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Phonics Flawed Mary DeFalco

Posted By: Anthony DeFalco on August 22, 2020
The article appears to me that it is addressing a problem Common Core injected into the teaching of reading eleven years ago: mandating a phonetic approach to reading. Phonics is more important for spelling than it is for reading. Therefore, the emphasis placed on phonics is flawed.

The so called “Reading War” is long over but a new one started with the imposition of the Common Core Standards limiting the thinking skills to be taught; ignoring the interactive approach; and imposing direct teaching, a skill-based approach. The teaching of reading went into a tail spin.

The great educator from New Zealand, Marie Clay put an end to the past “reading war." Her approach was embedded in the Constructivist philosophy. Reading/ constructing meaning is a three-prong cueing system: graphophonics, semantics (background knowledge: experiences, conceptual understandings), and syntax (understanding of the grammatical relationships within a sentence patterns.)
Reading is more than just blending -sounding out words; it is a process that allows one to gain knowledge, comprehend, analyze, synthesis, apply knowledge, and visualize /imagine. It is a THINKING process, drawing on background information to construct new meaning. It involves and interaction between what we already know and the author’s ideas. Phonics only give an approximate pronunciation. It can be taught systematically and explicitly without a commercial program.

Not phonics but phonemic awareness is a better predictor of success. “The child’s level of phonemic awareness on entering school may be the single most powerful determinant of the success he, she will experience in learning to read.” Richgels, Poremba, McGee Rdg. Teacher 5/1996

Phonics has many short comings:
-Phonics only helps if the words are already in one’s hearing vocabulary.

-Every rule is broken at some time; e.g., I no sooner tell the children, “When there is only one vowel in the word and between two consonants the vowel is usually short.” The next word invariably will be kind, find, mind, wild, or mild.
-Phonics is a skill; readers occasionally use skills but constantly need to use strategies. For the emergent reader only the initial letter sound is needed.
-With so many varied speech patterns around the county, how can phonics be the primary approach to reading? There is a single spelling across dialects that pronounce words very differently. My son once stopped a Boston police officer for directions. He asked the officer to repeat it five times and finally gave up. My son couldn’t figure out what the officer was saying.
-And when the rules being taught do not match the learner's own dialect, it is that much more confusing and that much harder to learn. Yet another barrier for far too many children!

How about the children with an auditory discrimination problem? They can not learn via phonics. Extra help in phonic lessons is a waste of time. There is no carry over. My grandchildren reinforced the fact that there was no carry over from what they learned in the structured phonetic approach to their reading.

PS No child should struggle and please refer to a child who comes to school, "behind before s/he begins” as an “ At Risk” student. Students learning at a slower pace should be referred to as “At Risk” students. If a student is struggling, s/he is trying or being forced to learn on a level too difficult. Teachers must begin instruction on the child’s reading level. Marie Clay developed a non threatening evaluation program called An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement which evaluates a student's needs and progress. An assessment tool such as Running Record, an IRI, Benchmark Books or Marie Clay’s Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement will give the instructional level.

I was once assigned a student to “watch.” The bi-lingual psychologist believed that the student might be mentally impaired. For five weeks the non-English speaking- second grade-age-level-student sat in my reading class. One day he responded to a question with only one word but that word told me he understood. From there on we went sailing. That student ended up the year reading at the beginning of the third grade level.
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 Phonics Flawed Mary DeFalco by Anthony DeFalco on August 22, 2020
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