Yesterday's Mope & Wail had a story reporting some American
research that apparently showed that phonics-based reading
instruction was superior to whole-language-based instruction. It got me
The research, it must be emphasized, was done on economically
disadvantaged kids in the south of the U.S.
I have always assumed that a whole language approach has much to
recommend it. Over the years, however, I've noticed mounting evidence
that phonics are apparently useful for many kids much of the time, and
that a pure whole-language approach can have high costs.
I'm beginning to wonder if there is a loose analogy here for our goals in
learning how to read beyond the primary years. It seems to me that part
of what we try to do as we read beyond the word recognition level is to
read fluently across whole texts.
Some of us are happy to attain fluent, whole-text reading. Personally, I
learned a lot in my university Shakespeare and Milton courses by
learning how to read locally, slowly, carefully. I also learned from
Nabokov the importance of reading carefully for the local and the
particular, not the theme or "lazy -ism" or general idea. Now, I reckon I'm
a pretty good slow reader, pretty careful, fairly analytic. I sometimes
wish I were a better fast-fluent reader.
I'm beginning to think that phonics may be a good way to start kids
(most? all?) reading, but that as soon as they can read short texts with
a fair degree of accuracy, they should be encouraged in some of the
whole-language precepts. When they gain some speed and can read
across whole texts with a good deal of comprehension, they should be
encouraged in some slow-careful reading techniques . . . On and on in a
spiral, if you will (or is it twin tracks?).
Has anyone else been doing any thinking or re-thinking about phonics
and whole language? Has anyone else considered analogies for
advanced reading (or "English Literature") instruction?