Posts Tagged ‘Dr Hempenstall’

The Phonics Debate

April 18, 2011

It is far too simplistic to be blaming a whole language approach instead of a phonics approach for the poor results in our children’s reading.  If it was only as easy as reinstalling a national phonics program, we would have done it ages ago.  The issue here is not about phonics like some are professing:

OLD-school ways of teaching children to read should be re-introduced in Victoria, experts say, urging a return to phonics.

Academics and primary education specialists say Victorian children are paying the price for the Education Department’s failure to heed a federal literacy taskforce’s calls for a return to structured phonics-based teaching.

RMIT childhood psychology expert Kerry Hempenstall said the current approach – where children are taught to recognise whole words instead of learning to sound them out – had failed.

“Whole language has been around for 30 years and since then the Government has spent billions on literacy programs and reducing class sizes and, despite that investment, literacy has not improved,” Dr Hempenstall said.

The Education Department told the Sunday Herald Sun it had no way of knowing whether the reading standard had improved under the whole language “experiment” because it could not compare the two different approaches.

Spokeswoman Megan McNaught said figures showed there were more grade 3 students meeting minimum reading standards today than 10 years ago.

The National Inquiry into Teaching of Literacy recommended in 2005 that educators should provide “systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction” to help children master “alphabetic code-breaking skills” needed for reading.

But Dr Hempenstall said Victoria had ignored the advice to the detriment of its little learners.

“Teachers today have not been taught to teach phonics in a systematic way,” Dr Hempenstall said.

“They don’t receive that training in their teacher education, so it doesn’t matter whether or not people are saying, ‘We do teach phonics’, they need to have that training for it to have an impact.”

Anyone that thinks that reverting to a phonics program will fix the problem is in fantasy land.  The problem concerning poor reading rests with two major factors.

1.  People are reading less.  We live in a modern world where people are getting their entertainment and news from the digital media.  Children are not being exposed to literature at home like they used to.  Adults are not modelling good reading habits in the same way that they used to.  There is something quite powerful about reading around your kids. 

2.  Both systems of teaching literacy are deeply flawed because they don’t easily convey the joys of reading.  Both systems can be taught well, but often come across in  a turgid and uninspiring way.  Whatever system teachers are instructed to take on must be engaging and relay the joys of reading to our kids.

When something isn’t working, there is always a call top go back in history.  Only trouble is, things change for a reason.  If it was working so well back then, it never would have been overhauled in the first place. 


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