Skip to comments.Phonics vs. Whole Word: a Report from the Front Lines
Posted on 05/10/2010 1:30:02 PM PDT by BruceDeitrickPrice
A teacher in New Jersey sent me a letter which will tell you, in a few minutes, more than you can stand to know about the idiocy loose in the public schools:-----
I am an ESL teacher for 29 years. This school year, I was asked by my principal to push in to the classrooms where my students were, instead of pulling them out for regular ESL classes. Although I wasn't very happy about doing this, I learned a lot from this experience...
They are teaching reading using the whole language approach. This method was introduced into my school system about eight years ago and I've never liked it. I have a student this year who came from Pakistan and couldn't read in her own language. I watched as her classroom teacher was trying to teach her to memorize words and I was appalled at what I saw. This student doesn't speak a word of English and you could see that her self-esteem had diminished in the regular classroom. That is when I began researching on the internet...
I've been working with this student for about one and half months now, using Rudolf Flesch's method. My student can read now. She's not 100% there yet, but she's close. She is 13 years old and I have been sneaking her out of her class to do this. I spend about 2 hours a day with her doing this great phonics program. Her mother came to see me last week and she kept hugging me (she can't speak English either).
Anyway, I just want to say thanks for helping me out. This is really the first time I've ever taught anyone to read. Now, her other teachers want to know how I did this so fast, but if I tell them I could get written up for insubordination. You know phonics is not currently politically correct in the public schools today. It's a shame, but I'm trying to change the system. I have contacted numerous parents and I'm trying to get them to go up to the Board of Education and DEMAND change...---
There you have it: insubordination for teaching a kid to read. The good news is this teachers spirit. People like her can save the country. She found my site (Improve-Education.org), read some articles and contacted me. I told her about Flesch. She ordered two of his books. I told her about Don Potter (donpotter.net) and she asked him for advice. Now shes a crusader.
PS: I just put a review on Amazon of Samuel Blumenfelds wonderful book of essays, Victims of Dick and Jane. This book contains a comment that sums up everything:
Weve known now since 1955 that whole-word methodology is the problem. Flesch naively assumed back then that after the educators read his book they would recognize the error of their ways and return to the sane phonetic method of teaching. What he didnt understand, however, was the political agenda behind what those progressive professors were doing. Their goal was to use education as a means for changing America from an individualist, capitalist, religious society into a socialist, collectivist, humanist society.
[For more on topic, follow link to 37: Whole Word versus Phonics" on Improve-Education.org.]
Next, the phonics vs. whole word really only matters for beginners learning to say words. Phonics won't help you learning that a bat, cat and rat are different and what they mean, even though you can pronounce them.
I read Flesch a few years ago. He’s amazing. So many students have been harmed by whole word.
Dyslexics of the world, UNTIE!
My husband and I saw some English practice books for sixth-graders, used in the 50s, in an antique store yesterday. After thumbing through them, I came to the conclusion that if we went back to that old style of teaching, our kids would be better off.
I remember struggling with my son, trying to get him to do the tons of homework the teachers piled up on him every night. The current philosophy seems to be to pile facts upon facts on kids, but teach them no context within which to place the facts. If only context, not quantity of facts, were stressed.
Victims of Dick and Jane? People stopped learning how to read when schools turned away from that method. When my kids were learning to read I went out of my way to go looking for Dick and Jane-style books to work with them. If I see them in a yard sale I still pick them up for Grandchildren.
My brother was a victim of some bizarre reading experiment in the 1970’s where they replaced the letters of the alphabet with a bunch of symbols. Those symbols made it easy to pronounce and read any word in their book and it made him a brilliant reader. Of course in the real world they didn’t use symbols and it took him many years of struggling to learn to read properly.
See Spot run. Run Spot run. See Spot get relpaced. See Dick turn into a semi-literate government dependent.
Let’s teach Leftists ‘whole word’ and Conservatives ‘phonics.’
did you hear about the dyslexic who walked into a bra?
My brother was a victim of some bizarre reading experiment in the 1970s where they replaced the letters of the alphabet with a bunch of symbols.
I know someone who was subjected to that same “method”. She’s a brilliant woman and she eventually learned to read very well, but she can’t spell to this day because of that.
I know they would -- I learned via that method. But have you ever considered that the refusal by "professional educators" to teach phonics is an element of the "dumbing America down" Project?
A well-read, informed America would no doubt complicate efforts to impose Marxism on us.
I learned phonics in a little Calvert System American School in Istanbul in the 50s. When I was put into public school in the US after we came home I was reading “adult” level books in the 5th grade while the other kids were all struggling with their hieroglyphics. With all the historical advances in writing, cuneiform and glyphs from Sumer and Egypt to sound-representative alphabets we are trying to teach our kids hieroglyphics again. That’s progress to Lefties.
A loaded question.
I’m hooked on phonics, and phonics is hooked on me.
The rationalization for teaching written English as hieroglyphics as presented to me many years ago is that scientists studied the way adults read and found that adults rarely “sound out” words, they “sight-read.” The obvious conclusion is that phonics is a waste of time and it would be much more efficient to teach children to read the way that adults read. They think they proved their theory when it was demonstrated that the average 1st grader who learned the hieroglyphic method could recognize more words by mid year than the student who was learning phonics. Results for subsequent years are deemed unnecessary. When it is pointed out that high schoolers no longer read very well on average the demon is always “underfunding.”
We taught our kids out of the old McGuffey’s readers and they were reading on officially a third grade level or higher when they started school. When we were chastised by the first one’s first teacher for making her job difficult we ended the public school thing altogether. Dick and Jane and Alice and Jerry were early fruits of the scientific determination that literacy in the masses is detrimental to social progress.
Another reason for the separation of school and state.
Look carefully at Dick and Jane. You will see that they were the very first books used to teach children whole words. Do you remember how repetitive they are? "Look!" says Jane. "Look!" says Dick. THAT is the point. By the end of the book the kids pick up one or two of the heavily repeated words, without really learning that L always sounds like the beginning of "look". Some kids will catch that, but many don't.
I never knew what it was called - but I guess it was phonics. When I was 18 I went to a Norwegian language camp in Norway. They started us off in the mornings just reciting sentences in Norwegian. They did not explain to us what the words meant. (Some of the teachers gave us “hints”.)
The afternoon was spent learning the alphabet. After a few days of learning the alphabet they told us to write down the sentences that we had been speaking (and memorized). We all thought - WHAT!? They returned our papers with the parts wrong underlined in red - and fix it and return it. After a few times we got it right. It was pretty amazing to see how well we did with such a seemingly impossible task.
Later on we were told what the words actually meant, and then learned new words to expand our vocabulary.
After the language camp I was hiking in the mountains of Norway and was ordering some stuff from a mountain hut. All in Norwegian. I got stumped though when the gal asked me what brand of candy bar I wanted. I told her, in Norwegian, that I didn’t know what the brands were - and did she know English. (She was a 16-year old kid and of course knew english). She looked at me and said “You’re Norwegian and speak better english?” I said, “No - I’m an American and speak a little Norwegian!” (My Minnesota accent helped with the dialect too I think!)
It’s true that phonics won’t help kids distinguish between a rat and a cat, but this student is an ESL student as well as a student learning to read English. Usually, I teach my students to speak English before teaching them to read. This past school year was different though because of circumstances beyond my control. I was forced to “push in” to regular classrooms this year, and I witnessed absolute abuse of this student (and others) by her whole language teacher. That is the reason why I taught her to read phonetically. As an ESL teacher though, I make sure she can first read the words, then I show her the meanings through the use of pictures, and then I have her use them in written sentences. So it’s actually become a reading/ESL lesson.
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