The Great Debate

Whole word or phonics?

Part One of Three

Like anything else, education goes through cycles. Whole word
instruction used to be the dominate way to teach reading. Then
phonics usurped the reading throne around 1970. Whole word
instruction has once again come around in many North American
schools.

WHOLE WORD
You have most likely seen Word Wall words coming home from school.
These words are part of whole word instruction. This method is also
known as sight words or look and say.  The idea behind the whole
word method is for readers to memorize the appearance of words. It
does not teach isolated sounds or blending skills. It is a “top down” way
to acquire reading skills. It teaches the entire word and then allows the
reader to attach a meaning to the word.
Whole word is the easiest method for parents to assist with at
home. As a parent you do not need special training or a tremendous
knowledge of how to teach reading, you just need to know how to say
the words.
Word Wall words are compiled from high-frequency lists. These words
are introduced in the classroom, read aloud, spelled aloud, used in
spelling dictation, sent home for review, and usually posted for
reference in the classroom. It makes sense that if these words occur
often, we want the kids to be able to identify and read the words.
POSITIVES
*       easy for parents to help out at home
*       easy for children with good recall
*       avoids dealing with tricky reading rules
NEGATIVES
*       focus is more on meaning of word rather than word
         accuracy
*       difficult for students with dyslexia or other language
         processing disorders
*       promotes guessing
*       relies on strong visual memory
*       might work well with high usage words, but what happens
         when tackling unfamiliar words?

One last thing…
The Word Wall words your child brings home are most likely
from the most common list- the Dolch list. Edward William
Dolch PhD created this list in 1936 and it was published in
1948. The words are divided by grade into five categories
ranging between pre-primer to grade three. It consists of
220 service words and an additional 95 word list of nouns.

Next Post: Phonics instruction!

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