural language pattern which takes small parts of speech and puts them together in varying sequences to create words with meanings. 
  • Whole language Reading instruction takes complete words and introduces them as ‘pictures’ that have meanings pre-attached.

While introducing complete words as pictures with meanings works well for small children--for example, by way of flash cards and such--when it comes to older children it has little benefit toward advancement on the Journey to Reading Fluency.

It may work well in other languages, however, it does not do justice to the mechanics of the English language.

Let’s compare written English with written Chinese for example:

Your Opinion Please

Is your Elementary 
Aged Child Headed 
for Reading Struggles!

In written Chinese, each character represents a different word, concept, or idea.

In written English the different characters represent an individual phonetic sound—a phoneme.

The sound has no meaning in and of itself.  

However, if it is strung together with other characters the resulting combination makes a recognizable word.

The word has meaning.

Sadly, sight word or whole word teaching at older ages attempts to completely bypass the building phase of the word, and, instead attempts to teach the concepts, meanings, and ideas that were created by the building phase as complete ‘pictures’ to be memorized.

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C'mon, is it Really That Bad?

It has been my experience that older kids who learn sight word reading and are never taught to decode with phonics are at a huge disadvantage because their brains have struggles when it is time to decode unfamiliar ‘pictures’ (words). 

I have personally witnessed children needlessly stumble over words that could have been decoded (sounded out) using phonics.

They had been taught to see words as whole characters (pictures) and never taught higher level methods of reading, so they sat and made up words as they tried to connect this ‘unfamiliar picture’ with one in their memory.

Imagine a child attempting to read the word 'dissection’ and constantly repeating, “Different, differing, differ.” As they try to make sense of it all.

Now, dissection may not be the easiest word to sound out with phonics BUT the letters definitely don’t lend themselves to confusion with different, differing, or differ.

Again, this happens because children are shown words as pictures, they memorize the pictures and, in many cases, receive great praise for advancing so rapidly and ‘reading big words’.  

Yet, in all actuality, they are not advancing rapidly at all and are often embarrassed to read in front of others because the skills learned just are NOT sufficient enough to assist with deciphering unfamiliar words.

Simply put: English words are phonetically sequenced.  

Their make up follows a step-by-step progression and therefore contains too much variation for sight word reading to be fully successful.

Any attempt at whole word reading needs to be in conjunction with phonetic instruction.


Now What?

If you have noticed Reading struggles in your child, whole word reading instruction may be the underlying culprit.

Begin working with your child to retrain him with phonics based instruction and watch the difference it will make.

There is much debate on this topic so I have chosen to break the benefits of phonics vs whole language reading instruction--after the toddler/ early preschool years--down a bit further.  

Please continue reading to understand how linguistic science and neuroscience support a phonics approach to Reading.

Believe me, your child will benefit greatly.

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Homework Help > Reading Help > Phonics vs Whole Language

Homework Help > Learning Difficulties > Phonics vs Whole Language



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