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Teachers Don't Ignore Phonics

July 22, 1991



As an elementary-school reading teacher working toward a graduate degree in reading, I was taken aback by the article "The Connection Between Failed Lives and Reading Failure" July 8. I have never heard of a "look-say/whole language" method of teaching reading. "Look-say" is a method of teaching reading, but "whole language" is a philosophy of education that underlies the whole curriculum. To connect the two and call them a method of teaching reading is misleading.As a proponent of the whole language philosophy of education, I realize that there are many myths surrounding this philosophy, one of which is the myth that phonics should not be a part of teaching reading. Although whole-language proponents do not teach phonics in isolation, i.e. worksheets and drill and practice methods, we do teach phonics within the context of authentic reading and writing. Mary O. McCarty, Ithaca, N.Y.

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The author writes, "Despite numerous surveys of the research showing decoding (phonics) works best, 85 percent of public schools use 'look-say/whole language' (WL) methods and omit decoding." The author would make it appear that most educators are ignoring volumes of current research. To the contrary, educators from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada, and the United States are conducting research in actual classrooms which demonstrates that children learn to read most successfully when taught real r eading from real books - and that, simply put, is WL! Also, contrary to the author's opinion, very few educators dismiss phonics, but incorporate it, as a viable vehicle to augment instruction in literacy. But most real educators are aware of the limitations of using phonetics to teach a language derived from many diverse cultural sources. Indeed, many of the most common English words are phonetically irregular. I believe that most teachers today do teach phonics, but in varying degrees based on the needs of the learner. No one would dispute the point that reading disorders are clearly connected to violent and nonviolent juvenile delinquency. But to suggest that instruction in phonetics, alone, is the cure-all, is irresponsible. Henry J. Taylor, Ferndale, Mich.