There is No One Best Way to Teach Children to Read and Write (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Basal instruction gives teachers multiple copies of reading material that they can use to guide children's comprehension and strategy development. The reading selections found in basal readers are organized by estimating their difficulty with increasingly complex selections across the elementary grades. Because basals contain a wide variety of types of literature, children are exposed to many genres, authors, topics, and cultures they might miss if all their reading was self-selected. In addition, basals outline the major goals for each year and provide an organized curricular plan for accomplishing those goals with ways of evaluating whether students are meeting those goals.

The reading of real books is the ultimate aim of reading instruction, but that aim has often taken a backseat to phonics and basal instruction. Children have been expected to "read when they finished their work" or "read at home." Of course, children who came from homes where books were available and reading was valued were much more likely to engage in real reading than were children whose homes lacked these advantages. Better readers were also more likely to complete the assigned work and have time remaining to read self-selected trade books. The reemergence of the trade-book approach reminds us that the purpose of learning to read is to read real books. Children who read real books understand why they are learning to read and what reading really is.

Writing is an approach to reading that lets children figure out reading "from the inside out." As children write, they spell words they later see and recognize in their reading. Even when they can't spell a word perfectly, they try to "sound spell" it and actually put to use whatever letter–sound knowledge they have learned. Children who write are more avid and sensitive readers. Reading is a source of writing ideas and information. Reading also provides the writer with models of various writing styles. Like reading real books, writing is an authentic activity, and children who write become more fluent in reading (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991).

In the 1960s, the U.S. government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out what the best approach to beginning reading really was. Data were collected from first- and second-grade classrooms around the country that used a variety of approaches to beginning reading. The study results were inconclusive. Every approach had some good results and some poor results. How well teachers carried out an approach seemed to be the major determinant of how well an approach worked. Some teachers used what the researchers called "combination approaches," such as language experience and basal or phonics and literature or literature and writing. The study concluded that, in general, combination approaches worked better than any single approach (Bond & Dykstra, 1967). Snow and her colleagues (1998) also concluded that children—especially children with limited preschool experiences with books, stories, and letters—need a rich variety of reading and writing experiences as well as some direct instruction in letter–sound patterns.

One major reason for providing a combination approach to literacy is the different personalities children bring to school. It is not possible to determine clearly which children will learn best with which approaches, but it is clear that when a teacher provides alternative routes to the goal of literacy, more children will find a route to take them there. Many children fail in school because their personalities and the approach taken to instruction do not match. Research, observation, and common sense tell us that no single approach will succeed in teaching all children (Pressley, 2006).

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