Friday, October 15, 2010

Phonics Vs. Whole Language

Phonics Vs. Whole Language

A thought on Phonics vs. Whole Language: A billion people in China, Japan, and other countries that use logographic character-based language have no phonics. How do they learn to read? They learn the character by sight.

Whole Language "The biggest arguments tend to be focused on student interest. Whole Language proponents claim that we may be doing more harm than good when we force our children to learn systematically and intensively with workbooks and basal readers. BORING!!! "

Whole Language as I was taught has at its core, the five component of all best practice reading philosophies. The focus is to use real literature to get to your goal of Literacy. Start with Dr. Seuss and teach phonemic awareness in the context of the literature and move forward, but this may have a point of reciprocity. If 70% of your 4th-5th-6th-grade class is not reading at grade level you may kill the desire to read by using primary literature and beginning reading methods. You must introduce literature that motivates the reader and again teach phonemic awareness in the context of the adolescent literature.
Is Phonics really always the best method for teaching a crude-phonemic based language?
"METHODZ ov teeching reeding hav graevly impruuvd sins Max Müller roet dhe wurdz kwoeted abuv. Neverdheles, eeven nou lurning to spel iz a far longger proeses for dhe Inglish chield dhan for children in meny udher kuntriz, such az Jurmany, Italy and Finland, and eeven dhe naetiv children ov dhe Goeld Koest and vaeryus udher parts ov Afrika." 

"Dhe diferens iz not to be eksplaend bie asueming infeeryorrity on dhe part ov Inglish teecherz. It iz due to dhe unfonetik karrakter ov Inglish speling. Dhe speling ov Jurman, Italyan and Finish iz faerly fonetik, whiel dhe nue orthografiz ov Fante, Twi, Ewe and a number ov udher Afrikan langgwejez ar kompleetly soe."

Dyslexics have a real problem dealing with the 4000 phonemics exceptions in common English.

Alphabetics Phonemes and Phonics


The knowledge and manipulation of sounds in spoken words.

PHONICS The relationship between written and spoken letters and sounds.


The ability to read with accuracy, and with appropriate rate, expression, and phrasing.


The knowledge of words, their definitions, and context.


The understanding of meaning in text.”

The foundations of learning English is the use of 44 Phonemes or sounds of the English Language
learning letter sounds (as distinct from the letter names);

For example, /mm/ not muh, /ss/ not suh, /ff/ not fuh. The letter names can be taught later but should not be taught in the early stages.
learning the 44 sounds and their corresponding letters/letter groups;

The English Alphabet Code 'Key' : 44 phonemes with their common 'sound pattern' representations:

Vowels (19):
|a| mat
|ae| ape, baby, rain, tray, they, eight
|air| square, bear
|ar| jar, fast
|e| peg, bread
|ee| sweet, me, beach, key, pony
|i| pig, wanted
|ie| kite, wild, light, fly
|o| log, orange
|oe| bone, boat, snow
|oi| coin, boy
|oo| book, would, put
|ow| down, house
|or| fork, ball, sauce, law,
|u| plug, glove
|ur| burn, teacher, work, first
|ue| blue, moon, screw, tune
|uh| (schwa) button, computer, hidden, doctor
|w| wet, wheel

Consonants (25):
|b| boy, rabbit
|ks|gz| box exist
|c|k| cat |key, duck, school
|ch| chip, watch
|d| dog, ladder
|f| fish, coffee, photo, tough
|g| gate, egg, ghost
|h| hat, whole
|j| jet, giant, cage, bridge
|l| lip, bell, sample
|m| man, hammer, comb
|n| nut, dinner, knee, gnat
|ng| ring, singer
|p| pan, happy
|kw| queen
|r| rat, cherry, write
|s| sun, dress, house, city, mice
|sh| ship, mission, station, chef
|t| tap, letter, debt
|th| thrush
|th| that
|v| vet, sleeve
|y| yes
|z| zip, fizz, sneeze, is, cheese
|zh| treasure
learning to read words using sound blending;
reading stories featuring the words the students have learned to sound out;
demonstration exercises to show they comprehend the stories
From Wiki

The Limits of Phonics and Phonemic Awareness

A Cautionary Tale: My Story

Phonics/Alphabetics vs. Whole Language: I will not presume to give advice on this subject or try to argue a point as this is such a hot topic these days. 
I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia in elementary school, I was told I would never read or write. Please email me if you have any questions at
Phonics was a dead end for me after 6 months and just made me more confused as it was taught. I was absolutely disgusted with controlled vocabulary books by age eight, with cats, mats, bats, and rats by the end of second grade. Four years of reading that rubbish with no real progress in reading. My first memories of school are feelings of inadequacy and shame. The earliest memory is trying and trying to learn how to write my name legibly. I was lost from the start learning letters and even worse trying to print letters that were dancing all over the page. It was almost impossible for me to write or copy letters because they were reversed, upside down and illegible by the time my mind tried to decipher them. Most students learned to write their names in kindergarten. In first grade and beyond, I was not able to write my name unless I had an example to copy from, even in second grade, and beyond. Worse than learning to write words was the entire reading process. Letter recognition and phonemic awareness seemed alien and incomprehensible. To me 'p,' 'b,' 'q,' and 'd' were all the same letter. How do you learn to read using phonics-based reading or letter recognition if the letters are always changing? I just resorted to guessing or pretending to sound things out to make my teachers happy. I did learn to listen very carefully so I could memorize some books to pass as if I could actually read, but that only works so long. My writing never advanced passed perfunctory imitation. Even with the examples in front of me, my version was a mess. When placed into reading groups, I was always in the lowest quartile group, or as I joke, the "milkweed group," or the "crows" -- never the "roses,” or the "eagles." Inevitably, I was stuck reading with the boy who never bathed and acted like he was operating on two pots of coffee (ADHD poster child). I would select a chapter book that looked interesting and the teacher would say “That is too difficult for
you Sean”. What I heard was, “You’re too stupid to read it Sean”. I spent most of my reading time looking at picture books or daydreaming-- never reading. By second grade I was feeling even more depressed and worthless. I was eventually diagnosed with a learning disability when I failed to learn to read by the end of third grade. The term dyslexia was used for the acrobatics that the letters were doing on the page that I was instructed to decipher.

Teaching me phonemic awareness and letter recognition was like trying to drive a car from the trunk. Three years of special education phonics and even more phonics-based books didn't get me very far. Trepidation wasn’t the word I was feeling when initially evaluated for a learning disability but more a sense of relief that my charade was over. Finally, I was going to learn how to read. My happiness died quickly when the reality of more phonics was the prescription. I realized very quickly I was alone in my journey to learn how to read. I just could not make the connections between the sounds and the letters. None of the experts had a clue what to do except more of the same. no measurable progress in my
reading made me hate books and reading. The five finger rule is great for students at grade level or above, but it keeps students like me who struggle with reading in the remedial literary doldrums. After ten years of teaching all aspects of reading and my own experience, I have observed that students top out after six months in phonics and need to transition to becoming sight readers.

Phonics in the context of great poetry and literature is a powerful teaching tool.Yet, I know there is a point of reciprocity or diminishing returns that has to be respected and looked for. Eventually, I learned to read with the help and advice of a very wise librarian. Read what you have a passion for, and forget the five finger rule.


  1. Yep, phonics breaks down pretty quickly because English is not a phonetic language. I'll never forget my youngest daughter getting so frustrated over the spelling of 'of'. Given that o-f-f spelled off, she just couldn't find the logic in the spelling of 'o-f'. "Uv! That's how you spell it!" A very frustrated girl, she was, over that wee little word. :) BTW, I love Whole Language.

  2. Thanks for the great article and the important warning about not limiting kids education to a simple "system". It's the whole picture that counts.

    Read Aloud .. Dad


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