Our American reality is a public school system that lacks the key piece of instruction that at least 30% of kids need: phonics. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this percentage is just about the same as the number of kids who don’t graduate from high school. You may have heard of the whole language/phonics debate. Whole language instruction does work for the majority of people. This is how many of us learned to read. According to Webster’s dictionary, it is “a method of teaching reading and writing that emphasizes learning whole words and phrases by encountering them in meaningful contexts rather than by phonics exercises.” Phonics includes intentionally teaching students the relationship of sounds to letters, the rules of how the letters are put together, and how to decode words using these rules. Many elementary schools have adopted a “balanced approach,” meaning they incorporate whole language and phonics into their instruction. However, in reality, the majority of the teachers using this approach focus solely on whole language and completely leave out the phonics part. It is just easier that way when you have a room full of kids on all different levels. AND, it really does work for most of the kids. BUT, it doesn’t work for at least 30%. These poor kids usually experience a lot of failure and never get the help they need. Many of them somehow make their way all the way to high school, but will eventually drop out or simply not graduate if they are not assisted in a very intentional way.
This has been going on for a generation or more, so the teachers who are now in our classrooms, were likely never taught phonics themselves. This makes them much more comfortable with whole language, and much more unlikely to engage in phonics instruction.
Now, here is the good news. Technology and advances in the field of reading instruction have made it easier than ever before for teachers to be trained to teach phonics. There are many programs that integrate assessment instruments with intervention programs, allowing teachers to easily incorporate excellent instruction in phonics into their classrooms. All it takes is a little nudge, some good tools, and a little training, and the kids get what they need.