From Gail Withrow’s Home Taught:

During the past 40 years or so, there has been a raging debate in education circles over the best method to teach reading to children: whole word (also called “look-say”) versus phonics.

Look-say is based on memorization of the shape of the word by focusing on the letters that make it up—not on the individual sounds of those letters. For example, the word “bat” in look-say would be taught by giving the child a picture of a bat with the letters b-a-t written beneath the picture. Then, the teacher prints the word again and hopes that the child remembers what the word “bat” looks like spelled out.

Phonics, by contrast, encourages an association between the letters and the sounds they represent. With “phonics-first” (the term coined by Rudolf Flesch in his book, Why Johnny Can’t Read, 1955, Harper and Row: NY) the child is taught the sounds for ba (short a)—t first, and then is encouraged to blend the sounds from left to right to make the word: bat. The phonics method of teaching reading makes explicit the fact that letters are symbols for sounds.

With phonics the child is taught a method of decoding written sounds, which enables her to use a mental tool for deciphering unfamiliar words. Although not all English words are strictly phonetic, a great many of them are. Once the child can read simple books, words that present exceptions to the rules of phonetics can be dealt with as they come up in context.

Also recommended:

Modern “Educators” vs. Reading by Onkar Ghate (November 20, 2003)

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