All In How Educators Can Advocate For English Language Learners Different Approaches To Teaching Reading

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Different Approaches To Teaching Reading

Determining the most effective way to teach young children to read has been a hotly debated topic for decades. The two most popular methods have been the “phonics” approach and the “whole language” approach. These two methodologies approach teaching reading in very different ways, which has led their proponents to attack each other’s approaches as misguided or even harmful to a child’s learning.

But what are the characteristics of each approach and how do they aim to improve the reading skills of young learners? Also, is it really possible to argue that one is better than the other? It is an attempt to find answers to these questions.

Teaching based on phonics

The phonics approach tries to create associations in the child’s mind between the “graphemes” (written characters) and the “phonemes” (sounds) of the language. By using repetitive exercises to build this connection between text and sound, teachers aim to build familiarity and comfort with the basic building blocks of written texts. Once children have mastered this skill, teachers encourage them to combine individual written elements to form whole words; this is known as the ‘synthetic approach’. Thus, synthetic phonics is described as a bottom-up approach that builds towards comprehension through a journey from the smallest elements of written texts.

Proponents of synthetic phonics argue that focusing on a child’s ability to “decode” written texts is essential to creating a foundation for building understanding of meaning. On the other hand, its detractors decry the rigidity and repetition of phonics, arguing that children are often bored and disconnected from slavish attention to rules and individual sound-text associations. The discipline required of this approach gives it a traditional, back-to-basics quality that has had recurring appeal for educators for generations.

Complete language training

The whole language approach focuses on comprehension from the beginning, with children given continuous texts to read to build vocabulary and understanding of meaning. These texts will be short, with frequent repetition of words to help develop familiarity with certain key terms and concepts. The teacher will read with the children at first, but will gradually talk less to encourage more independence for the younger students. Whole language teaching has been defined as a top-down approach that focuses less on the rules and nuances of language, relying on children’s ability to make associations between words and draw inferences from text.

Proponents of full-language instruction praise its student-led approach, arguing that it is both more engaging and more meaningful for young learners. Critics argue that this approach places strain on teachers and lacks the structure and clear goals of a phonics method.

A balanced approach?

Because the distinctions between proponents of the two approaches sometimes seem difficult, some have argued that a blend of the two methods is most appropriate, allowing teachers to combine the best of both worlds. This may be true, although it could be argued that the divided focus on bottom-up and top-down approaches can be confusing for young children. Whatever the solution, it is generally accepted that different children have different preferences when it comes to learning to read, so teachers are advised to observe which methods children respond best to and adapt their teaching accordingly.

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