Email Status

Volume 12, Number 2
March/April 1996

Whole Language or Phonics?

Teachers and Researchers Find the Middle Ground Most Fertile


n her new book, The Alphabetic Labyrinth, Johanna Drucker recounts ancient beliefs about literacy. The Arabs, she writes, believed that Allah himself taught Adam to write. She does not say if Allah used a phonics or a whole-language approach.

Educators and academics have been arguing since Adam, it seems, about how best to teach reading, the most basic building block in a child's education. "If you fail in reading," says Jeanne Chall, professor emerita at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, "you fail in almost everything else."

Across North America, large numbers of children are having trouble with reading; many are being diagnosed with learning disabilities or reading disorders. The 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) school reading scores (released in April 1995) show only a third of fourth-graders reading at proficiency levels.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    M. J. Adams. Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990.

    E. Brinkley. "Faith in the Word: Examining Religious Right Attitudes About Texts." English Journal 84, no. 5 (September 1995): 91-98.

    J. Chall. Learning to Read: The Great Debate. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983.

    S. Church. "Is Whole Language Really Warm and Fuzzy?" The Reading Teacher 47, no. 5 (February 1994): 362-370.

    K. Dahl and P. Freppon. "A Comparison of Innercity Children's Interpretations of Reading and Writing Instruction in the Early Grades in Skills-Based and Whole Language Classrooms." Reading Research Quarterly 30, no. 1 (January-March 1995): 50-74.

    G. Duffy. "Let's Free Teachers to Be Inspired." Phi Delta Kappan 73, no. 6 (February 1992): 442-447.

    B. Honig. Teaching Our Children to Read: The Role of Skills in a Comprehensive Reading Program. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1996.

    K. Goodman. Phonics Phacts: A Common-Sense Look at the Most Controversial Issue Affecting Today's Classrooms. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1993.

    E. McPike, ed. "Learning to Read: Schooling's First Mission." American Educator 19, no. 2 (Summer 1995): 3-6.

    Mary Russo, principal, Mason Elementary School, 150 Norfok Ave., Roxbury, MA 02119.

    K. Stanovich. "Romance and Reality." The Reading Teacher 47, no. 4 (December 1993/January 1994): 280-291.