Monday, April 11, 2011

Phonics vs. Sight Words

Every morning I get up. Get the girls ready for school and then come home have breakfast and read blogs and facebook.
Sadly, this has become to routine and honestly can't remember the time of what I did before I ever had a computer. Happily, though I've met so many people I would have never of met otherwise. I've met homeschoolers, families with children like my MaggiePie, and just people whom I actually have things in common with.

Which leads me to the blog Down's Syndrome Up Up and Away. I was reading this morning a post the author had written about the phonics vs. sight words debate.
I honestly have to agree with her that there really should and doesn't need to be a debate. Why? Both methods get people reading.
According to the Live Science blog some 14 percent of Americans do not have the ability to read. Which means 1 in 7 people are illiterate. That even shouldn't be in this country, but it is. Even more there are some estimates that there are at least 774 ( or maybe more ) million people on the planet that do not have the ablitity to read.
With all of that said, why should methods even be debated at all? If we can get people confident and reading instead of frustrated to no end and quitting and giving up on reading all together. Then again, why even debate?

In my 8yrs of homeschooling my daughters the one thing I've learned is that there are different learners. Some children will do best with one method over another and no two children are the same. My oldest is very bright. Has a memory of an elephant yet at the age of 13 sometimes doesn't utilize that to her full potential. When she was young she learned everything and anything that came her way. So naturally as I started in with my homeschooling journey I confired to the 'experts' when it came to what to use, what not to use etc. The one thing that I found where there was such hard , staunch supporters of phonics only. Sight word reading was treated as the evil that it was.
I also didn't realize that yes, young children could learn to read, heck babies can too. My oldest was 3 at the time and you would think that it would have clued me in but for some reason I was lead to believe that she was just memorizing things. Besides I knew of no one that had a young child reading.
So for years I taught, I mean tortured my oldest with phonics only. Because as I was being told, that's the better way, that's the ONLY way to learn to read. So I bought into it and it took us a long time to really get Marilyn up and reading. She finally wasn't reading fluently until at least the age of 9! Yes, this little girl who was happy, and taking in the world totally shut down with phonics until the age of 9. I was happily told by other homeschool moms to put the book away, read to her and it would come with time. This was partly true. Of course I love reading to my daughters. That in itself teaches children to love reading. To this day I still read outloud to my daughters. But the actual act of teaching reading with phonics was such a struggle for her. I wished I had picked up on the fact that she had an awesome memory and that sight reading at first would have been the best for her. Granted she's reading now but the whole process could have been WAYYYYYY better.

Next came my 2nd daughter. She is 11 now and reads about the same level as her oldest sister who struggled. Katie was the total opposite of Mare. She literally wanted to learn to read. At first I thought to myself that this was going to be even tougher than the oldest child. After all Katie had speech difficulties and naturally I had specialists telling me that children with speech difficulties were harder to teach. Oh how fun! Anyways, Katie turned out to be my easiest child to actually teach. Phonics clicked with her like it was her native language and by the time she was 5 she was reading at a 1st grade level! We literally skipped kindergarden. Because she did kindergarden at home even though she was going to preschool. She wanted to so I let her lead the way. She made teaching reading so easy that I thought I was maybe doing something wrong. I didn't have to put the 100 EZ lessons book away at any time. There were no tears , no huffing and puffing, no going on book strikes. Katie read and she read away. Looking back on it all I think that having her sister there and that sibling competitiveness came in very handy for her.

Then came along my 3rd daughter. I had a rough birth with her which I believe did something and caused her speech delay. Hannah just really didn't speak. After all she is Hannah and had two sisters that spoke volumes, so why speak? Hannah didn't talk until she was 4.5 years old. But she took everything in. She was no dummy, and still isn't. Looking back on it had I had the knowledge of infant reading I think she would have done excellent with learning to read when she was little. She would have had plenty of time to contemplate all those words. With this said , Hannah is a good reader today at age 7yrs. 10 months. Phonics too was helpful to her and she was reading at age 5 but not at the same level that Katie was. I had used K12 and though I liked their phonics we were kind of sludging through. It wasn't until I pulled out my 100 EZ lessons , once again, that she flourished and is now reading well at least a 2nd grade level right now.

Last but not at all least is my Maggie girl. At age 4yrs 8 months she is reading at an early 1st grade level. It wasn't until I stumbled upon Your Baby Can Read did I finally learn that babies and young children( talking mostly about children before the age of preschool) could learn to read. Had I known this I would have done this from day 1 with my oldest daughter. It would have saved us a LOT of struggles. Sadly I didn't learn all of this until my youngest was 4yrs old. I knew that some kids could read early. But those where the smart kids. You know, the ones that one day just start reading? Those weren't my kids. I once came upon a mom who had a son who was reading at the age of 3. At the time my oldest was about 6yrs old or so and I had innocently questioned the mom what she did to get him up and reading like that. Natuarally it was, he just learned it on his own. His big sister was learning to read and he learned right along side her. I'm sure that could have been the case. But I looked upon that as he was gifted , and gifted my children were not. So I dismissed it all. Thinking that only certain children could learn to read early like that. I was lucky to get my girls reading at a 1st grade level by the time they were 5. Little did I know that natural window was really closing by then.

With that long speech I've learned quite a bit along the way. That you have to teach your child with what works best for them. Had my middle two had been younger I would have most likely needed to have used sight reading with them to begin with because little ones just have a difficult time with phonics. I've found that getting them reading is what makes them confident. Phonics can be learned later or in conjunction with getting them to read. I'm not putting down phonics. It is necessary to break down unfamiliar words. But phonics is NOT the end all to be all. What is important is to get your children reading first, loving to read. Then everything else falls into place. If you get a child frustrated with reading then reading becomes this horrible struggle and then ultimately the child gives up. They either shut down completely and not learn to read, or they shut down in a more suttle way by not reading on or above grade level and they lose that love of reading altogether.

I'm happy enough to say that Maggie is reading, she's even showing signs that she's figuring out phonics on her own. Of course I'm supplementing with showing her how to sound out words that are decodeable when we come upon them. Websites like Starfall help too. So just because you start with one method doesn't mean at all that you can't combine , or go back to once your kids are reading. After all growing up as a child I don't remember having instruction with phonics whatsoever. Guess, what? I've always read above grade level growing up as a child, and when I come upon words I don't know I literally know how to sound them out. Sorry phonics only advocates, so how's that for phonics only???


LM'sMum said...

Absolutely agree that "you have to teach your child with what works best for them". I could also add "with what works best for them at the time", as what doesn't work now, may work later. As you mentioned, phonics may come later. I also agree that the debate is a bit overblown, many current teaching professionals successfully combine both methods, which does make sense for such language as English and is helpful to different types of learners.

Have Fun Teaching said...

Have Fun Teaching has an Alphabet Phonics DVD for Kids Alphabet DVD

Peggy Broadbent said...

I absolutely agree with you – there shouldn’t be a phonics vs. sight words debate.

I am retired now but have taught for many years, my favorite being a combined first and second grade. So I taught beginning reading for years and found that each child is unique. One method just does not fit all. It’s important to find what works with each child. See my entries about teaching beginning reading plus one about independent story writing: