As more research brings to light the advantages of phonics and phonemic awareness instructions have over whole language teaching methods, more parents are becoming aware of teaching using phonics and phonemic awareness skills. Many parents today are concerned about the method that is being used to teach their children how to read, and rightfully so. The whole language method is more of a method of “word memorization”, where the child is taught to look at printed words as whole configurations, much like looking at Chinese characters.
Teaching phonemic awareness skills involves the break down of words into individual sounds (phonemes), and then joining the parts to form, or sound out the words. By contrast, whole language learning stresses the flow and meaning of the text, where “sounding out” words is not used, the words are decoded through its larger context, and word memorization plays a key role. What would you rather do, memorize hundreds or even thousands of words based on shapes, or learn a systematic way of reading?
English is not meant to be memorized as shapes and sight objects. It becomes very difficult to learn to read by memorizing and recognizing shapes. Phonics and teaching phonemic awareness skills requires you to memorize the letters and the sounds they represent, and with this method, children as young as two years old can learn to read successfully, and comprehend what they are reading. Try teaching a young child with the whole language learning method, see how successful he or she will be at memorizing shapes. Teaching by using phonics will routinely produce successful readers.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that phonics is clearly a superior method of teaching children how to read. In the USA, over 30 million adults (14%) are considered functionally illiterate, and are unable to perform simple everyday literacy activities. This however, should not be surprising since over one third of all children cannot even achieve basic reading competency by the time they are in grade four. This is a finding from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Are these children failing at literacy because they are dumb? I I hardly think so, but perhaps it is a result of the poor reading instructions they receive.
It has been proven time and again, that teaching phonemic awareness skill produces superior reading and spelling abilities than whole language teaching methods. Thousands of studies have confirmed this, and the National Reading Panel has also made a clear statement about this.
While most teachers will probably say that they teach using some phonics, the truth is that many teachers are not knowledgeable in the basic concepts of the English language. No, I’m not making a random statement. In a recent study, the researchers stated: “many in-service teachers are not knowledgeable in the basic concepts of the English language”. Their study found that even though the teachers may be well versed in children’s literature, but they do not know how to address the basic building blocks of language and reading. In their survey of instructors conducted, the researchers found that the teachers performed poorly on the concepts relating to morphemes and phonemes. In another second study, over 80% of the interviewed instructors agreed that phonics is a desirable method to use for beginning reading instructions.
Some argue that a child will acquire a knowledge of phonics on his or her own after learning to read using whole language methods. While this may be true for some children, it is hardly the case for the other children with reading difficulties. When a child is taught to read using a whole word approach, they develop a habit of looking at all the words by their whole configurations, and this prevents the child from seeing the phonetic structure of the words. Real readers who learned to read by learning phonemic awareness skills do not need clues or cues to help them recognize shapes – they develop an automatic ability to decode the letters and words.
Ultimately, it is up to the parents to decide the path for which to teach their children to read. They can either simply leave it up to the education system, and hope that their child does not end up being one of the 38% grade four students which do not develop even basic reading achievement, or they can take the initiative and make the decision to help their children develop phonemic awareness skills early on before even starting kindergarten. Research on phonemic awareness has shown time after time that phonemic awareness skills predicted reading and spelling success of children in school.
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