Opinion
Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

Dispelling Phonics Myths

January 14, 2020 1 min read

To the Editor:

The article “Teaching Reading Takes Training” (Dec. 4, 2019) is riddled with leaps of logic. If “1 in 10 professors could not correctly identify that the word ‘shape’ has three phonemes,” why does every kindergartner need to be able to successfully complete that task? I doubt if 10 percent of the professors interviewed were illiterate. Another issue is the article’s assumption that teaching phonics in context (a key element of teaching reading through the three-cueing systems, one of which is graphophonemics) is not teaching phonics. Construing use of the cueing systems as “an approach that tells students to take a guess when they come to a word” is simplification at best, deliberate misrepresentation at worst, since all good readers predict and make use of multiple cueing systems, not just phonics. Good teachers who emphasize cueing systems teach children how to confirm or disconfirm their guesses using phonics, syntax, and meaning.

In my 44 years of teaching literacy, my worst fear has been the “phonicators"—the students who decode every word carefully but can’t tell you a thing about the meaning of the text. The article throws around loaded terms such as “accurate” decoding, “systematic, science-based reading program,” and “good grasp of phonics” without defining any of them, yet sets up an “us against them” argument by defining “balanced literacy” in a narrow, inaccurate way and dredging up the “phonics vs. balanced literacy” clichés. Of course, students need to understand basic principles of phonics. But any approach to reading that does not emphasize meaning-making is distorting the authentic purpose and driving force behind reading, and the article does a disservice to the teaching profession by claiming otherwise.

Allen Koshewa

Retired Educator

Shanghai, China

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A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 2020 edition of Education Week as Dispelling Phonics Myths

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