Phonics?

The topic of learning how to read is hotly debated and often very political in schools. If you look at the issue in a big picture view it is ludicrous that teaching the basic skill of reading which is so fundamental to success and a good life, could be debated and decided in such partisan and illogical ways. Part of this is because different research points to different answers. For example in this Guardian article the author, a professor at USC, argues that teaching children to read phonetically is not the appropriate approach because it has only been shown to improve scores on phonics tests whereas students score higher on reading tests when they “Learn to read by reading”.

However, this article on greatschools.org argues the exact opposite point saying students may learn to read without being taught phonetically , but ultimately they won’t be able to read at an optimal level because of their lack of phonetic understanding.

Both sides offer plenty of research and evidence and maybe this is what makes the debate so hotly contested and why this topic hasn’t been officially settled. Personally, I don’t know what the best is, but in doing my research for this post, I felt the argument for a phonetic based approach to learning to read is the most factually supported. The evidence produced concerning how the brain works at the ages when children are often learning to read was compelling and scientifically supported. Also, I don’t understand how the argument “you learn to read by reading” works. In order to begin reading you need to be taught the basics of language and how to start small in order to begin reading more and more complex texts.

Ultimately, I think it is like most things- a compromise between the two polarized arguments is probably best for optimal success in reading. Students need to be taught the basics of language, including phonetics, in order to be able begin reading and understand what they are doing. But once they know how to read, I think it is more important to then focus on reading comprehension than a continued focus on the phonetics to increase and deepen reading ability.

I do think the most valuable thing from my research was that no matter how you teach reading it is imperative that you focus on the end goal of reading and not get caught up in drills and memorization which will lead to mindless reading and often a dislike of reading.
I remember when my siblings and I were just beginning to learn how to read my mom laid out pieces of paper with different letters and sounds (long a, short u, etc.) in a circle on the floor. She proceeded to play music and we walked around the letters. When she stopped the music she would call out a sound and if someone was standing on that letter and recognized it they would recieve a piece of candy. In this way, we learned our phonics and the building blocks to language w=in a fun and engaging way that has obviously stuck with me to today. I think this is the most important part of learning to read- make it engaging and interesting! The last thing you want to do as a teacher is turn a kid off of reading before they have even really begun.

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