To reinforce the need for a new approach, a change in how we teach children to read, I just read an article on the Internet by Jeanne Caudill, a first grade teacher encouraging others to use whole language memorization of sight words to help at-risk students learn to read. (No, I am not blaming reading failure on teachers! There are many wonderful teachers.)
Her “research” only says that children improved on a memorized list of sight words. (She does not include scientific research data or facts.) If you read carefully from what she does present in her article, she is basically having children memorize a list of words and then testing to show that they have finally, eventually learned that list of words. Well of course, if you keep flashing the same word at children over and over and over, most children will eventually learn that word, but unless you can memorize the whole entire unabridged dictionary, simply memorizing a list of sight words will never be enough to help a child really learn to read. She’s claiming victory from a child improving a few points in memorizing a set list of words. She does not tell whether the child has actually improved in true reading ability.
In my spring research data, using scientific pre-and post-testing, following all university research protocols, two first-graders moved up four grade levels in reading—not just a few points, but entire grade levels. They were both below kindergarten level when they entered my program. By the end of the year, these two first-graders were able to read not only the designated sight words for first grade; they were also able to read designated words above and beyond anything they had been introduced to in first grade. Do my students memorize sight words? Absolutely never! All of my programs teach children phonemic and phonological awareness. The children learn to decode and encode letter sounds, so they can read not only a designated sight word list but words not included on a designated first grade sight word list.
It’s time that we stop punishing children by using the failed whole language system and all of its derivatives. It is not enough, as I pointed out in a previous post, merely to attach phonics to a whole language program. The word phonics has become distorted and can just as easily describe a disastrous program that does not work as it can a sufficient and worthwhile approach to teaching children (see my July 9, 2017 blog about phonics).
For children to learn to read, they must learn that letters represent sounds (phonemic awareness) and they must learn how to decode and encode those letter sounds (phonological awareness) (Shaywitz, 2013).
My suggestion is for parents and educators to go and read some REAL research on the ineffectiveness of whole language (Yoncheva, Wise, & McCandliss, 2015). We have teaching methods for teaching children to read; so why are we so stubborn about using them? Why do we keep using a failing system--whole language? Why do we refuse to help children learn to read?