I thought the time for discussion was over, that the correct way to teach reading had been established by research almost twenty years ago.
Apparently not. On social media the discussion continues. Is it better to focus on teaching phonics and how letter sounds form words or to focus on whole language (memorizing words and discovering meaning).
After a study of hundreds of research reports of how children learn to read, the US government reported in 2000 that the best way to teach English reading is to focus on phonemes and phonics first. Children need instruction on how sounds correspond to letters, and how combining those letters forms words. New readers also need to memorize high frequency words that don’t necessarily follow the rules of phonics (words like “was, ” “do,” and “the”).
According to the 2000 National Reading Panel, students need to learn five concepts relating to reading:
- Phonics (combining letters to form words)
- Phonological awareness (how sounds correspond to letters)
- Fluency (reading in phrases with appropriate stops and starts and with voice inflection)
- Comprehension (understanding what is read)
Decoding the language comes from studying phonics, phonological awareness and fluency. Combine that with vocabulary and you achieve the desired result of reading comprehension.
Yet research also shows that even today not all reading teachers know, or even if they know, apply the correct approaches to teaching reading.
If your kindergarten child comes home with lists of words to memorize, beware. If those words are sight words, okay. But the main focus of his or her learning should be how sounds correspond to letters, and how combining those letters forms words, and how combining those words forms sentences with meaning.