The Right Way to Teach Reading

The “right” way to teach young children to read has been up for debate this week, following NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli’s announcement that universities will be required to teach phonics to preservice teachers. (See this article via The Daily Telegraph for the story).

I did my B.Ed in the mid nineties – and must admit that I learnt very little about phonics in my degree. (Although out on prac, I encountered a range of phonics programs adopted by schools.) I did however learn a great deal about whole language in my undergrad subjects, and about the constructivist approach to reading instruction which has greatly impacted my teaching. 

teaching teachers

In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a phonics vs whole language war, because it isn’t necessarily either / or. And the truth is, when it comes down to classroom teachers – there ISN’T a war. We are all saying the same thing: our students need both.

Phonics are important. The ability to make sounds from symbols enables the reader to attempt unfamiliar words. But an understanding of whole language is important too because reading is about more than just sounds – it’s about making meaning. If you read but don’t understand, what’s the point? 

I threw this topic out to my colleagues and readers (without giving my opinion), and unsurprisingly their comments confirmed my suspicions. Good teachers know that phonics are important. They also know that not all words can be sounded out, and that meaning can lie beyond graphemes. Here are some of their thoughts:

readers thoughts phonics

So here is my summary:

Dear Universities. Please incorporate phonics into undergrad teacher education, but don’t ditch the great stuff you are already doing.

Dear Teachers. Please keep being amazing, and continue adapting your methods to suit the needs of your learners. 

Dear Goverment. Please be careful what you mandate. Rarely, if ever, is a single methodology better than a multifaceted approach, and we could lose more than we gain.

Dear Parents. Please don’t get drawn into the media-fuelled, government fed  debate. Just keep reading aloud daily to your kids. It has more impact than you can possibly imagine. 

Any further thoughts you would like to add…?