Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Phonics vs. Sight Words

Phonics vs. Sight Words

More Related Discussions
36 Replies 7122 Views

Comments (36 Replies)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price
Founder, Improve-Education.org

Marva Collins and all the other phonics experts say they can teach 99% of children to read in the first grade. So that's the gold standard.
Also, these experts maintain that memorizing word-designs creates a holistic reflex that sabotages the critical phonetic reflex; and this is why so many children have trouble reading.
Question is, when a child's eyes move toward the next word, what happens?? If the word is processed left to right as sounds, that's reading. If the eyes search back and forth over the whole shape (that's how we look at a face), trying to recall its name, that's the road to functional illiteracy.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

I work in a phonics based system, and we teach sight words when simple phonic words are being read with confidence. Our students typically begin to read well before first grade.

But there are some students who do not seem to internalize the process of blending sounds into words. They do learn to read, but they are doing it differently, and phonics doesn't seem to help them much.

Because we have great ratios and individualized currlculum, we do get more than our share of atypical learners. I have found that having more than one approach allows me to work with a wider range of learners.

Have you never had experience with a student who didn't respond to phonics instruction?

MK

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price
Founder, Improve-Education.org

I have no experience in the classroom. I've read the main 20 books and 100 articles and worked my way through what all the experts on both sides are claiming. I think now I understand it. Part of the process is deciding whom you can trust. Here is a wonderfully stark summation by someone I think you can trust, phonics guru (and school teacher) Don Potter:

"The situation across the nation is dramatically worse that anyone can possibly imagine. When I ask the teachers why they teach sight-words, they inevitably tell me because their students are going to be assessed on them. They are totally unaware that sight-words are positively harmful. They consider sight-words part of a good reading program that includes some phonics, not realizing that sight-words create a reflex that interferes with phonics instruction. Sight-words are an obstacle to reading, not an aid."

Denise Eide has a new book called "Uncovering the Logic of English." (My Amazon review is called "Memo To Teachers: Come Back To Real Reading." This book and my review touch all these issues.)

Ms. Linda's picture
Ms. Linda
Special Education Teacher from Jonesboro, Arkansas

Thank you so much for this information. I have a student with a learning disability in reading and I've tried everything I know to teach him to read. He is the only student I've had that I was not able to help. Your information was very helpful. I thank you and my student thanks you.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

His book may be an interesting read, but the false dichotomy which is promoted by the anti-whole language crowd does not support free inquiry into reading instruction. Deheane promotes the mistaken belief that whole language instruction precludes the use of phonics instruction when this has never been the case. Though some implementations of reading instruction which might have been labeled "whole language" were erroneously conducted without a phonics instructional component, the philosophy explicitly endorses phonics as one of the five important avenues of reading instruction.

Bringing up the reading wars of the 80s and 90s, and rehashing these issues as if there were any real controversy, is disingenuous and does not promote the purpose of this site. We all favor the teaching of phonics, no reading teacher who has any experience with it's use (or lack thereof) would argue differently.

In order for us to accomplish our goals of promoting new approaches which are supported by strong, well-designed research, we must be able to build coalitions across the sorts of lines which have segmented our profession. We teachers know that as great as the challenges we have in the classroom may be, they pale in comparison to the challenges of building trust where such animosity has been the rule.

We also know one thing is true. There is no one right way for everyone to learn anything. Every brain is unique, and any approach which does not take this into account will not serve us well. Arguments for one single approach to teaching a task as complex and poorly understood as reading to a population as diverse as those we serve each day require some pretty heavy duty data to back them up. Are we to accept as scholarship a treatment which demonizes a philosphy by misrepresenting it?

The truth is that at this point in the language war debate most teachers on the ground agree that the teaching of reading amounts to a whole lot more than just teaching phonics. And that, despite the fact that the phonics element is critical, it will be of little use if the child is lacking vocabulary and the life experience to appreciate a word after it has been decoded. Many people believe that the core ideas of whole language have been debunked, meanwhile most classrooms where children are learning to read still feature phonics instruction...and they feature the elements which are central to whole language as well.

Is it even possible to present phonics in total isolation from any other activity which could qualify as "reading instruction?" It would mean we never read aloud, or give them books with print they can't yet read independently, or books with a read aloud tape, or sing songs from "Electric Company" or write our names in the sand with our big toes...

mk

Ms. Linda's picture
Ms. Linda
Special Education Teacher from Jonesboro, Arkansas

Thank you so much for the information about dyslexia and phonics. I promised this student I would teach him to read. I have tried everything I know to teach this little guy and so far I have not been able to make the connection. I will read the book Reading in the Brain. I just want,so badly,for this student to read.

Lisa's picture

Ms. Linda, Learning to Read by Dehaene will help you to understand the brain mechanisms that support reading. He does support phonics instruction, however, he doesn't outline how that instruction should be implemented. I would look into the Orton-Gillingham approach if you are looking to support a struggling reader.

I took away a very different message than Mary Kate concerning Dehaene's book. Many assume reading is a "natural" process, something the brain is designed to do, however, that seems to be anything but the case. As Mary Kate points out, each brain is different. That is true both in a brain's morphology and as a result of the experiences that shape neural connections. To read fluently, the brain must be exposed to well-structured phoneme-grapheme instruction. The faster the speech-sound route is automatized, the faster meaning can then be associated. Dehaene is certainly not a proponent of whole language instruction as it has been implemented, but I think we forget the number of different processes that are required to read. Phonics and Whole Language, in my opinion, emphasize two very different "parts" of reading. Phonics has emphasized the speech-sound component while Whole Language has emphasized meaning. There are a certain number of developing readers who with either approach will likely pick up the connections provided by the other approach on their own but that hardly represents all developing readings. Different approaches emphasize different components of reading, frankly the approach a student is exposed to likely has a tremendous influence on the connections that are established in the brain.

Phonics maps our oral language to text and then enables one to build language through text. What is not discussed in Dahaene's book is the motivation necessary to support the amount of effort required to automatize the speech-sound connection. Whole language makes reading relevant and meaningful, worth the effort. Highly accomplished dyslexic readers will often attribute a passion or interest as inspiring their determination to read - essentially, the text provides access to knowledge, that knowledge satisfies curiosity and provides the necessary drive to sustain the effort required to "practice" reading. Today most people do see the importance of both approaches.

I didn't get the sense that Dehaene was demonizing whole language, rather that he was supporting phonics instruction given what we currently know about the reading process in the brain. The world views that get established around these two approaches I would agree do not facilitate productive dialog, however, those world views are the embodiment of theories that have a tendency to stick with us. It is my hope that as we come to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie the reading process we will be able to identify the learning principles essential to any approach.

Dehaene helped me to appreciate the complexity of the reading process, how it is not natural act and how we change our brains as a result of instruction. Given the importance of literacy for full participation in our society and our failure to help all citizen achieve such a level of literacy it seems we need to understand not just the behavioral outcomes associated with certain approaches but the underlying mechanisms. Dehaene introduces that dialog, though admittedly his interpretation supports phonics not whole language. If it is viewed as demonizing that is regrettable because what I see as the very essential message of his book is that we need to consider the actual mechanisms that support reading when approaching instruction because we are changing the brain with instruction.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

Lisa,

Would you be willing to post more information about your experience with this method? It sounds very similar to Montessori's approach.

mk

Lisa's picture

Mary Kate,

I am only familiar with the Montessori educational approach at the nursery level but I would imagine active engagement in discovery is embedded well-beyond, an essential ingredient to learning. Orton-gillingham is an explicit and sequential approach to reading instruction that is also multi-sensory. This form of instruction is successful with developing readers for whom pattern recognition (phoneme-grapheme connection) is particularly problematic but it also supports comprehension, etc. I personally am not trained in this methodology but work with many professionals who are and find it a valuable tool. I have included a link to a site that will probably better answer any questions you might have on this method.

I am curious about the Montessori approach to reading instruction. Where can I locate the best source of information? Would you mind sharing your experience?

http://www.orton-gillingham.com/frmMethodology.aspx

Thanks. Lisa

Lisa's picture

Students who have trouble with phonics might be dyslexic. Currently the estimates range from 5 to 17% of children in the US have dyslexia. Dyslexia makes it very difficult for a developing reader to map phonemes to graphemes. The Orton-Gillingham methodology is very successful at supporting reading skill development in dyslexic readers.

I encourage you to add this title to your reading list, Reading in the Brain, by Stanislas Dehaene. What we are learning about how the brain actually "reads" should put an end to the pedagogical debates.

Discussion List of top 50 nursery rhymes.

Last comment 1 day 18 hours ago in Back to School

blog 3C's to Supporting Student Success

Last comment 4 days 5 hours ago in Social and Emotional Learning

Discussion Outdoor Learning Environments

Last comment 1 day 6 hours ago

Discussion Project-Based Learning in the Early Years

Last comment 5 days 3 hours ago in Project-Based Learning

blog The Myth of Having Summers Off

Last comment 11 hours 36 min ago in Teacher Leadership

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.