There has been much argument about the proper ways to conduct reading instruction. As a professional educator, it has been my experience that focusing only one type of instruction leads to unwanted gaps in students reading education. Whole language and phonics based instruction both have something worthwhile to offer all students. Whole language basically focuses on the idea to become a proficient reader one should develop an enormous sight based vocabulary. On the other hand, phonics based instruction focuses on word attack strategies by breaking words into individual sounds and blending those sounds together to form word. Depending on the student’s learning style, either of these methods may prove to be effective or ineffective. In that lies the argument. Which program should States and school district adopt?
In 2000, the National Reading Panel addressed the issue of whole language vs. phonics based reading instruction. After much time was spent debating the issue, member of the panel agreed the correct way to teach reading would be comprehensive literacy instruction method that encompassed the following areas of instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. This topic was also addressed by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. In all, focus was taken away from textbook sales and which company had the best plan and energy was transferred to what plan works best for all students.
Beginning at the most basis level of children developing phonemic awareness, emphasis was immediately placed on the fact that children all have basic reading skills that need to be acquired to become fluent readers. Development of the basic knowledge that letters have sounds and sounds blended together form words is the most basic foundation of literacy development. From there, one begins the journey toward building vocabulary and word attack strategies by learning phonics and developing sight word vocabulary. Fluency is determined by one’s rate and accuracy in reading. Comprehension is a term used to define the reader understands what was just read and is being able to apply same to real life situations. However, when any of the previously mentioned areas of instruction are left unattended, comprehension suffers. Here are a few simple things to remember:
1. Learning sight vocabulary and phonics without vocabulary instruction will create excellent word callers unable to understand what they have read.
2. Fluency is increased by improving word attack skills and vocabulary skills. A student that struggles with ability to properly pronounce words or define words is not going to develop fluency as quickly as the student who is trained to know these things.
3. Fluency is also affected by background experience. Background experience consists of all knowledge one possesses of a topic or a culmination of all previous life experiences. Limited exposure to the world also limits one’s ability to associate reading with some form of reference that will enable assimilation of the new knowledge. Background experience in simplest terms is like to one’s internal filing system. Without it, there is no logical place to store or apply the new knowledge.
Ultimately, the goal of literacy instruction is to produce proficient readers. By developing each of the skills listed above, teachers can be assured they have covered every possible angle and should see very positive results.