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Re: Phonics Flawed Mary DeFalco

Posted By: John Donohue on August 23, 2020
The reading war is not “long over.” It was put into a tense stalemate thirty years ago. This worked in favor of Whole Language, since schools of education were not directed to teach teachers how to impart Phonics First systematically through to masterful decoding. The entire controversy was smothered under a blanket of “Each child learns in a different way.” This gave schools of education permission to not teach teachers how to teach Phonics First, and dismissed that it was required absolutely. If Common Core addressed the lack of phonics, it was only a small nudge, effectively, and while it might have resulted in your claim “the teaching of [Whole Language] reading went into a tail spin,” Systematic Phonics First has not won the war.

And yes, you post the usual meme decoding is not “reading.” I have responded to this a thousand times to wit: no one claims “Reading” is ONLY phonetic decoding. So, for a change, this time, I will stipulate this to be true per your extended paragraph about Constructivism. To paraphrase: “Reading” (with a capital “R”) includes all the elements a Constructivist champions. However, under this stipulation, you cannot show that decoding is unnecessary in the mix. No human can Read without this skill. All the rich, brilliant elements of Constructivism are useless if the child has been deprived of the simple, small, powerful tool at the root: decoding.

Question: My side also champions the Rich Elements of Reading that you list, to the max. All we fight for is to not deprive the child the joy of attaining this one skill, which if imparted correctly and at the correct sensitive moment, is easy, fun, and quickly attained, setting the mind up for a lifetime of rich literacy and independence. Why do you fight so hard to destroy this?

“Phonics only helps if the words are already in one’s hearing vocabulary.” Wrong: if he can decode, he can sound it out and look it up. He is dead in the water (or completely dependent on another person) if he can’t decode.

“Looking up a word” requires the ability to decode. If you show me a child who can look up any word (unknown verbally) and “have it for life,” yet claim ‘he did not receive systematic phonics instruction,’ my answer is: “he is using the dictionary, he can decode. He learned it at some point. Perhaps his grandfather taught him. Or he figured it out on his own.” Ask yourself: under LookAndSay or “First LetterOnly” or any other NonPhonics Constructivist strategy, how will a child gain precise meaning of a word not in his hearing vocabulary and its surrounding text if he is unable to decode?

“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.”

It is true that imparting the decoding skill will be difficult if the child lacks syllabic discrimination and phonemic awareness. The failure is not due to the principle of Phonics First, but of incorrect imparting. The sequence, if upside-down, will fail. The sensitive period to learn decoding of the written word comes after these auditory phases are well established. There is no more brilliant pedagogue for this than Maria Montessori. She knows how to judge the stage of the child, get the sequence right, and persist in syllabic discrimination and phonemic awareness first and fully – even in remedial fashion – after which the simple skill of decoding the written text falls open like a petal of a flower in the rain.
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 Phonics Flawed Mary DeFalco by Anthony DeFalco on August 22, 2020
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