Homeschool Essentials

Whether unschooled or highly structured, religious or secular, all homeschools encounter the same challenges. All successful homeschools exhibit the same essential qualities. This weblog will help you understand and apply those qualities, minimize frustration, and enjoy more success sooner.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Phonics Phrenzy

Yes, I know I was missing for more than a month. Burnout happens to everyone sometimes. And yes, I owe you the third layer of Burnout. I promise I'll get to it. Later.

Here's what I have today:

The Phonics Phrenzy


Whether you’re “Hooked” on phonics, playing the phonics game, or simply leaning toward phonics as the best method of teaching reading, you’d have to have lived in a cave for the last ten years not to be aware of the interest in phonics. It seems ironic that in a country where we spend many billions of dollars on schooling, the failure of reading instruction is so widespread that a growth industry has arisen to fill the gap. I’ve had state senators ask me to endorse legislation mandating the teaching of phonics in government run schools, and heard passionate parents hold forth on the almost “righteousness” of phonics.


For years, in the classroom, I used phonics to teach reading, and especially for remediation, to help those who had difficulty with reading recover their enthusiasm increase their proficiency. In our homeschool, my wife began teaching our oldest child phonics at age seven, but we quit when we met serious resistance. Later, working with another homeschooled boy whose mother wanted him to learn to read “now”, verified something which I had begun to suspect for some time. When children are ready to read, they do. If I happen to be at the scene of the accident, then I get credit for having “taught” the child to read. We spent many hours working on vowel and consonant sounds, and he would appear to know them, but often we had to start all over the next time. Yet one day, his eyes would light up, and he knew the sound–then and ever after.


Eventually I actually realized what was happening. I observed his sudden spurts of learning had nothing to do with my instruction, nor with my skills. When he was ready, he remembered the sound associated with a given letter. Because I was interacting with him at the time, it appeared that I had taught him. He liked our sessions, because he enjoyed the positive attention of an adult. I was OK with it, because it made me look competent. But in truth I had little to do with it.

All things being equal, phonics is the best way to teach reading to a group of children. Of course, if all things, in this case children, were equal, then we could find the method for teaching anything. In other words, schools would work. But they don’t . Children differ in development and readiness, interest and learning style, attention and concentration. They learn to read differently. Phonics works very well for some. On average, it works better than any other formal method. But any tool can be abused, and phonics is continually abused today. Before I detail the problems with phonics, lest any enthusiasts miss the point, phonics is the best formal method for teaching groups of children. That is a long way from saying it is the best method for teaching any individual child, much less your child.

Next time we'll see why.

7 Comments:

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