Some people know that the whole language approach to teaching reading doesn’t work, and think that we should just return to old-style phonics. After all, “That’s the way I learned.” Unfortunately, the National Reading Panel stated that old-style phonics was also not the best approach because it relied too heavily on children memorizing rules and the exceptions to those rules. For example, if you teach the rule that when two vowels are side-by-side in a word the word uses the long vowel sound of the first vowel, then you must teach the exceptions as well. While the rule may work in some cases, the exceptions are too many to count: head, heart, earth, wear, air, break, sieve, breakfast, eight, sleigh, and the list could go on and on. The National Reading Panel said that for children to learn to read, they need to learn how to take words apart by letter sound and then put the letter sounds back together and pronounce the word, not memorize rules and exceptions to those rules. Children need phonemic awareness. This is the idea behind vowel clustering, which is the method that I use in my reading clinics.
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine is a program designer with many years of experience helping at-risk children learn to read. She earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counseling) from the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.