To the Editor:
In her June 22, 2005 letter to the editor, “Seeing Journalistic Bias in Reading Coverage,” Marsha Kessler accuses Education Week of being “anti-phonics.” It is not clear to me what exactly she means by that.
There are (at least) three positions on phonics: One position is “intensive, systematic phonics,” an extremist view that insists that all the major rules of phonics be explicitly taught in a strict order. This is the position taken by the National Reading Panel.
A second position, zero phonics, forbids the direct teaching of any sound-spelling correspondences. This is also an extremist view. I know of no teacher or scholar who holds this position.
A third position is “basic phonics,” the direct teaching of those straightforward rules that students can learn, remember, and apply while reading to help make texts more comprehensible. Basic phonics claims that our knowledge of the complex rules of phonics is the result of reading.
Basic phonics is the position supported by most whole-language advocates, and is the position presented in the report “Becoming a Nation of Readers”: “… [P]honics instruction should aim to teach only the most important and regular of letter-to-sound relationships. … [O]nce the basic relationships have been taught, the best way to get children to refine and extend their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences is through repeated opportunities to read. If this position is correct, then much phonics instruction is overly subtle and probably unproductive.”
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.