On the importance of teaching our students phonics
How many of our children learn vocabulary words one week well enough to get a perfect score and then the next week don’t remember any of them? Schools and doctors have been labelling children with ADD/ADHD, or a learning disorder, or with whatever other “disorder” seems to fit instead of focusing on the fact that our current method of reading instruction is at fault, not our children. It could be that most of these children do not have a disorder. They simply have not been taught how to learn.
Education has been an important political issue within the past several years. Why? Because our students are failing. Many of them aren’t learning what they need in order to be well-prepared for successful careers and productive adulthoods. They don’t understand how our government works or know much of our history. Many schools have instituted SOL (Standards of Learning) and other tests to be sure our children learn what we feel they need to know. Most of the school year focuses on the material needed to pass these tests.
The problem with this focus is that it does not correct the main issue. Our children aren’t learning well because they can not read well. They can not read well because our method of reading instruction was changed from phonics to whole language over a decade ago. Whole language instruction does not teach them the technique of figuring out words through sounds and roots.
"Some of the most advanced scientific research suggests that ADD/ADHD and dyslexia do not cause poor academic performance but may in fact be the result of bad reading instruction."
The article by C. Bradley Thompson, printed in “Insight in the News” in March 2004, says that we are, in fact, causing harm to our children and holding them back by not teaching them phonics. From what I learned in cognition as a psychology major, it makes a lot of sense. How we learn actually shapes the neural pathways in our brains, and when children don't learn the structure of language, they have a hard time using language. The improper shaping also makes it harder for them to learn other subjects because they haven't learned how to learn!
There are many articles about the importance of phonics, but relating this to ADD/ADHD answers many of our questions. We have all wondered why there has been such an increase of it in recent years, to include so many children on medication to help them learn. The medicines are trying to correct a problem that may be caused by inefficient learning.
With whole language instruction, our children are expected to memorize words they should know, without knowing how the words are constructed or being given the tools to figure out words on their own. They don’t know how to pronounce words they haven’t learned, and without knowing what a word says, can not figure out what it means. So they get frustrated and start blocking it out and finding other things to do with their brains (fidgeting, daydreaming) instead of letting themselves be constantly irritated by trying to learn something that feels like an unending uphill struggle.
It is an unending struggle. Our children can not possibly memorize every single word that is used in the English language. When they run across a word they haven’t been taught, they have to skip over it, losing part of the sentence meaning.
This is a crime to our children. We're holding them back with whole language. Our national report card shows that ever since whole language came out, reading skills have continued to drop. Only one-third of our students are proficient readers! That is unbelievable.
There are phonics books and programs available. Individual instruction schools are on the rise in order to help solve this problem for those who can afford them. What we need, though, is to have the phonics instruction available in our schools so every child receives the training required to be successful readers and learners.
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**Article source: Thompson, C. Bradley. Is phonics rich instruction ... needed in U.S. classrooms? "Insight on the News" Mar 29, 2004, p.46. Retrieved November 15, 2004, from Extended Academic ASAP database.
National Report Card: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/reading/