To the Editor:
Phonics is the base for learning English. Unfortunately, it was cast aside during the whole-language movement. (“‘I Literally Cried': Teachers Describe Their Transition to Science-Based Reading Instruction,” Sept. 15, 2023)
As a 5th and 6th grade teacher in the Jefferson County public schools in Colorado in the 1980s and 90s, I was not teaching children to learn to read. However, when I went on to teach immigrants English in the late 1990s until 2020, it became clear to me that the whole-language approach was not beneficial to most learners. It is based on memory, whereas phonics gives a technique to decode unfamiliar words.
The aversion to using phonics was because of the boring way it was taught using reams of worksheets—it killed any enthusiasm for reading. Also, test scores were not improving. The idea that the more we read the better reader we will become sounds great—if you know how to read. Hands-on and vocal learning would be more effective.
That’s what needs to change. Let’s hear more about different, engaging ways to teach phonics.
Monica O’Brien Wolfe
A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 2023 edition of Education Week as We Need a New Way to Teach Phonics