The end of the reading wars? More American schools are embracing phonetics

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Move over “Dick and Jane”. A different approach to teaching children how to read is on the rise.

For decades, two schools of thought have clashed over the best way to teach children to read, with fervent proponents on each side of the so-called reading wars. The battle has reached homes through commercials for Hooked on Phonics and through shoebox dioramas assigned by educators seeking to inculcate a love of literature.

Recently, however, the momentum has shifted in favor of the Science of Reading. The term refers to decades of research in areas including brain science that suggest effective strategies for teaching children to read.

The science of reading is especially important for struggling readers, but curricula and programs that train teachers have been slow to adopt it. This approach began to emerge before schools went online in the spring of 2020. But the pressure to teach all students in this way has intensified as schools look for ways to restore Land was lost during the epidemic — and as parents of children who can’t read, demanding quick change.

Well, class. It’s time for a history lesson.

One historical approach to teaching reading was known as the “whole language”. (Cousins ​​to this approach are Whole Word and See Say.) He has focused on learning whole words, with an emphasis on meaning. A famous example was the “Dick and Jane” series, which, like many modern-day books for early readers, repeated words repeatedly so that students could memorize them.

Another approach involved phonics, with proponents arguing that students need detailed instruction on the building blocks of reading. This means a lot of time on letter sounds and how they combine into words.

In 2000, the government’s National Reading Commission released the results of its comprehensive examination of the research. She declared that teaching phonics is crucial to teaching young readers, along with many related concepts.

The entire language is lost.

But what emerged was an informal truce known as “balanced literacy” and borrowed from both approaches. The goal: to get children involved in books they find interesting as quickly as possible.

Acoustic elements often don’t get much attention in practice, said Michael Kamel, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University.

“It wasn’t a real concession,” said Kamel, who had sat on the National Reading Committee. This approach often resulted in the students learning how to guess the words, rather than how to pronounce them.

Now, as schools look to address Low reading scoresphonics and other elements of literacy are getting new attention, fueled in part by a series of stories and Podcast by APM Reports. Textbook makers are adding more phonics, and schools have abandoned some popular programs that lack this approach.

What is the science of reading?

While the phrase does not have a universal definition, it broadly refers to research in a variety of areas that relate to how a child’s brain learns to read. For example, neuroscientists have used MRI to study the brains of struggling readers.

In practice, this science calls for schools to focus on the building blocks of words. Kindergarten children might play rhyming games and clap individual syllables in a word to learn how to manipulate sounds. Experts call this phonemic awareness.

Students will later explicitly learn how to make and blend letter sounds. To ensure that students don’t just guess the words, teachers may ask them to pronounce so-called nonsensical words, such as “nantes” or “zim.”

Gone is the memorization of spelling words. Instead, students learn the elements that make up a word. In a lesson using the word “unhappy,” students will learn how the prefix “un-” changed the meaning of the keyword.

why does it matter?

For some children, reading happens almost magically. Bedtime stories and maybe a little bit of “Sesame Street” would suffice.

Timothy Shanahan, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that 30% to 40% of children will need clearer instructions that are part of the science of reading.

Other children fall somewhere in between. “They’ll learn to read,” said Shanahan, a 2000 panellist and former director of reading for the Chicago Public Schools. “They won’t read as well as they should or should.”

Complicating the situation is that colleges of education are often stuck with balanced literacy despite concerns about its effectiveness. This means that teachers graduate with little background in research-supported instructional methods.

The result: Parents often pick up the slackThey pay teachers or manuals when their kids are struggling, Shanahan said. Additional assistance can be costly, which contributes to racial and income differences.

As a result, a growing number of NAACP chapters are pushing for wider adoption of the science of reading, touting literacy as a civil rights issue.

What is the role of dyslexia in the reading discussion?

Motivating parents of dyslexic children to use the science of reading. For them, the issue has a special urgency. Dyslexic children can learn to read, but they need systematic instruction. When the wrong approach is used, they often get stuck.

“I can’t even tell you how many screaming fits we had,” recalls Sheila Salmond, whose youngest child is dyslexic. “My daughter would come home and say, ‘Mom, I’m not learning.’ And then it became, ‘Mom, I’m stupid.'”

Salmond found herself testifying before Missouri state legislators, taking a grad class so she could teach her daughter and eventually move her from suburban Kansas City to a parochial school. She is now making progress.

What will change?

Just a decade ago, it was rare for a state to have laws denoting dyslexia or the science of reading.

Now every state has passed some form of legislation. Laws define differently what dyslexia is, Mary Weinersten, of the International Dyslexia Association, said, require that students be screened for reading problems and mandate that teachers be trained on the most effective strategies.

States often look to replicate what happened in Mississippi, which attributed reading gains to a curriculum revamp that began a decade ago. The multi-million dollar effort includes training teachers in the science of reading.

The changes have put some curricular programs in the crosshairs.

For example, some Colorado counties have given up educational materials that don’t work under state law that requires schools to use science-based reading programs. New York City, whose president often talks about his personal struggle with dyslexia, is making changes in its schools, too.

What does reading science mean to parents?

Should they seek the principles of reading science? Do they need to help their kids form letters out of Play-Doh? How about digging their children on nonsense words? Flashcards?

Only if they want to, said Amelia Mallon, director of research and innovation at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

What parents should do, she said, is read to their children. Otherwise, she recommends helping teachers when they ask for it and lobbying for evidence-based practices in their children’s schools.

“Parents can be part of the solution,” she said, “if we educate them about why this is the kind of movement we need.”


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