Few areas of education and pedagogy have been debated as exhaustively, continuously, and perhaps as rancorously as those on how to teach beginning reading. This debate is age old—perhaps more than 100 years old—and according to Stanovich reaches back to the "beginning of pedagogy"(Bower, 1992, p. 138).
The report of The National Reading Panel (NRP) finally has changed the nature of this debate. The NRP concluded that their examination of numerous studies provided solid support for the conclusion that systematic phonics instruction makes a bigger contribution to children's growth in reading than alternative programs providing unsystematic or no phonics instruction, and that the evidence indicated that systematic phonics instruction was successful with children from all SES backgrounds (2000). This definitive conclusion is aligned with similar findings by Snow, Burns, & Griffin (1998), who concluded that reading instruction that builds phonemic awareness and phonemic decoding skills, fluency in word recognition and text processing, construction of meaning, vocabulary, spelling and writing skills is generally more effective than instruction that does not include these components.
While phonics is the term directly associated with code-emphasis programs, it is often utilized as an inclusive term to describe a wide range of greatly differing reading activities and programs. Analytic phonics describes an approach wherein children derive letter-sound correspondences from words. In contrast, synthetic-phonics approaches teach letter-sound correspondences directly in isolation and require students to blend the individual sounds to form whole words.
The National Reading Panel (2000) concluded that synthetic phonics programs were especially effective for younger, at-risk readers and for disabled readers. The panel's conclusions regarding the synthetic-analytic contrast were:
For children with learning disabilities and children who are low achievers, systematic phonics instruction, combined with synthetic phonics instruction produced the greatest gains. Synthetic phonics instruction consists of teaching students to explicitly convert letters into phonemes and then blend the phonemes to form words.
Moreover, systematic synthetic phonics instruction was significantly more effective in improving the reading skills of children from low socioeconomic levels. Across all grade levels, systematic synthetic phonics instruction improved the ability of good readers to spell. (p. 5)
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