Teaching a student to read is hard work. Learning to read as a student is hard work. If someone is telling you that they can teach any child to read in 10 easy lessons, you want to be very cautious of such claims. I have been teaching at-risk students to read for over 17 years. It takes more than 10 easy lessons. Yes, we can teach at-risk students to read. If we use the correct teaching methods, I believe all students can learn to read. Research has also proven that the teaching methods that we are using in the classroom are the main cause of reading failure—not teachers, but the teaching methods (Foorman et al., 2015).
Will the new school year bring change? There is always change. The problem with change is that the changes implemented in the schools are often incorrect or ineffective changes. Therefore, reading failure continues, children and teens continue to struggle and suffer, and real constructive change never reaches the school classroom.
For example, we are seeing “phonics” mentioned more often. Many schools are claiming that they are using phonics. There are approximately 6 different types of phonics being used; so, the questions that you want to ask are: What kind of phonics instruction are you using? Do you teach decoding and encoding with your phonics instruction? Is there any research to show that the type of phonics that you are teaching helps improve reading scores? Or, are you using “balanced literacy?”
“Balanced literacy” is actually the disproven whole language approach with some phonics tacked on (Moates, 2000). Balanced literacy has been proven ineffective; it doesn’t work (Foorman et al., 2003). Yet, many schools claim to be using “balanced literacy.” It sounds nice; but, unfortunately, it is ineffective
Phonics is defined as knowing letter-sound relationships. Knowing and understanding letter sounds is essential for effective reading. The problem is the way you teach these letter sound relationships. There are many phonics methods being advertised [see my previous blog on the confusion on phonics’ teaching methods 7-9-17]:
- Embedded phonics instruction tacks phonics onto whole language teaching methods and has been proven through research to be ineffective (National Reading Panel, 2000).
- Analogy phonics uses rimes and looks for similarities but looks at similarities in whole words. Memorization is required. Research shows that this is not an effective method (National Reading Panel, 2000).
- Analytical phonics, sometimes called implicit phonics, emphasizes common sounds, often uses the first letter in a word (dog, dad, day, do), relies on rules, and is attached frequently to whole language teaching techniques. Again, it doesn’t work (Hempenstall, 2016; Johnson & Watson, 2004).
- Systematic phonics has demonstrated that it can be helpful, but research has also shown that it is not enough. Again, it depends on how you teach systematic phonics. Systematic phonics can still leave at-risk students confused. They need more. To be effective, systematic phonics must teach handwriting and letter formation. It must also teach both decoding and encoding skills (Hempenstall, 2016; click on the .pdf link).
Whole language works against the brain’s natural mental processes. Whole language focuses on the whole word and has been proven over and over not to work.
Simply saying that your school includes phonics instruction is also not the complete answer to reading failure. It depends on how the school teaches phonics.
Schools must do more. Schools must also recognize that phonics does not work for all at-risk, struggling students. Phonics focuses on letters. The brain focuses on sound relationships (Kilpatrick, 2016). See the upcoming next post of this blog for a better understanding of why simply tacking on phonics will not help teach children to read.