You will think my answer is a cop-out, Phoebe, but probably the best answer to your question is “both.” Debates about whether the phonics or whole language approach works better have been raging for a long time. In the education field more research has been conducted on the teaching of reading than on any other subject, and yet we still can’t assert definitively that one of these approaches used in isolation works better than the other. One thing the research has shown is that not all children learn in the same way. Children who might be called “global” learners do well in whole language, but children who are “analytic” learners do not.
In the whole language approach, the assumption is made that the child will figure out the structure of language by exploring literature through oral and silent reading. But the reality is that this leaves many children behind and also results in bad spelling. Most teachers now use much of the whole language approach but imbed phonics training in it. Or, you could just as well state that in reverse: Reading should be taught primarily by phonics but with a great deal of time spent on literature.
And that is exactly my position—use both. And don’t hesitate to ask your son’s teachers what their position is on this issue. I think you’ll find that most endorse it.
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