The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

What is The Best Way to Teach Reading?

on January 1, 2020

Today’s post is a copy of the comments I made in response to phonics supporters statements in Dianne Ravitch’s blog. I’m repeating them here (revised) in order to be clear about my beliefs

In response to Michael Petrelli’s recent article, which recommended phonics based teaching, I believe that phonics is more difficult for young students to learn than becoming familiar with written words and acquiring the ability to name them. 

Unfortunately, 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 own belief in the necessity to blend letter sounds together until they become a word. Then, he suggests repeating that process until the words grouped together become a sentence, and then 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 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. 

In phonics based teaching, students are expected to sound out letters, which are grouped together and translate them into a single word. In contrast, the whole language approach teaches students the pronunciation of words, not their spelling. Thus, these students are able to make sense of many written words quickly and to remember them without sounding out their letters. The latter system system turns out to be much easier for teachers to use, and far more successful for students to learn than the former.

What good teachers in regular classrooms do is take students through the process of recognizing and remembering new words.  In addition, steady and pleasurable practice with poems, songs, and games provide them with the ease and satisfaction of recognizing and remembering words when they see them again. 

Although learning to read may take more time for children who are not familiar with the pleasure of books or have not been read to regularly, they can become readers by remembering the appearance of written words that were earlier heard, understood and liked. That is the normal way all children ultimately learn to read and write. 

Ultimately, I believe that students of all ages and abilities must recognize that neither spoken nor written English is what it used to be. 

One response to “What is The Best Way to Teach Reading?

  1. Though word recognition is a viable approach, especially as it advances automaticity to support fluency and comprehension, students also need to train their eyes to look inside words to see the details that will help them learn conventions related to inflective endings. Seeing the configuration of a word but missing the details leads to students reading “I” when a sentence begins with “It.” Spending time on building our sense of words, learning to deconstruct before leaping to conclusions—these are useful when learning to read poetry and reflecting on multiple meanings. I am troubled by teachers continuing to take sides on these matters when our time would be better spent on encouraging funding that supports collegial professional development linked to salary advancement that would allow us to get out of our trenches and advance our profession in a more gleeful manner.


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