Monday, December 01, 2003

The Scientific Method in Education?

As a child in elementary school, I learned reading through the magic (to me) of phonics. This secret code to written language gave me the tools I needed to master any piece of text I came across. I taught my son to read the same way, and at the age the five he could tackle at the least the sound of the words in any writing he encountered, if not always the sense of those words.

Today's children don't often have that same pleasure. Sometime in the past twenty-five years, the principle of "whole-word" reading gained ascendancy and reading success scores have steadily eroded ever since. This teaching method requires the learned to grasp the meaning of words strictly from context and to memorize their spelling and meaning for future use. How does such a reader ever decipher or look up an unfamiliar word? Furthermore, how do such readers make sense of a statement like "f u cn rd ths, u cn gt a jb in crt rprtng"?

In this article on The Empire Page, author Onkar Ghate identifies the logical flaw in the thinking of the proponents of whole-word reading and argues that reading scores will never improve until educators abandon the approach completely.

I agree.

1 comment:

Nora Miller said...

I try to practice self-editing, and here's a case in point. I happened to be rereading my old posts on the blog for another reason, and came across this post about the controversy over teaching reading via phonics vs whole language. I went looking for the referenced article, which is, alas, gone from the original site, but I found a related article after a bit more google work. Something the author said got me to wondering, so I did some more google work to answer the simple question--do we in fact prefer phonics OR whole language? Hm??

Turns out, surprise, it's NOT THAT SIMPLE. I found an interesting article ( that provides a lot of background and ties whole language to constructivist theory. I still like phonics and find whole language somewhat problematic, but I see that there's more to this story than the simple either-or that the original post suggested. Sorry to mislead you...