Emphasizing Phonics, Even if the Teacher Isn't

(By Julie Zhu -- Montgomery Blair High School)
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By Jay Mathews
Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dear Extra Credit:

At the beginning of the school year, I asked my child's kindergarten teacher about the reading curriculum. I got an ambiguous answer. Further questioning revealed no more, but the materials coming home in the backpack did. Once I saw the whole-language approach was being used, I bought a phonics book.

I've been teaching phonics at home nights and weekends ever since. I have observed my child guessing incorrectly at words for which she has the phonics skill set to sound out. We have talked about this, but it still happens. How do I undo the damage done by the whole-language reading curriculum?

My child seems to be meeting the teacher's expectations. My child has told me about another student in the class who "sounds out" but was not taught that skill by the teacher. So I know I am not alone in teaching extracurricular phonics.

Adeline Wilcox

Prince George's County

Educational researchers are still fighting the whole language vs. phonics battle, but, as you say, the phonics people have more evidence on their side. I am all for parents deciding how their children should be taught, but it takes hard work. Collect data and materials in support of your position on phonics and show them to the teacher. Listen to what she says. You are trying to be polite, I realize, but the teacher deserves your frank statement that you don't like the way she is teaching reading.

She may surprise you and say that she agrees, and that she is about to bring more phonics into her lessons. Or she may say she doesn't agree. If so, go to the principal and then the district's reading specialist, and see whether they can help. If not, you are going to have to look for another school. At least this time, you will know what questions to ask before you enroll your child.

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