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what's the big deal?

what is the debate on phonics vs whole language all about?

the decade long battle is primarily concerned about one all important question:
"what is the best approach/method to teach my child to read?"

the english language neither as a purely phonetic language or a symbolic language has developed 2 main approaches and in many cases considered a philosophical disagreement between which way is the best way to teach children to read.

phonetic reading, or phonics is an approach guided by a systematic series of rules breaking down unfamiliar words into parts, understanding the sounds of these parts and joining them together to formulate words. in this sense phonics focuses more on the sound of words.

the whole language approach on the other hand (also known by many other names such as the "look-say" and "sight reading" approach) is less focused on rules and repetition and stresses the flow and meaning of the text. the emphasis of this approach is to relate the words being read to yourself and your culture and to decode words through a larger context. in this sense it is a more visual approach as opposed to an auditory approach that phonics takes.

phonics pros/cons

  • builds better pronounciation
  • reinforces word recognition
  • children can use systematic approach to "decode" unfamiliar words
  • less memory intensive and guess work
  • children may have difficulty understanding full meaning of the text
  • many rules and procedures
  • children may think of reading as a chore and ultimately dislike it

whole language pros/cons

  • children learn words in context
  • better understanding of the text
  • establishes a more interesting and creative approach to reading
  • decreased accuracy in reading
  • skipped words may never be learnt

so what's better?

well, that's what the whole debate is about and it's been raging on for decades.

there are many equally strong arguments for each approach and at the same time none strong enough to definitively convince that one is better than the other. However, a logical (and unqualified i remind you) solution would seem to be to combine the best of both approaches and to utilise the strengths of each to formulate a contemporary approach.(but that's just my opinion)