Phonics Education Vs. Whole Language; A War Of Words

Phonics education vs. whole language. Proponents of the contemporary whole language approach to teaching children to read are constantly battling critics of the back-to-basics phonics reading instruction method.

For many years, the best method in which to teach children to read and write has been discussed, debated and deliberated at length. Educators have felt tremendous pressure to choose between two dynamic and completely divergent schools of thought, each of which has its own long list of benefits and shortcomings. Traditional curricula proponents are adamant that reading instruction should reflect a time-honored reliance on phonics, which is essentially a rigorously structured, repetitive and uncreative approach to learning. However, in recent years, numerous educators have begun to embrace a "whole-language" approach instead; a method that is far more liberal and creative than the traditional phonics techniques. In fact, the whole-language approach has become so popular in certain areas of the country that it has ignited a powerful pro-phonics backlash. This has further fueled the debate, causing pro-phonics and anti-phonics advocates to butt heads more furiously than ever before. Many experts anticipate, that the current debate will ultimately lead to a healthy balance between the two approaches, cordially blending the best of the new methods with the best of the old.

The whole-language approach signifies an entirely different perspective on teaching, learning, and the role of language in the classroom than phonics instruction employs. It emphasizes the need for children to use language in ways that relate to their own lives and cultures. The premise of the whole language approach is that it encourages students to focus solely on "reading to understand."

On the contrary, phonics supporters generally agree that by employing "the direct approach" in regards to instruction, as well as providing an undeviating focus on logical sequencing and multi-sensory techniques, students will effectively learn to identify words quickly and consistently, as well as improving their spelling, vocabulary, handwriting, listening, and thinking skills. Numerous studies have shown that the most critical factors underlying fluent word reading are the ability to recognize letters, spelling patterns, and whole words effortlessly, automatically, and visually. When statistics in this arena materialize, it adds weight to the phonics argument, almost to the point of tipping the scales to their side. However, it is important to keep in mind that tipping the scales in a certain direction so that one party can "win" is not the most honorable of goals when it comes to educating our children and securing our nation's future. The objective should be an equitable balance between the two approaches so that students are able to reap the benefits of both types of instructions, while the negative aspects are able to cancel each other out.

The balanced reading approach provides the most viable alternative to the extremes of pure phonics or whole language. A combination of both approaches generates an effective mixture of instructional philosophies, and therefore accommodates a wide variety of learning styles. The curriculum needs to allow creative freedom for teachers to search and find the balance in their own classrooms. By combining quality literature with information about letters and sounds, children have the disposition to read and the tools they need to become proficient readers, writers and human beings.

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