A truce: Whole language plus phonics

The effective teaching of reading makes use of multiple approaches tailored to individual students’ strengths and abilities states Marie Carbo, executive director of the National Reading Styles Institute in Syosset, New York. She provides some guidelines for teachers interested in designing reading programs using elements of phonics and whole language to better accommodate diverse learning styles.

Carbo reports that students who are able to discriminate easily among sounds and who respond to the logic underlying decoding sound-symbol relationships, thrive in reading programs that are phonics-based. But, for children who are bored or mystified by step-by-step learning or who can not easily hear differences among similar sounds, phonics can be confusing and frustrating, making learning to read a difficult and unpleasant chore.

Learning styles

Children who do well in whole language programs are visual, tactile, and have a global rather than an analytic learning style, Carbo writes. These students remember whole words that they have seen frequently and which they “feel” through writing their own stories. Whole language programs emphasize lots of interaction through peer teaching and learning and game-playing.

Analytic learners, however, may experience the whole language approach as disorganized and chaotic. Without the systematic logic provided by phonics, Such learners may feel helpless, deprived of the tools they need for decoding unfamiliar words.

For teachers who want to combine phonics and whole-language elements in their reading program, Carbo suggests:

1. Avoid the boredom of excessive drill in phonics by limiting skill work to a few minutes a day with no more than one worksheet and try phonics-based word games.

2. For students having difficulty with phonics, have them spend more time with recorded books and story writing.

3. Limit the period when students are allowed to use invented spelling.

4. Provide a lot of modeling by reading aloud before expecting children to read independently.

“Whole Language vs. Phonics: The Great Debate” Principal Volume 75, Number 3, January 1996 pp.36-38

Published in ERN March/April 1996 Volume 9 Number 2

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