According to some reading experts there are four methods proven effective in teaching reading. These methods are phonics, look and say, the language experience approach, and the context support method. However, a newer method, syllabics, might be gaining ground as a viable, even preferred, method for teaching children to learn to read. Each method warrants a closer look.
Teaching Reading with Phonics
The use of phonics to teach reading is perhaps the most widely used and most easily recognized method in play today. Teaching children to read using the phonics method begins with teaching the alphabet and the sound associated with each letter. Reading begins with short, two-letter, words and blends which are easy for the child to "sound out". After mastering two-letter words, children move on to three-letter words, then four-letter words, and more.
The main criticism of teaching reading using phonics is that the method gives children the introduction they need to letter sounds so that they can manage words that can be read phonetically, but does little to prepare them for words that are not phonetically regular (such as vowels). This method also requires that children be provided with sufficient phonetic reading material. Creative teaching formats also have to be used to keep children from getting bored with the method.
Look and Say Reading
The look and say reading method is also known as look-see or the whole-language approach. With look and say reading, a child learns the whole word at once rather than as a series of letters or sounds. To teach whole words, the teacher often uses flashcards and/or pictures to represent the word. The teacher might sound out the word for the child and ask the child to repeat the word rather than sound it out for himself/herself.
Look and say reading has been criticized as not giving children the tools they need to sound out words for themselves. In essence, the child is required to memorize words as opposed to really learning how the letters and sounds work together to form words. Some educators believe, however, that combining phonics with look and say reading can help children tackle more difficult words, compared to the first two methods.
The Language Experience Approach to Reading
The language experience approach to reading uses the child's own life experiences to teach words and reading. For instance, if a child draws a picture of his or her family, a teacher might ask the child who each person is in the drawing. As the child says such words as "mom", "dad", "my brother Rob", the teacher writes those words under each person in the picture. If a child draws a picture of a cat in a tree, the teacher writes the words "a cat in a tree" under the drawing.
As the child gains a better understanding of words, teachers can talk about and write more complicated sentences such as "This is my family. I have a mother, a father, and a brother named Rob".
Some educators like to make a sort of book out of the child's drawings. This personalized book would then obviously be filled with pages that the child can automatically "read" since that child is the author of the book. Teachers can also encourage students to trace over the words they've written to begin early writing experiences.
Many educators use this method as a way to introduce children to reading even before they begin teaching reading using phonics, the look and say, or any other reading method. It's a great way to help children understand the connection between the pictures and words that appear on the pages of a book and to help them begin simple word recognition. Unfortunately, the method seems to be limited to teaching children only how to read concrete nouns—those that represent physical objects that can be drawn or photographed. Verbs, adjectives, adverbs, articles, prepositions and nouns that have no common physical representation can't be accommodated by the language experience approach for learning to read.
The Context Support Method
Much like the language experience approach to reading, the context support method uses the connection between pictures and words to attract and hold the attention of the reader. Some educators believe that holding a child's attention might be the single most important factor in learning to read. This makes sense because a disinterested child is less likely to pay attention long enough to learn the material. Obviously, an interested child is likely to be more interested in learning.
Many parents complain that, especially once their male children move past the early reading stage, there is little material available for them to read. Toddler boys and girls are often presented with reading material geared toward their particular interests, such as boats and balls for boys and dolls for girls. However, some educators insist that the relative disinterest that boys eventually develop in reading might be due to the lack of sufficient reading material that interests them. Therefore, after the initial boost that boys get in the early reading stages, there might not be nearly enough context support for them to continue to read for pleasure.
Using Syllabics to Teach Vowel Sounds
One of the major criticisms of using phonetics to teach reading is that the method addresses consonant sounds far better than it does vowel sounds. For instance, the letter "b" makes the same sound regardless of whether the word it is used in is "bite" or "bit". However, using those same two words, the letter "i" can be either "long" or "short". This discrepancy in sound "rules" can make it difficult for early readers to understand how vowels are to be addressed.
Syllabics teaches both consonant sounds and vowel sounds so that children can master them both properly. Syllabics teaches children the consonant sounds and the main consonant blends, and then teaches children how to tackle the sounds made by vowels. Syllabics uses what it calls "letter codes" to teach children how to read just about any word except those that do not follow general word pronunciation rules and foreign words.
The bottom line on reading methods is that, in general, no one method is yet viewed as being the cure-all, end-all for teaching reading to all children. Most educators currently use a combination of methods geared toward the specific needs of the child. Choosing the program that is best for each child requires an understanding of the strength and weaknesses of the methods available as well as an appreciation of what works best for the child.
Michael Levy has published more than 250 articles and books on learning and memory. Recently, he developed Reading Buddy 2.0 to teach children to learn to read English using a remarkably easy and effective syllabics method. Would you like a free copy of this innovative computer program to teach your child to read using this modern method? Claim your free copy of Reading Buddy 2.0.