After spending ten years teaching junior high and high school English classes, I believe that teaching language through phonics does not as adequately prepare students to use their language as effectively as does teaching them whole language.
My reasoning is based on two principles I observed in those classes. First, students must spend the rest of their lives using the language they have, and, second, the younger a person is the easier it is to learn the language.
I found, at least at the level at which I was teaching, the students learned best when I gave them frequent writing assignments. I tried to give them interesting topics to write about. Sometimes I read them something I had written and asked them to write something similar based on their own experience. Sometimes I would give them the first sentence and ask them to start with my sentence and write a complete story or essay. Sometimes I would give them a list of topics to choose from. Grading their written materials gave me the opportunity to correct spelling and grammar errors and to suggest ways to improve the readability and understandability of what they wrote.
Basic grammar rules were also a necessary part of my teaching in those classes. To use language effectively a person must be able to follow the rules. This enables greater understanding for the recipients of what is spoken or written, and it also increases the credibility of the speaker or writer. The only way to master grammar rules is to study them, memorize them, and use them in speaking and writing. This is hard, but necessary work.
Phonics has become the language of bloggers and text message creators. “U R” has replaced “you are,” and “C U” has replaced “see you.” This is okay for shortening the time it takes to text a message, but it fails to communicate with credibility and understandability.
The primary purpose of language is communication. To communicate to the widest audience with the greatest level of understanding and credibility requires following the rules of grammar and spelling. When I rate articles here on Helium, I consistently give lower ratings to articles that contain frequent misspellings, incomplete sentences and signs that the writer either does not know or does not care about the rules of English grammar. I must not be the only rater here who does that; most of the articles that receive higher ratings reflect the proper use of sentence structure and grammar principles.
Using phonics offers a short cut to mastering language, but, unfortunately, it too often leads to laziness in spelling and grammar. There is no short cut to mastering language. It requires skill acquired by consistent hard work both in memorizing spelling and grammar rules, and using them effectively in speaking and writing projects. The payoff, however, is greater credibility and wider understanding of the spoken and written word.