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Monday, January 26, 2015

Whatever Happened to Phonics?

One of the most important books in America’s intellectual history, Why Johnny Can't Read, by Rudolf Flesch, was published 60 years ago in 1955. This book sold 8 million copies, was the talk of the country, and explained why children need phonics to become successful readers.

There are many fascinating aspects to this story. Flesch fled from Austria just before the Germans invaded his country; at that time he was pursuing a law degree. In the United States, he went to Columbia University and earned a doctorate in English. Safe to say, he was exceptionally smart. In addition, he was obsessed with lucid language. He flourished, as Wikipedia notes, “as a writing teacher, plain-English consultant and author. He published many books on the subject of clear, effective communication: How to Test Readability (1951), How to Write Better (1951), The Art of Plain Talk (1946), The Art of Readable Writing (1949), The ABC of Style: A Guide to Plain English (1964), and Rudolf Flesch on Business Communications: How to Say What You Mean in Plain English (1972),” and others.

So we arrive at a sad, unexpected irony. This master communicator believed that he had settled the reading matter forever. Phonics was essential. Whole Word (also known by such names as Look-say, sight-words, Dolch words, Whole Language, etc.) was an obvious fraud and as well dangerous to children. Flesch assumed that any dunce would understand this. He was wrong.



Anonymous said...

I bought the "Phonics" tapes for my grandchildren many years ago and within a couple of years their reading ability went from "grade school" to "upper college" level. Use of language and speech is impeccable. NOT attributable to their school. This was due to parental guidance.

Anonymous said...

Common core replaced it with "Hooked on Ebonics" in order to dumb everyone else down to the lowest group!

Anonymous said...

Salisbury Baptist Academy teaches phonics. Their kindergarten class is reading by Thanksgiving. :-)

Anonymous said...

Now it's why can't JAMARR read?

Anonymous said...

What did Dexter Manley say after going to college, playing 10 years in the NFL and getting caught 3 times for drugs.

Anonymous said...

Both sight-words and phonics are important to be a good reader. Nobody sits and reads phonically after they learn a certain number of words unless it is a word they do not know. And if they sound it out and don't know what it means it continues to be meaningless.

Reading is all about comprehension. Of course context sometimes helps us understand the meaning of words. Reading is a complex process and there are many reasons people can not read.

I am always amazed how people lump everybody together. There continues to not be agreement on the best way to teach skills and in America we have thousands of school systems, public and private, who continue to teach in the way that may not be best but that they think is best.

It is no wonder our results are so uneven. We should also take into consideration the vast differences in the children being taught, both their natures and nurtures.

when I consider again the comments that came before this one, I don't know why I bothered writing this. I considered not even posting it. But it is written so I will.

Anonymous said...

It all gets back to the parents if they do their job properly the kids could be reading befor they ever go to school.

Paladin said...

As a former teacher and administrator, I can tell you with all certainty that if is child is unable to read very basic text, cannot distinguish between all upper and lower case letters, and is unable to recognize basic words before kindergarten, their success in school will be severely diminished. I have worked in schools where upwards of 85% of the incoming kindergarten class could not identify (completely) all of the alphabet, numbers to 20, basic shapes, primary colors or the rudiments of language formation. When that sad fact occurs (and it is occurring with staggering regularity right now), the children involved are placed at a significant disadvantage. It is the responsibility of the parent to ensure this prior to the child enrolling in school. Unfortunately, the parents themselves perpetuate this with poor parenting they themselves received and the cycle is directly tied to poverty on many metrics. Phonics based learning is the primary vehicle to advance reading until a child has mastery of basic words so as they may employ these skill sets towards reading achievement. The common core does not address this well at all in my opinion and is simply yet another failure heaped on top of a significant social decline.


Bruce Deitrick Price said...

Here it is 2020 and I just found this article, which is by me.

Paladin is entirely correct and should be trusted. Start teaching kids to read at three or four.

The comment which begins "Both sight-words and phonics are important to be a good reader" is pretty much the standard Party line. I've got a dozen articles on the Internet explaining why you don't need sight-words.

Bruce Deitrick Price