The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Phooey on Phonics!

on December 14, 2019

I am sorry to have to say it, but Michael Petrilli is not the expert we can trust when it comes to determining the best way to teach reading. Continually, he denies the reality of readers’ instant word recognition, and maintains his belief in the necessity to blend letter sounds together until they become a word. Then, he suggests repeating the process until all the words grouped together become a sentence, and all sentences become a message. As a successful teacher of reading in four elementary schools, and later, a school principal in two states, I am disturbed by Petrilli’s descriptions of the reading process, and his frequent claims of successful instruction using phonics. Even though teaching phonics has never been prominent in our public schools, its supporters have consistently claimed that it is the right way to teach reading there. 

What is expected of students who are being taught phonics is the ability to sound out letters grouped together and to translate them into a single word. In contrast, students in public schools are taught the pronunciation of a word, not it’s spelling. Thus they become able to make sense of many written words quickly, and to remember them without sounding out their letters. That system turns out to be much easier for teachers to use, and far more successful for students to learn than phonics. 

Because Petrilli gives so many inaccurate descriptions of the reading process, and false claims about its results, it would take me to much time to explain everything he is wrong about.  All I can say at this point is that he so much fears the destruction of his beliefs about phonics and the power he once had, that he tries desperately to persuade everyone to avoid reality and join his phonics parade 

Unfortunately, “The National Reading Panel”, created in 1999, selected as most of its members, parents of children who had experienced great difficulty learning to read in regular school classrooms. Thus, their only hope was that more children would succeed if phonics replaced the teaching methods taught in their schools. What they did not realize was that phonics would be much more demanding and confusing for those children than the way they were currently taught reading, and almost all of them needed more practice reading aloud, singing while reading, and writing instead.

It is very interesting to know that many respected reading specialists think that children who have difficulty learning to read will not do any better when they undergo phonics instruction, and that they are likely to get more confused and dismayed by phonics than they were before by not having enough reading experience.

It is very interesting to know that many respected reading specialists think that children who have difficulty learning to read will not do any better when they undergo phonics instruction, and that they are likely to get more confused and dismayed by phonics than they were before by not having enough reading experience.


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