Why Reading Scores Across the Nation Have Declined
by Stewart E Brekke
We have lost a nation of readers due to the extensive use of the whole word method in the teaching of reading. We need intensive use of the phonics method of reading in teaching all kinds of students. Despite the repeated citations of many studies by professors who have never dealt with individual students in elementary and high school and who strongly advocate the whole word method of teaching reading, many students cannot recognize all kinds of common words visually and therefore have difficulty reading. I have dealt with a large number of students on an individual basis from the Chicago Public Schools, the Catholic schools, of different races , Black, Hispanic and Caucasian, and from my experience it is clear that many young students cannot read well because they cannot sound out words they do not immediately recognize visually or totally new words. It is my opinion that the poor reading scores of today's young people of many different backgrounds is due to the lack of teaching the tried and true method of phonics.
To teach the phonics method of reading in the classes is more involved and requires more effort than the teaching of the whole word method and is not therefore used as much as it should be. The phonics method of reading requires repeated drill and practice in the classroom especially in the early grades and the use of drills and practices is not in vogue particularly in the universities today. If a poll was taken today of CEO's of corporations, successful lawyers, doctors and managers, I am certain that all of these successful individuals have learned to read through the phonics method. Also, a great industry has grown up selling videos and educational materials to teach young students reading through phonics. These young students have never learned to read properly and therefore have had poor academic performance. Often, by using these commercial phonics products successful reading results and grades and individual test scores improve.
To improve reading scores in all grades in all kinds of schools, private and public, Black, White and Hispanic, I would require intensive use of the time tested and proven phonics method especially in the early grades, but also at all levels in the schools. Implementing the phonics method of reading will not only improve reading scores, but learning and test scores of all kinds because it is the only real way to teach reading. Further, the phonics method is inexpensive and could save school districts millions since requires minimal extra materials, and just the teacher and students.
Further, when students can read, they like to learn because they feel successful with the class material. When students cannot read well they feel they are inadequate and do not like school and learning, and then become truant and discipline problems. I have seen a slow learner in general science read better than even an honors physics student because the slow student learned phonics and the honors student did not. Reading excellence is not dependent on IQ as I have found. Slow learners can read well provided the area of the brain which deals with reading is not damaged or affected by retardation factors. I have also seen learning disabled students have academic problems, not because they are learning disabled, but simply because they have not learned the phonics method of reading. Often, many schools I have been in require reading periods just to improve the reading capability of the students. This is an error and possibly a waste of time and effort. We do not need more set aside reading periods, we need periods in which reading poor students learn to read through teaching them phonics.
Therefore, good careers can be generated for our young people if they can read well which can only be done by using the phonics method of reading especially in the early grades.
I offer this insight from the daily classroom experience I have had for over twenty years of teaching physics, chemistry and various sciences in the high schools of the Chicago Public Schools.
Stewart E Brekke, MS in Ed, MA
(Chicago Public Schools--retired)
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