Instructional Methods

A variety of different methods of teaching reading have been advocated in English-speaking countries. In the United States, the debate is often more political than objective. Parties often divide into two camps which refuse to accept each others terminology or frame of reference. Despite this both camps often incorporate aspects of the other's methods. Both camps accuse the other of causing failure to learn to read and write.

Sub-lexical reading
Sub-lexical reading, involves teaching reading by associating characters or groups of characters with sounds or by using Phonics learning and teaching methodology. Sometimes argued to be in competition with whole language methods.

Lexical reading
Lexical reading involve acquiring words or phrases without attention to the characters or groups of characters that compose them or by using Whole language learning and teaching methodology. Sometimes argued to be in competition with phonics methods, and that the whole language approach tends to impair learning how to spell.

Historically, the two camps have been called Whole Language and Phonics, although the Whole Language instructional method has also been referred to as "literature-based reading program" and "integrated language arts curriculum". Currently (2007), the differing perspectives are frequently referred to as "balanced reading instruction" (Whole Language) and "scientifically-based reading instruction" (Phonics).

Phonics advocates assert that, to read a large vocabulary of words correctly and fluently requires detailed knowledge of the structure of the English language, particularly spelling-speech patterns. Whole Language advocates assert that students do not need to be able to sound out words, but should look at unknown words and figure them out using context.

Whole Language
The whole language methodology involves the teaching of reading skills and strategies in the context of authentic literature. Word recognition accuracy is considered less important than meaning accuracy; therefore, there is an emphasis on comprehension as the ultimate goal of reading. In a whole language classroom, students are immersed in a literature-rich environment, in which they are given the opportunity to appreciate real-world purposes for reading.

"Whole Word", "Sight Word", or "Look (and) Say"
The "Sight Word" method is not synonymous with "Whole Language" approach, but is often considered to be part of it.

The "Sight Word" method also appears prominently in avowedly "Phonic" teaching such as the National Curriculum for England & Wales, where words that do not fit the rules of phonics are placed on a list of sight words for rote memorization.

Some advocates claim that it is the same method used to acquire literacy in languages such as Chinese, assumed by the advocates to be based on ideograms. The Chinese writing system is however a complex logographic system with many morphosyllabic elements particularly in phonetic markers for frequently used characters. Chinese characters.

Students learning English using this method memorize the appearance of words, or learn to recognize words by looking at the first and last letter from rigidly selected vocabularies in progressive texts (such as The Cat in the Hat). Often this method is taught by slides or cards with a picture next to a word, teaching children to associate the whole word with its meaning. Often preliminary results show children taught with this method have higher reading levels than children learning phonics, because they learn to automatically recognise a small selection of words. However later tests demonstrate that literacy development becomes stunted when hit with longer and more complex words later. However, they can learn the 5,000 most common words in roughly three years which is sufficient for basic literacy. This is disputed. Following almost a decade of hands-on research by Dr. Diane McGuinness’ and three associates and a study of the last 25 years of reported research on teaching methods, she reports (three times for her emphasis):

    “The average number of words in daily conversations on the streets of any town in the world today is about 50,000. . . . But when people are asked to memorize what word goes with which abstract visual symbol scribbled on clay, or papyrus, or paper, the upper limit is around 1,500 to 2,000, not enough for any language. Not even close. . . . There is a natural limit on human memory for memorizing codes with too many confusing symbols. This limit, from the evidence so far, is around 2,000 symbols. . . . What turns out to be “natural” is that ordinary people (including children) can only remember about 1,500 to 2,000 abstract visual symbols.”

Dr. Rudolf Flesch reported in his 1981 book Why Johnny Still Can’t Read:

    “And how does look-and-say (now called whole word) work? It works on the principle that children learn to read by reading. It starts with little “stories” containing the most-often-used words in English and gradually builds up a ‘sight vocabulary.’ The children learn to read by seeing those words over and over again. By the end of first grade they can recognize 349 words, by the end of second grade 1,094, by the end of third grade 1,216, and by the end of fourth grade 1,554. (I got those numbers from the Scott, Foresman series, but all look-and-say series teach about the same number of words.) . . . Now consider the look-and-say trained reader. The word rectitude is of course not among the 1,500 or 3,000 words he learns to recognize during his first three or four school years.”

Although the number of words taught by the whole word method may be different today, Dr. McGuinness’ studies shows that unless the students learn phonics (on their own or from help outside the classroom) in addition to their whole word training, they cannot learn more than about 2,000 words by sight alone. In any case, if the students know only 3,000 to 5,000 common words, they read so poorly that they do not like to read, seldom do so, and—-in most cases—-cannot hold an above-poverty-level wage job. The classic implementation of this approach was the McGill reading curriculum used to teach most baby boomers to read in the U.S.

The sight-word (whole language) method was invented by Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, the director of the American Asylum at Hartford in the 1830s. It was designed for the education of the Deaf by juxtaposing a word, with a picture. In 1830, Gallaudet provided a description of his method to the American Annals of Education which included teaching children to recognize a total of 50 sight words written on cards and by 1837 the method was adopted by the Boston Primary School Committee. Horace Mann the then Secretary of the Board of Education of Massachusetts, USA favored the method and it soon became the dominant method state wide. By 1844 the defects of the new method became so apparent to Boston schoolmasters that they issued an attack against it urging a return to an intensive, systematic phonics. Again Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuropathologist in Iowa in 1929 sought the cause of children's reading problems and concluded that their problems were being caused by the new sight method of teaching reading. (His results were published in the February 1929 issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology, “The Sight Reading Method of Teaching Reading as a Source of Reading Disability.”)

Initial teaching alphabet
This method was designed to overcome the fact that English orthography has a many-to-many relationship between graphemes and phonemes. The method fell in to disuse because children still had to learn the Latin alphabet and the conventional English spellings in order to integrate with society outside of school. It also recreated the problem of dialect dependent spelling, which the standardisation of spelling had been created to eliminate.

Phonics refers to an instructional method for teaching children to read. The method teaches sounds to be associated with letters and combinations of letters. "Phonics" is distinct from the linguistics terms "phoneme" and "phonetics", which refer to sounds and the study of sounds respectively.

There are several different varieties of phonics.

    Embedded phonics is an instructional approach where letter sounds are taught opportunistically, as the need arises and in meaningful contexts, such as the reading of a storybook. Embedded phonics is often associated with a whole language approach to teaching reading.

Synthetic phonics and analytic phonics are different but popular methods of teaching phonics. Synthetic and analytic phonics approaches both generally involve explicit, carefully sequenced instruction that teach a large body of phonics patterns.

    Synthetic phonics emphasizes the one-to-one correspondences between phonemes and graphemes. In synthetic phonics programs students say the sounds for the graphemes they see and orally blend them together to produce a spoken word. In the context of phonics, the word blend takes on a different meaning from its use in linguistics.
    In analytic phonics, students often learn phonograms, the rime parts of words including the vowel and what follows it. Students are taught to generalize the phonogram to multiple words. The phonogram -ail can be used to read fail, trail, mail, wail, sail, and other words.

The Orton phonography, originally developed to teach brain-damaged adults to read, is a form of phonics instruction that blends synthetic and analytic components. Orton described 73 "phonograms", or letter combinations, and 23 rules for spelling and pronunciation which Orton claimed would allow the reader to correctly pronounce and spell all but 123 of the 13,000 most common English words.

Controversy about phonics
Advocates of phonics cite the large reading and spelling vocabulary that phonetic students can theoretically obtain. However, critics of phonetic methods talk of students that fail at each one of the method's many mandatory skills. Almost all students learn letter-sounds. Some students find it difficult to "blend" the letter sounds to produce sensible speech. Some students also fail to apply rules to select letter sounds. Also, critics charge that in phonetic programs, students can learn to pronounce a sentence without ever learning to understand it. The same holds true for "look say". However, studies show that if students are guided through phonics by a trained, certified teacher (as opposed to a parent, para-pro, or tutor with minimal knowledge of phonics), they will be successful at blending the sounds, comprehending material, and reaching grade level.

Other instructional methods
Some methods of teaching reading are not easily categorized as either phonics or whole word, but are rather a mixture of each. Native reading, for example, uses both phonics and whole word techniques, but differs from both in that it emphasizes teaching reading beginning at a very early age, when the human brain is neurodevelopmentally most receptive to learning language. Native readers learn to read as toddlers, starting at the same time they learn to speak, or very soon thereafter.

Reading Workshop
Reading Workshop is based on the premise that readers need time to read and discuss their reading. Readers need access to a wide variety of reading materials of their choice. Classrooms must acquire a wide variety of reading materials to accommodate this need. Readers need to respond to the text and demonstrate quality literate behaviors. There is not a script to follow but a frame work to guide instruction. Students are exposed to a variety of learning experiences. There is time for student collaboration and a time for engaged reading.

During reading workshop, the teacher models a whole-group strategy lesson and then gives students large blocks of time to read and to practice the strategy. This practice can occur independently, with partners, or in small groups with a book or text chosen by the student. The teacher moves around the room and confers with the students about their reading. The teacher can meet with small, flexible groups to provide additional needs-based instruction. At the end of the workshop the whole groups comes together to share their learning.

The following is a list of the seven important strategies that all readers must be able to apply to text in order to read and understand content. The seven strategies are: 1. Making Connections; 2. Creating Mental Images; 3. Making Inferences/Drawing Conclusions; 4. Asking Questions; 5. Determining What Is Important; 6. Synthesizing; and 7. Monitoring Comprehension and Meaning.

Reading comprehension
Many educators in the USA believe that children need to learn to analyze text (comprehend it) even before they can read it on their own, and comprehension instruction generally begins in pre-Kindergarten or Kindergarten. But other US educators consider this reading approach to be completely backward for very young children, arguing that the children must learn how to decode the words in a story through phonics before they can analyze the story itself.

During the last century comprehension lessons usually comprised students answering teachers' questions, writing responses to questions on their own, or both. The whole group version of this practice also often included "round robin reading," wherein teachers called on individual students to read a portion of the text (and sometimes following a set order). In the last quarter of the 20th century, evidence accumulated that the read-test methods assessed comprehension more than they taught it. The associated practice of "round robin" reading has also been questioned and eliminated by many educators.

Instead of using the prior read-test method, research studies have concluded that there are much more effective ways to teach comprehension. Much work has been done in the area of teaching novice readers a bank of "reading strategies," or tools to interpret and analyze text. There is not a definitive set of strategies, but common ones include summarizing what you have read, monitoring your reading to make sure it is still making sense, and analyzing the structure of the text (e.g., the use of headings in science text). Some programs teach students how to self monitor whether they are understanding and provide students with tools for fixing comprehension problems.

Instruction in comprehension strategy use often involves the gradual release of responsibility, wherein teachers initially explain and model strategies. Over time, they give students more and more responsibility for using the strategies until they can use them independently. This technique is generally associated with the idea of self-regulation and reflects social cognitive theory, originally conceptualized by Albert Bandura.

Learning to read and write in Sudbury schools
Sudbury model of democratic education schools assert that there are many ways to study and learn. They argue that learning is a process you do, not a process that is done to you; That is true for everyone. It's basic. The experience of Sudbury model democratic schools shows that there are many ways to learn without the intervention of teaching, to say, without the intervention of a teacher being imperative. In the case of reading for instance in the Sudbury model democratic schools some children learn from being read to, memorizing the stories and then ultimately reading them. Others learn from cereal boxes, others from games instructions, others from street signs. Some teach themselves letter sounds, others syllables, others whole words. Sudbury model democratic schools adduce that in their schools no one child has ever been forced, pushed, urged, cajoled, or bribed into learning how to read or write -- no need to do that to the modern child, streetwise and nurtured on TV -- and they have had no dyslexia. None of their graduates are real or functional illiterates, and no one who meets their older students could ever guess the age at which they first learned to read or write. In a similar form students learn all the subjects, techniques and skills in these schools.