Whole-language Teaching: Poison for the Mind..
The national reading statistics, released by the Department for Education, show that more than 80,000 seven-year-olds can read no better than a five-year-old can. Equally as shocking, the statistics show that one in ten 11-year-old boys can read no better than a seven-year-old can. Moreover, according to the 2009 P.I.S.A. reading study, England is rated 25th in the world for reading.
The solution to improving reading standards is not to have what we have now: a mix of whole-language and phonics teaching methods; instead, we should adopt a pure phonics approach to teaching reading.
On the face of it, the debate between the advocates of phonics and whole-language seems like a mere technical issue. However, this is not the case. It is, at its root, a philosophical debate.
Phonics is an objective system. The advocates of phonics understand that humans gain knowledge through a process of abstraction from the facts of reality. Using this understanding, they teach a child to identify the sounds—the facts—that make up words. From these sounds, they teach the child to abstract the knowledge required for reading.
Whole-language, on the other hand, is a subjective system. Heavily influenced by progressive education, the advocates of this method think that the primary purpose of education is to encourage children to follow their emotions, and reach any arbitrary conclusion they feel is correct, regardless of the facts of reality. With this understanding, they teach children to regard the whole word as a primary, regardless of the sounds and blends that make up the word.
By applying their abstract knowledge of letter sounds and blends, phonics helps the child to connect his already vast knowledge of spoken language—up to 24,000 words by age 6—to the black squiggles on the paper.
According to the National Right to Read Foundation, the essence of phonics can be explained “on the back of an envelope.” The spoken word consists of discreet sounds, such as the d sound in “dog,” “donkey,” or “dictator.” Phonics teaches a child to break down a spoken word into its component sounds and uses a written symbol (a letter) to represent them. This, then, gives the child the skills necessary to break down a word and sound out its components. The learned principles make reading a manageable experience, and enable the child to read almost any word with ease—repeatedly, experimental evidence has shown that, in order to be competent readers, children must learn this process.
However, it is this “mechanistic” process that the advocates of whole-language dismiss, insisting that it “risks doing long-term damage to children’s reading.” Rather, the child should focus on the words—such as “electricity” or “annoying”—as a whole and learn to pronounce the words when the teachers pronounces them. However, this leaves the child with no means of decoding the thousands of words in the English language. Instead, the child faces the impossible task of memorizing each word!
Imagine you are a child that has been taught using this whole-language method. What would you do when you encountered a new word? The advocates of whole-language would have you “guess” or “look at the pictures for a clue”—assuming there are pictures to look at—; or, they continue, “substitute a different word”—assuming you know a different word, and that the word you are substituting carries the same meaning—. One thing you would not be able to do is turn to a dictionary, because you would not know how to read.
Whole-language only appears to work because a teacher smuggles in phonics, or, a child, through a tremendous mental effort, discovers the principles of phonics. For example, a child identifies the common sounds b and d in the words “bed” and “bad”, and identifies the differences between the sounds of the letters e and a.
Whole-language is not a teaching method—that is an insult to teaching—; it is a poison, a means of crippling a child’s mind. We would not cripple a child’s body by feeding them a mixture of food and poison. We would not argue that some cyanide is needed because food was too “mechanistic.” We would avoid the poison all together. In the same light, we should insist that schools drop whole-language and adopt pure phonics.
We at A+ Academic Services employ a strong phonics-based program with some whole language thrown in to help a child that is maybe presented with a whole language approach in the classroom. Each child’s program is individualized to teach specific needs, based on the initial diagnostic assessment and a parent’s input.