“Neither whole language nor phonics alone are the panacea.However, a combination of both along with listening and speaking language makes for a well balanced learner.” – This sit-on-the fence motherhood statement needs some serious qualification.
The reality is that Phonics and Whole language are competitive in infant grades. Whole language with it’s quick guessing, picture driven approach wins with many children because they are young and impulsive and attracted to anything colourful & above all quick.
Phonics is a lot of fun too. It’s not even that it’s difficult to teach – it’s not. The difficulty that comes in a ‘balanced’ classroom is from the competitive whole language directives. The children are receiving conflicting and confusing messages.
There needs to be a PHONICS FIRST approach because there is a natural hierarchy of skills. This is being ignored by teacher trainers with an ideology that totally messes everything up and has done for over 2 decades. It has to stop. Until it does we will continue to see high functional illiteracy no matter how much money is thrown at this unnecessary and highly critical problem.
Bill Gates, in supporting Common Core, is not only wasting his money, he is paying to consolidate the heart of the problem.
Whole language is developmentally and cognitively inappropriate in INFANT grades. Once phonics has set the foundation skills in place whole language strategies start to come into their own.
The interesting outcome is that the WL strategies end up playing a different and more powerful role. They are not for aiding ‘word identification’ (read on & see if you can ‘guess’) – they are more about the ‘meaning making’ that WL proponents go on about.
Using phonic skills the unfamiliar word can be ‘articulated’ but the meaning may not be clear – context is used to suggest the ‘meaning’ (vocab). The other advantage is that, with accurate word identification skills in place context assists ‘fluency’ and the more you read the greater the fluency and comprehension becomes.
In contrast, a context DEPENDENT inaccurate whole word guesser gains little in the way of either vocab or fluency. WL became it’s own worst enemy when incompetent proponents like the Goodmans (US), Frank Smiths (UK) and Cambournes (Australia) pushed it into infant grades.
Whole Language die-hards need to get off their arrogant high horses and ackowlege that phonics taught first in infant grades actually supports WL strategies at a later stage.
You have to acknowledge the hierarchy and stop abusing it.