The Great Reading Debate Part 3

Part Three of Three
We have recently looked at the two sides of the reading debate. There are positives and negatives to each side, but this post is all about our style.
At Leeds Learning Centre, we use a balanced approach. Our programmes are built upon the phonics model; however, we take the best parts of whole word instruction and use them to supplement the phonics-based approach when appropriate.
Since our classes are one-to-one, we can modify a programme to best suit each student’s particular need. Every reading lesson has phoneme practice, reading from lists, reading from stories, workbook activities, and comprehension questions. This lets us make up for the limitations and challenges that occur in classroom phonics or whole word instruction. Students are taught to clearly articulate sounds and identify patterns and combinations that occur. Rules and exceptions are taught, as well as coping strategies for tricky words. In general, students receive 90% phonics-based instruction and a modified whole word approach for the remaining 10%. The phonics side teaches kids about the grapheme- honeme relationship, blending skills, reading rules, long and short vowel sounds, and other fundamentals of reading. We use a combination of whole word and phonics for a handful of words that can be sounded out but are far easier to memorize.  These words include “though”, “would”, “one”, and “because”.

When parents ask me how they can help their child at home, my advice is to use whole word instruction. Unless a parent has been trained in phonics, the whole word method is the most straightforward way for them to help their child and keep reading as relaxing as possible.
Overall, I feel that a solid, structured, phonics-based reading programme taught by a trained instructor is the best way to teach a child to read. The whole word method has its place in reading, but I feel that it should only be supplementary to phonics. I have not yet met a student who didn’t, at one point, stare at a word and say, “I can’t remember that word”. I always remind them to sound it out using our technique and then presto- they say the word. No matter which method is used, it is very important to read aloud with children. Read to them, read with them, have them read to you. The more often a child simultaneously hears, sees, and says a word, the sooner it will become fluent.
There are few things I love more than teaching kids to read. The whole world suddenly opens up before them and Christmas lists are never
safe again.