Explain the difference between the Whole Language and a phonics-based reading approach.
As a secondary English teacher I am interested in learning more about reading strategies used in elementary school. I am wondering what strategies work best when students are exposed to literacy for the first time in a formal school setting.
dmillerteach,Child Professional, School Administrator, Teacherwrites:
Check out the links below for some interesting info on this debate. The NY Times article discusses how the current trend is that a balanced approach is best. The Education.com articles explain what the differences are and how you can identify what approach is being used in your child's classroom. The last two resources are timelines of phonics and whole language reading instruction which can be useful in understanding how we are still trying to figure things out. There are also plenty of books on the debate and from the masters of both. Hope this helps!
Whole Language Approach to reading is a philosophy that assumes that reading and language competency is acquired through integrated use instead of through specific skills such as word attacks, comprehension, and vocabulary. It focuses very heavily on the use of literature and books, rather than phonics readers. The Whole Language Approach involves thematic studies ant the extended use of writing. So an example would be if you are teaching the book "Johnny Appleseed" to your class. Your spelling and vocabulary lessons would be from this piece of literature. You would follow up with a writing assignment on the story. Then you would plant the seeds for science. You would make a graph on how many people in the class like red apples, yellow apples and green apples. This is your math lesson. Then you would sing a song about apples for music. Then you would use the apples for an art project. You could paint them and stamp them on paper in different colors. And so on ..... for each subject matter. The whole language approach philosophy believes that children should learn to read naturally.
A Phonics Based Reading program relies heavily on teaching reading through decoding words. It also teaches spelling rules in a step by step, structured, sequential and cumulative process. In other words the students start with the consonants, then progress to the vowels, then the digraphs, welded sounds, suffixes and prefixes, and so on. The philosophy of a heavy phonics reading program is that through strong decoding skills, the fluency and comprehension will eventually follow. Students begin with Level 1 readers and then progress through until they reach chapter books in this structured manner.
Because all children do not learn in the same way, a blended or differentiated learning approach is necessary. If a child has dyslexia or is struggling with reading then a phonics approach is very important. This child will need a very structured step-by-step phonics program. If a child is very strong in reading and maybe even gifted, then this child will probably love a whole language approach.
The idea of whole language vs. phonics is outdated. Balanced literacy is the most current successful approach and incorporates both. Balanced literacy involves five components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension and . The Reading First website is a good website for more information. I believe that this approach works because it meets each child where they are and provides multiple ways to learn to read, because each child learns in a different way. In this approach teachers use flexible grouping so that children can move in and out of groups as needed. For example, a child may be part of a small group of readers who read at the same level and a part of a different group with multiple levels, but who all need to learn a specific strategy.