The article titled “ The Great Debate Revisited ”, written by Art Levine sets out to discuss the debate on the whole-language approach versus the traditional phonics method, as which is the best approach to literacy. How schools accomplish the task on effectively teaching children to read had been an issue for several decades now. Proponents of the “meaning first” or the whole-language approach to literacy argue that children should be allowed to learn to read at their own pace and not pushed to hard too soon. In this approach, children are exposed to interesting reading and writing, and are encouraged to recite along with the teacher reading a book aloud. According to the article, whole-language approach believes that language should be learned from “whole to part”, with word-recognition skills being picked up by the child in the context of actual reading, writing, and “immersion” in a print-rich classroom .On the other hand, “phonics first” or the traditional phonics method of teaching stresses the importance of learning the alphabet code, that is the translation of abstract letters into sounds and words, before turning to actual reading. This is a traditional method of teaching children wherein they read dull and simplistic workbooks, and engages in mind-numbing drills.
Art Levine further discusses the studies conducted on whether or not the whole-language approach is more effective than the traditional phonics method in teaching children to read and understand what they have read. Although more schools and teachers favor whole-language approach, several studies showed that children under this program performed dismally in reading comprehension tests and low reading scores. Douglass Elementary School in Houston, Texas who has tried the whole-language approach for a few years scored low in their students’ reading scores, so the school returned to a phonics-based instruction. After the adoption of a phonics-based program for one school year, the school’s scores on a state reading test rose 48 points higher (Levine,1994). Despite the negative feedbacks, whole-language advocates continue to adhere to their beliefs.
Personally, I do not adhere to one particular method. Each method has advantages and limitations. Traditional phonics instruction teaches children the basics in reading, giving them a good foundation, despite the “lack of excitement” in the teaching process. Whole-language approach keeps the children’s attention and interest in the reading process. So, why should there be a great debate on this issue, after all? There maybe no need to strictly adhere to a particular approach. The traditional phonics method may be improved by incorporating elements of whole-language approach in teaching. As stated by the International Reading Association (IRA), “Phonics instruction, to be effective in promoting independence in reading, must be embedded in the context of a total reading/language arts program” (Reading Today, April/May 1997, p. 1). Thus, basic readings skills taught with large-print, colorful and interesting books, and an enthusiastic and lenient teacher makes learning easy and fun. Instructions maybe customized on each students’ learning needs, and teachers should be able to plan and create lessons that focuses on problem areas that are revealed through observation of individual students.
This article is noteworthy and significant to read because it opens our eyes to the important issues involving our children and literacy. Learning to read and write are the basic skills a child has to master in order to facilitate a good performance in school. A parent should know the methods and manner on how their kids are taught in school. The article succinctly discussed the issues involving the whole-language approach and phonics method in reading. It is a good, fair and well-researched article.
“IRA takes stand on phonics.” Reading Today Apr/May 1997. p. 1, 4.
Levine, Art. “The Great Debate Revisited.” The Atlantic Monthly Dec. 1994.