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A Paper Prepared for the Graduate Seminar in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree


essay writing service

Master of Education

Kathryn Schurmer

March 001


Dating back to the early Greek and Latin alphabets, phonics has been an integral tool in the teaching of reading. In the last two centuries whole language, as a methodology for teaching reading, emerged as an adversarial technique to phonics. For decades the pendulum has swung to the one and then to the other.

The purpose of this literature review is to examine the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches to the learning of reading to arrive at some conclusions as to which technique is more effective or if an integration of both is indicated. As a corollary of this research, some inference as to the optimum age to begin the teaching of reading will be garnered. It was found that both methods have value in the overall purview of learning to read.

Phonics alone, while providing useful and essential parts of the reading process, falls short of being the most efficient and sole technique in this field of pedagogy. Whole language adds a more natural factor in introducing images, senses and comprehension. The rote exercises and memorizations of phonics become the building blocks of the whole language method. The conclusion reached is that a balanced approach, gleaning the most effective elements of each school of thinking, is the indicated solution to the polarity that has existed for so many years between the two.

With regard to the optimum age to begin the teaching of reading, research is inconclusive. Some cultures begin formal education in this subject as early as 5, others start at 7. In the area of preschoolers, one case study shows that an infant as early as 6 months has responded to learning the rudiments of reading.

Both case studies and controlled experiments demonstrate that an optimum age is difficult to define inasmuch as developmental stages, maturity and domestic environment are factors influencing individual children.


ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………. i


I. THE PROBLEM …………………………………………………… 1

Introduction…………………………………………………………. 1

Statement of the Problem…………………………………………… 1

Purpose of the Study………………………………………………..

Importance of the Study…………………………………………….

Delimitation of the Study……………………………………………

Definition of Terms…………………………………………………


Introduction………………………………………………………… 5

History of Reading…………………………………………………. 5

The Pendulum……………………………………………………… 10

Whole Language…………………………………………………… 1

Phonics……………………………………………………………... 1

Explicit vs. Implicit Phonics………………………………………… 16

Beginning Reading………………………………………………….. 6

Skilled Reading……………………………………………………… 7

Age Acquisition of Learning to Read……………………………….. 8




First Graders…………………………………………………………. 0

Second Graders………………………………………………………. 0

Third Grade and Beyond…………………………………………..… 0

A Balanced Reading Program………………………………………... 5

III CONCLUSION……………………………………………………… 8

REFERENCES………………………………………………………… 41




There have been many approaches to reading over the centuries of formal education. Most often children have begun a reading program in its elemental form by learning the alphabet in kindergarten or even earlier, at home. Reading, as a subject in school, in which students are separately graded, now runs its course in the elementary school through Junior High, or Middle School. Thereafter, pupils reading skills are integrated into other language and writing subjects. But at what age is it best for children to begin reading? And what methods of teaching have proven the most effective? Various opinions and studies have sought to answer these questions. It is the purpose of this paper to review and summarize some of the prevalent theories in these areas.

Statement of the Problem

There are conflicting opinions on the optimum age for young readers to begin learning how to read. In the limited research available, some scholars opine that reading could begin as early as 6 months of age while others advocate beginning only when children are developmentally ready. There appear to be biases indicating a variety of optimum ages and instructions for beginning readers. There is little evaluation of existing research showing what is effective and what is not. There is present need to collate, if possible, this wide range of views into more concrete and defined formulas to guide teachers and parents in teaching children to read. Controversies exist over the reading methodologies of Phonics and Whole Language Teaching as to their effectiveness in teaching beginning readers to read and at what age to begin.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to examine extant source material to arrive at concrete conclusions on the optimum age in which children should begin their reading. Concomitantly, methodologies that have been tested and proven most effective as teaching tools will be pointed out.

Importance of the Study

Reading is an integral part of education and an essential building block of all learning. Its importance is fundamental to all future education. Some research shows that pushing a child too early can cause psychological as well as academic problems.(Source unknown) Others intimate that age is not so important. Coltheart (17) concluded that whether or not a child learns to read depends not so much on mental or chronological age as on the kind of instruction they receive, the ability of the teacher, the size of the class, as well as on the ability and motivation of individual children (Author unknown). The need for this study is apparent from the present disparate approaches to incipient reading programs. There is a polarity between those teachers who move young readers through the developmental stages rapidly and those who adhere to a slower pedagogic approach. There is need to synthesize and draw conclusions from these desperate studies.

Delimitation of the Study

The genre of this project is a Literature Survey. Available sources have been researched along with current knowledge gleaned from the Internet. Attention will be given to specialists in the developmental reading field. A comparison of literacy rates and reading methodologies will be addressed. The role of parents and their attitudes and practices in reading to and teaching their children to read will be prerequisites to draw inferences. With the review of available sources, some conclusions will be derived.

Definition of Terms

Basal Reading Programs

Programs that contain some form of phonics instruction to teach beginning decoding skills.

Explicit Phonics

The systematic, sequential presentation of phonics skills using isolated, directed instructional strategies.

Implicit Phonics

Instruction in which students are asked to identify the sounds associated with individual letters in the context of whole words rather than in isolation.

Mental Age

Intelligence quotient (I. Q.) multiplied by the chronological age divided by 100.


The smallest units of speech that distinguishes one utterance or word from another in a given language.

Phonemic Awareness

Spoken words comprising separate sounds that can be analyzed, manipulated, and represented in print.


Theory in which the proper analogy for learning to read is learning music notation, or Morse code, or Braille, in which mastery of a set of symbols comes first. Beginning readers first learn that letters and letter combinations that convey the English Languages forty-four sounds; then they can read whole words by decoding them from their component phonemes.

Whole Language Teaching

Theory that learning to read and write English is analogous to learning to speak it- a natural, unconscious process best fostered by unstructured immersion.




If a child doesnt learn to read to comprehend what he/she is reading, if he/she doesnt learn to read to render reading pleasurable, if he/she doesnt read fluently in all content areas, his/her chances for fulfilling life either by academic success, financial success, and the ability to find interesting work are practically nil (Mc Pike. 15). Our goal is that every child born in the 1st century will read by the age of nine (Learning First Alliance,18). Now nearly half of the countrys children can not read at grade level and many adults have trouble reading the newspaper, filling out a job application, and balancing a check-book. Unfortunately high school education no longer guarantees literacy (Zaidman,18).

Any Literature Review should survey the history of reading methodologies. Phonics, Whole Language and their relationship has been studied by various educators. Their conclusions are important to review and compare in order to evaluate them. Individual case studies also bear mentioning.

History of Reading

An analysis of reading is as Wilson (17-000) states

At first sight it means that someone can recognize marks and translate them into spoken words. It is someone who is functionally literate. Beyond the recognition of the letters and words is the knowledge and understanding that the reader must bring to the written words to be able to make sense of them. (p. )

What is the origination of language? The Greeks were first to have a fully developed alphabet. Ancient Greek and Latin were almost completely phonetically written. When the prime purpose of a very few schools was to learn to read Latin, the common method of reading instruction from Classical times through the Middle Ages was copying, not only the letters, but also various texts of great works. With the Reformation came the demand for reading the vernacular. Luther in Germany and the Calvinists declared that each person should be able to read and study the scriptures. The Bible was translated and books were available to many more people. After the reign of James I, Latin letters led to a mish-mash of spellings that took several hundred years to standardize. People couldnt learn the basic letters and translate them into the sound of words. The method of teaching these many variations later came to be called the phonics system which is really an elaboration of the alphabetical system used by the ancients (Wilson, 17-000, p. 5).

In the mid 1600s, Comenius (grandfather of modern educational methodology) clearly used the ABC method but also showed a need to relate words to the real world. Later others used his work to support whole-word methods. Along with the Bible, there were books designed specifically for reading such as the Horn Book, primers and spelling books. The Horn Book is like an alphabet memory board. Many spellers began to take the place of the primers, the most famous being Noah Websters American Spelling Book (178). In the late 1700s there was still no connection between reading and writing. Reading and writing schools were separate (Wilson, 17-000).

By the second quarter of the 1th century there was a strong need and desire for change. Friedrich Gedike, from Germany, was the first person who was prominent in advocating the natural way of learning to read (1754-180). He thought that the rote learning of meaningless letters led to slower reading. In his view, a child would learn to read by listening to songs and stories. There were many critics that said this system would lead a child to confusing words and not learning how to spell. An influence on teaching the wholeness of words was the theory of Frenchman, Jean Jacotot (170-1840). He found that by memorizing long passages in a book students were able to learn how to read. He taught the wholeness of the book first and then broke it down into smaller units until the letters were learned. Horace Mann (176-185) brought this method to the United States and gave it great publicity. A similar method was already being used in Boston and New York. John Keagy (17-187) proposed a miniature museum of articles whose names children would learn and later would learn their letters and spellings. In 1841 Mann attacked the alphabetic and syllabic methods of teaching reading. He called it a meaningless repetition. Samuel Greene challenged Mann. He declared that letters have to be learned, and learning just words does not lead to mastery of other words. In the long run spelling is made more difficult (Wilson, 17-000).

During the middle of the 1th century many classrooms were still using the ABC method and a few were using the whole-word method. Many were teaching the new method which focused on teaching the sounds of letters. The name phonics began to be applied to this type of learning. Sir Isaac Pitman (11) developed a phonetic alphabet of 4 letters for English and it was used to teach reading (Wilson, 17-000).

By the second half of the 1th century school conditions were harsh and crowded along with rigorous lessons. By the end of this century literacy was no longer the exception, but the rule. Stanley Hall (1844-14) examined extensively the teaching of reading. He believed there was a critical period between the ages of five and eight when the child had both the interest and capacity to learn to read. If forced upon the learner before this it will have long-term negative effects and if missed the learner will later have difficulties and disadvantages (Wilson, 17-000, p. 1).

During this time children would come naturally to learn to read along with other natural development. Education was more hands-on rather than text-book study. From four to eight years a child would be introduced to reading and writing as part of other activities. The whole learning process was to be accepted widely. Progressive movement advocates believed that the whole word method was appropriate. A child will learn words more naturally than he learns letters. Some called this progressive movement as permissive and indulgent. Maria Montessori (1870-15) advocated enabling children to learn through the senses. John Cooke in 100 said that children need the desire to read and then they will learn by any method. After the 10s beginning readers used the look-and-say method, in North America, with Dick, Jane and Spot and Dr. Seuss books. There was a de-emphasis on phonics. A rising population of students were unable to read. According to critics, because word attack skills were not being taught, children were handicapped in deciphering new words and could not handle further education (Wilson, 17-000, p. 4). Rudolf Fleschs scorching 155 best seller Why Johnny Cant Read turned the pendulum back toward phonics in the 160s (Lemann,N., 17).

In the 160s there were many studies on the teaching of reading. When comparing the different methods, the majority supported the phonics approach. A solution to the high number of illiterate students was to again teach phonics directly. In 161, Sir James Pitman, grandson of Sir Isaac, prepared the Initial Teaching Alphabet of 45 letters. For awhile it was used in the United Kingdom and North America. Old programs came out with new names. DISTAR (Direct Instructional System for Teaching and Remediation) incorporated intense phonics instruction, teacher directed, with constant teacher-student interaction. During this time speed reading was important. Many schools established laboratories to aid students in improving their skills in speed and comprehension. Now it had seem the phonics crusaders had won, although it did not last (Wilson, R., 17-000).

In the 180s, Marie Clayss Reading Recovery program in New Zealand was an inspiration and whole language became the new faith. Students should learn to read by actually reading real books, following as the teacher reads, using context, pictures and known words in order to understand the print. Reading should not be taught directly. While phonics would be taught incidentally, teaching separate language skills (encoding, decoding, spelling) in isolation was rejected(Wilson, R., 17-000, p. 6). New Zealand had been seen as a highly literate, and print-oriented society (Guthrie, 181). Many practices associated with whole language approaches to literacy instruction come from New Zealand, and Reading Recovery has been one of New Zealands successful programs. (Wilkinson, 18).

Soon books were hard to find on phonics and teachers had little support for teaching it. There was an explosion of learning disabilities and more students in special education. Californias new state reading test, administered in 1 and 14, was a political mess. The scores showed low levels of reading proficiency. Seventy-seven percent of fourth-graders were below their grade level. The consensus was that using whole-language as the primary theory had been a huge mistake (Lemann, N., 17). In the U.S. the reading wars became more of an issue and entered the realm of politics and religion. Soon the market became popular with the sales of phonics books and commercial tutorial schools. Hooked on Phonics became very popular and sold over two million copies. Wilson(17-000) states that

In 16 in response to voter demand, the California legislature decreed that phonics must be taught, closely followed by Texas and other states. The whole-language advocates retreated, but not very far. The fashionable word now is balance with the whole language people maintaining that they also teach phonics without abandoning the essentials of their method. (p.7)

The Pendulum

The pendulum for whole language or phonics has swung back and forth for many years. Research data suggest that low income and minority students benefit from intensive phonics instruction because most often they dont have the education at home (Zaidman, 18). In 167 there was a struggle about whether phonics should be taught to children or whether they should be taught to read wholes. It was concluded that direct, systematic instruction in phonics was necessary for children to develop word identification skill and reading fluency in an efficient manner (Baumann,J., Hoofman,J., Moon,J., & Duffy-Hester,A., 18).

Many still argued for balance with a strong emphasis on intensive phonics instruction. The rise of whole language in the 180s made the pendulum swing away from phonics. Many teachers were discouraged because of the continuous low test scores. It was recommended to have a balance reading program which included phonemic awareness (sound and words), phonics, and decoding skills. Legislative bills in a dozen or more states mandated that phonics be part of the elementary curriculum. Two thirds of kindergarten through second grade (K-) teachers said that they taught decoding through synthetic phonics which is instruction in which students are taught letter/sound correspondences first and then are taught how to decode words. Phonics was usually taught in the context of stories, spelling, writing and word families, not through tedious worksheets. Overall teachers embraced a balanced or eclectic philosophy. They believed in an approach that combines skills development with literature and language-rich activities (Baumann,J., Hoofman,J., Moon,J., & Duffy-Hester,A., 18).

According to Baumann, Hoffman, Moon, and Duffy-Hester (18)

Even though teachers clearly valued and implemented explicit instruction in phonics and other word identification and comprehension strategies, they likewise valued and simultaneously implemented literature and literacy immersion activities-practices that are typically viewed as whole language or process-oriented reading and language arts instruction. As noted, 71% of the sample indicated that students should be immersed in literacy experiences, and 4% concurred that it was their goal to develop independent, motivated readers who appreciate and enjoy literature. (p. 645)

It was found that teachers design reading and language arts programs that provide children with a multifaceted, balanced instruction that includes a blend of direct instruction in phonics and other reading and writing strategies along with a rich assortment of literature, oral language, and written language experiences, and activities (Baumann,J.,Hoofman,J.,Moon,J. & Duffy-Hester,A., 18).

Lennon and Slesinski state

A balanced approach to reading instruction, incorporating both code-based and meaning-based strategies, is likely to be necessary to build competent reading skills. Direct instruction in both the phonological code and alphabetic principle at the early stages of reading development is necessary for some students to develop the efficiency and automaticity necessary to be competent and fluent readers. (p.)

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) supports programs that are balanced and comprehensive. The programs should include phonologic awareness, phonics, literature, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension-strategy components (DArcangelo, 1).

D. Ray Reutzel (1, Jan) comments on balanced reading

Without a national thrust to align reading instructional practices for a sustained period of time, perhaps at least 10 years, across university teacher preparation programs, in state office or state education agencies, in local districts, and in classrooms, the quest to achieve any kind of measurable progress or diagnosis of our national reading instruction crisis will be effectively postponed, and the Reading Wars will continue( p. ).

Whole Language

Whole language is often assumed of being a simple method of teaching children to read and write. Although whole language has become a full-fledged, still evolving theory of learning and teaching that helps instructional decision making. Research suggest that the more a person is emotionally and intellectually involved in learning, the more the brain learns and retains what is learned. The basic principle in whole language is that children will learn best to read and write if they are actively involved in the learning process. Children will learn to read and write by being supported in actually reading and writing whole texts. These children are not required to do activities with bits and pieces of language. Less proficient readers will need more support in reading whole texts that interest them. With whole language all learners can still engage in the same types of challenges, and children with less developed skills are not forced to do only isolated skills work. They still engage in reading and writing with less difficult texts. Skills are taught in the context of reading and writing (Weaver, 18).


It is commonly accepted that speaking is natural, reading is not. Children do not read automatically. They have to be taught how to read. Reading is a somewhat recent development in human history. Not every society reads. There isnt a little reading center in the brain. Humans havent evolved that way. The neuro-circuitry isnt set up to allow us to read (DArcangelo, 1, p. 1). In one study, disabled readers were compared with good readers. Researchers found a difference in the brain activation patterns of the two groups when the task made increasing demands to break up words into their underlying phonologic structure or sound pattern (DArcangelo, 1). DArcangelo (1) states

This is very exciting and extraordinarily important. One, it shows the functional organization of the brain reading. Two, it shows what happens when people have trouble reading. And three, it shows when the problem occurs. Knowing all of this supports the view that reading is biologically based and lends substantial support to the phonologic hypothesis of how we read and why some people cant read. (p. )

In the study, good readers had a pattern of activation in the back of the brain, the system that includes the occipital region. This is activated by the visual features of the letters. The angular gyrus is where print is transcoded into language. The Wernickes region is the area of the brain that accesses meaning. In good readers the posterior area is strongly activated and there is little activation in poor readers. One area that significantly differentiated good readers from poor readers was phonemic awareness. The poorest readers had difficulty with any phonological processing. One of the strongest predictors of who will be good readers is their phonemic awareness. All this evidence supports a phonologic model of reading. A balanced program is important, but phonics is more important for some children than for others. Overall, all children can benefit from being taught directly how letters represent sounds and how to break up spoken words into smaller units. Poorer readers need this foundation for encouragement to read (D Arcangelo, 1).

A Study conducted by Lennon and Slesinski (1) consisted of kindergarten students in five elementary schools of a 4,400-pupil district in upstate New York. The pool of subjects was identified and divided into low, middle, and high scoring groups. They were assigned to one teacher for every two students (1) tutoring during either the first 10 weeks or the second 10 weeks. The group assigned to the second 10-week session served as a waiting group control for the treatment after the first 10 weeks. This waiting group received 1 tutoring during the second 10 weeks. During the first session, letter names and sounds were introduced using a variety of activities. In addition there were phonemic and phonological activities. The waiting group received very little instruction in phonics. Both groups were taught sight words. The results showed that those students who received the specified instruction preformed at a significantly higher level than the waiting group on a variety of pre-reading and reading skills. Results showed that direct instruction focusing on phonics in small groups will increase students reading skills. In addition, low-scoring students may need more intensive work on sound-symbol associations before proceeding to decoding and word analysis skills (Lennon & Slesinski, 1).

Other studies show that phonological processing skills, such as letter and word naming, letter sound mapping, phoneme segmentation, and verbal memory, are important parts of reading development (Adams, 10; Stanovich, 185; Vellutino & Scanlon, 187). Children who enter first grade without phonemic awareness and an understanding of the alphabetic principle are likely to fall behind their classmates and to be identified as needing special education services (Lennon & Slesinski, 1).

Other research focused on four first grade teachers who had considerable classroom experience. Each teacher was observed separately as Classroom 1, , , and 4. Language arts instruction was observed each week, for at least one hour. Observers focused on the activities, reading materials, and strategies teachers taught students for identifying words, and units of word instruction. The results were as follows. Classroom 1 was the most traditional. Reading groups were conducted in a round-robin fashion and the material was an old basal reading series. Word recognition instruction occurred through a whole-class word wall activity. Little attention was paid to word units. The teacher was never observed modeling sounding and blending units within words. When a child struggled to read a word the teacher would most likely tell the child the word. Classroom created many charts and individual little books. Manipulated materials in phonemic awareness and phonics instruction was used. Word cards were sorted based on spelling patterns. Onsets and rimes were used and children finger pointed to words they read. Classroom used trade books. More discussion of texts and meaning of what was read was observed. Children spent much time writing both texts and journals. If a word was unknown, other children were asked to provide clues. There was little direct phonics instruction. The teacher would use the book to highlight a spelling pattern. Classroom 4 used the most phonics instruction. The students spent time sorting word cards into categories based on spelling patterns. Later on that year the children were more involved in discussions of both vocabulary and the texts they read.

On average , children in classroom 1 were reading at a primer level; classroom students were reading at an end of first grade level; classroom students were reading on a mid-second grade level; and classroom 4 students were reading at a late second-grade level. Overall, children benefited from a program that had structured phonics, teacher-modeled strategies of segmenting words into chunks, and sounding and blending the individual phonemes. After the children knew their letter/sound relationships, they benefited from instruction that modeled how to combine known letter-sounds with what makes sense to identify an unknown word in text. Once they reached the beginning primer level, extensive reading and discussion of texts vocabulary and meaning best increased the reading level of these students (Juel & Midden-Cupp, 000).

Explicit vs. Implicit Phonics

Several studies on beginning reading suggest that instruction employing an explicit phonics approach results in higher student achievement, especially for those who may be at risk for academic failure (Adams, 10; Anderson et al., 185; Beck & Juel, 15; Chall, 18). Students who received explicit phonics instruction scored higher on standardized achievement measures in both word recognition and reading comprehension (Stein, Johnson, & Gutlohn, 1).

Some possible reasons why implicit approaches to phonics instruction are less effective are that a common problem with using context to teach letter-sound correspondences is that many students fail to learn because they cant segment words into their individual sounds. Phonemic skills may be required for students to infer the sounds of letters from whole words (Adams, 10; Beck & Juel, 15).

Juel and Roper/Schneider (185) conducted a study that examined basal reading programs. Only students who scored above the 40th percentile on the Metropolitan Reading Readiness Test participated in this study. In this study teachers were required to teach explicit phonics daily. Only half of the teachers used basal readers that contained words with regular decodable spelling patterns and the other half used basal readers made up of sight words. The students were evaluated five times during the year. The results indicated that students who developed letter-sound correspondence knowledge performed better on all reading tests. Explicit phonics instruction used more phonologically based word identification strategies than students who read text consisting of sight words.

When teaching reading Lapp and Flood (17) concluded that a large amount of teaching time should be given to the development of childrens listening comprehension. For example a teacher would read a story aloud three times. Before reading the story the first time, students made predictions based on the pictures in the book. After the initial read-aloud, children shared their thoughts about the storys content and saw if their predictions were correct. As the teacher read for the second time, students listened for the color words, words that help the reader see the storys content. Next the teacher wrote a list of these words, which the students copied. Then the students again discussed the story and paid close attention to how the author used the color words. After the final read-aloud, the children copied a list of words from the story that contained a spelling pattern like it. Eventually the students read the story independently. Following, they created artwork and participated in role playing activities related to the story. Overall, it is important that the teacher works with those students not progressing in attaining phonics skills (Lapp, D., & Flood, J. 17). These stories read to students need to be fairly simple and few words should be outside their speaking/ listening vocabularies so they are also able to read the text independently (Grossen, 17).

Although this is a great balanced activity that Lapp and Flood proposed, unfortunately there isnt enough time available when teaching beginning reading instruction. Much experimental evidence shows that considerable time should be spent in reading lessons to explicit and comprehensive development of beginning readers phonics skills. Explicit phonics instruction is still found to be superior to implicit phonics instruction (Beck & Juel, 15; Grossen, 17; Hirsch, 16; Liberman & Liberman, 10).

A total of 7 observations of phonics instruction were recorded from 76 classrooms in another study. Phonics instruction was observed at different grade levels. Implicit phonics instruction was most popular in preschool years and decreased as the students moved through higher grades. In preschool there was more dialogue compared to other grade levels and children were involved through verbal interaction and hands-on projects. In contrast, the observations in kindergarten showed mostly explicit instruction. Lessons were teacher directed and skills were taught sequentially. A small percentage of teachers used a combined approach using implicit and explicit phonics instruction (Morrow, L.M., & Tracey, 17).

The results to this study showed that a high percentage of teachers taught implicit phonics in preschool classrooms and it dropped dramatically when children entered kindergarten and the primary grades. The instruction then was mainly explicit. The use of commercial materials increased when students entered kindergarten and increased in first and second grade. A possible explanation for teachers using explicit phonics in the later years is that teachers may feel more compelled to follow a set curriculum that uses an explicit approach. Preschool teachers may feel less pressure from the state to teach through traditional modes. Another finding was that preschool teachers were unaware that they were teaching phonics at all. They might have been under the impression that only explicit teaching can be considered teaching phonics. The last finding was that the combined approach was observed infrequently. Few teachers chose to use both approaches. All in all it is important for students to receive instruction in both, but most importantly teachers should use explicit phonics instruction (Morrow, L.M., & Tracey, 17).

Several studies have offered support for an interactive systems approach that provides explicit instruction in phoneme awareness, phonological coding, and the alphabetic principle along with emphasizing writing, the reading of connected, meaningful text, and the rereading of familiar text (Vellutino et al., 16). These studies have focused on reading achievement of first-grade students. Early intervention in reading has been related to what success students have later in the academic development (Vellutino et al., 16).

Since the federal government has begun to legislate how teachers should teach reading, there has been intense pressure to teach phonics and phonemic awareness (Smith, F., 1). Smith (1) also adds

The issue concerning the nature of reading is whether reading is a matter of constructing meaning or decoding to sound. The issue concerning learning is whether the learner should play an active or passive role in learning to read. The issue concerning instruction is whether teachers or outside experts and authorities should be in charge of classrooms.

We dont have to identify individual words before we can work out what they are. We dont have to tell ourselves This word is house- converting the written word into spoken language-before we can understand what the written word is. The recognition of meaning is direct if we have to divert through spoken language we are in trouble. We have no more need to identify and classify individual letters in order to understand written words than we need to identify and classify individual eyes, noses, and mouths before we can recognize faces (p. 150).

Reading is not decoding of sound. People read to make sense of the written language, not to convert it into sound. Learning is an active process. One doesnt learn by memorizing sets of components which can be put together into something meaningful. One learns because he wants to or is interested in understanding. If someone wants to learn to ride a bicycle he isnt forced to learn all the parts first before ever sitting on it. So if someone wants to learn to read why would they memorize a mass of facts about spoken language? He would learn to read by reading. Teachers should work with their students on a personal level not giving them items on an instructional chart (Smith, F., 1).

Smith (1) also argues

Phonics looks as if it should work. Written words are made up of a mere 6 letters and spoken words are made up of about 40 sounds, so why not teach beginners the spelling-sound correspondences between letters and sounds so that they can decode from written symbols into speech, which is instantly comprehensible. But written language is not a code for speech it is an independent representation of language. Many written languages are perfectly readable without being alphabetic. Written language doesnt decode to speech in any dependable way, and the number of rules involved in trying to connect letters and sounds is both vast and unreliable. Anyone who tries to read phonetically is a disabled reader. Unfortunately, systematic phonics instruction encourages and even coerces children to try to read phonetically. (p. 15)

The spelling-sound correspondences is not practical. Not even computers are programmed to convert written language into speech. Smith believes that learning phonics before one can read is the wrong intervention at the wrong time. After a child is familiar with reading then phonics can be useful. It is easier to say which rules apply after one can read a word. Phonics is neither good nor bad, but it can become a problem when it is an instructional necessity and a hazard when it is imposed on children that can not yet read. It is dangerous to those that need to learn all the phonics rules before they are able to read. Phonics can confuse those who are trying to learn to read (Smith, F., 1).

Students can learn from text that are familiar or predictable. They can be taught significant clues to new words including their pronunciation. The more a child reads the more he will learn about grammar, writing, vocabulary, and spelling (Krashen, 1). When students can read words in meaningful sequences this is more important than knowing the letters and sounds. Words are the smallest meaningful units in our written language. Letters put together into a word make meaning, not just the letters themselves (Smith, F., 1).

Spelling is learned by looking at families of words and organizing them on lists. Those that spell phonetically are often the worst spellers. Those that read constantly will learn how words look and will eventually become better spellers(Smith, F., 1).

Phonemic awareness can also get in the way of reading. One can take a word apart like cat and pronounce it k a t, but this makes it difficult for the child to pronounce it as one word. You can no more separate the sounds from a word that has been uttered than you can extract the ingredients from a cake that has been baked (Smith, F., 1, p.4). Only professional linguists pay attention to individual sounds of spoken words (Smith, F., 1). Smith adds his feelings on research

It is almost impossible to segregate experimental subjects into clearly defined groups (children who have received no phonics instruction compared with children who have received only phonics instruction) and it is almost impossible to ensure that the children in the groups receive only the appropriate experimental treatment (the phonics group do no real reading and the others have no insights about phonics). (p. 154)

Several researchers who promote phonics instruction are also authors or consultants on phonics instruction programs. Those that want to make legislative change have been supported by some major publishing groups, whose materials many teachers are required to use (Goodman S.,18).

Whole language is not an alternative to phonics because it is not an instructional method. As Smith sees it, whole language is a philosophy of education which was independently conceived, developed, and spread in many parts of the world by large numbers of teachers who were worried about the artificial fragmentation of both language and instruction. Many people argue for a balanced approach. Smith feels that it shouldnt be one or the other, or both. Teaching children to read should be up to the teachers, because they know whats best for each individual student. Children do not become readers because of methodologies, but if conditions are right. These conditions include their relationships with books, reading material, and people who help them to read. They also include their own personalities, self-image, interest, mood, and expectations. The only one who should make any decisions for a child is the teacher. It shouldnt be the responsibilities of authorities, legislation, or that which is packaged in commercialized kits of learning materials (Smith, F., 1).

Beginning Reading

In 187 reading failure was as high as 0% to 5% of the school population, and 44% of U.S. fourth graders who were tested scored below basic on the reading assessment. There are many consequences if students dont learn how to read in first grade. There was a longitudinal study conducted of students from first through fourth grades. It was found that the probability that a poor reader at the end of first grade would remain a poor reader in the fourth grade was .88. It was observed that the less likely students read in first grade, the less likely they are to read in later years. It was suggested by researchers that students who fail to learn to read early in their school careers risk falling further behind in the development of literacy skills. The gap between good and poor readers tends to increase as these students progress through the grade levels (Stanovich, K. E. 186).

Beck (17) estimated that 70% to 80% of text books students read early in first grade should be wholly decodable in order for students to develop reliable word identification strategies that are phonologically based. Research shows that how beginning readers learn to read will affect student achievement. If poor decoding instruction is given there will be long-term effects that are potentially devastating to students (Stein, Johnson, & Gutlohn, 1).

According to Adams (10), children will be expected to recognize and know well over 80,000 different words by the end of third grade. They need to recognize these words and know their meanings. The emphasis is mostly on developing word recognition skills in the early grades, but the children must be prepared for the abundance of concepts and information they will be expected to understand. Research shows that early school development of vocabulary and word knowledge is critical for all children especially those who come from impoverished homes (Juel & Midden-Cupp, 000).

Children who learn to read early on read considerably more than peers and learn things that increase their text comprehension (Juel, 14; Stanovich, 186). Reading helps students gain both word knowledge and word recognition skills. When students can read independently enough to understand several words, they will learn more words by seeing words several times in print (Share, 15). It is impossible to teach children directly all the words they will come across in print. Only a few thousand words usually receive direct instruction in the primary grades. Over 500 different spelling-sound rules are needed to read. Most phonics programs and schools teach about 0 rules (Juel, 14).

Children spend more time in their homes and communities than they do in their classrooms. Families visit the grocery store, church, malls, and doctors offices. These places in the community provide occasions for children to see print. Families should be aware of these opportunities to use this print to acquire reading skills. Parents can use these resources to teach children to read no matter how young they are. Parents can join the library and have their children attend the programs that are offered. Schools can also add to this experience by conducting a field trip to the grocery store. A teachers can help children and their families to understand the abundance of print in everyday contexts (Hiebert & Pearson D., 000). Research shows that schools perform higher if there are volunteers working in the classrooms, frequent communication with the homes of their students, and involvement with community literacy activities (Hiebert & Pearson D., 000).

Early childhood and reading educators agree that early experiences with books are critical for young children, but the form that this initiation should take is a debate among early childhood educators. There are few descriptions of developmentally appropriate literacy practices with preschoolers. In the last 0 months, Yaden and his colleagues have implemented an early literacy intervention at a child-care facility in one of Americas lowest income communities, (Hiebert & Pearson D., 000, p. 18). They are getting more support and professional development for preschool staff to expand instructional activities. Some ideas are Big Book Shared Reading, writing, and socio-dramatic play areas. This is having a big effect on all beginning readers (Hiebert & Pearson D., 000).

In a technological society, the demands for higher literacy are increasing. In preschool a child who can pretend to read a story he has heard many times is demonstrating an understanding that reading is about content or meaning. A first grader having been taught some phoneme correspondences, may read the same book disfluently, by sounding out the words he had memorized. The more fluent older reader shows more rapid reading. He can focus on form as well as meaning. If there is an unknown word, meaning will be disrupted while the new word is decoded. Many researchers believed that reading development started in first grade with formal instruction. Now it is realized that many developments during the preschool period constitute early accomplishments in literacy. Thus literacy development is intertwined with language acquisition from a very young age. Researchers have also recognized that literacy development is enhanced by shared book reading, storytelling, pre-conventional writing, and rhyming. Oral language skills are predictors of reading achievement (Snow, C., Scarborough, & Burns S., 1).

Some early readers are extremely bright, while others are average or even below average (Jackson, N. E., 1). Decoding is not necessarily related to intelligence, in that some children have severe reading problems even if they have a high I.Q. (Healy, J.M., 18). Many children who do learn to read early are ones who have learned how to identify letters of the alphabet accurately and quickly ( Jackson, N.E., & Myers, M. G., 18). Researchers have concluded that the problem for early readers is to break the written code which is an analytical problem. Once children learn to read there comprehension skills could be helped by having excellent language skills (Dale, P.S., Crain-Thoreson, C., & Robinson, N. M., 15). Jackson (1) reported that precocious readers range in intelligence, and in reading strategies. Some are good at using context and print cues to figure out words, while others are good at decoding. All of them have parents who take great interest in their development. They read to them , point out letters, help them with printing of letters, and so on. The help is not a formal kind, they are responding to the interests of their children.

The long term effects to getting off to an early start in learning to read are positive. Cunningham and Stanovich (17) followed the progress of a group of students from grade 1 to grade 11. The study showed that children who got off to an early start in reading in grade 1 were more likely to be avid readers later on in life. Nicholson, McIntosh, and Grant (000) found that children who had high reading scores at the end of their first year of school were more likely to have high reading scores at the end of their fifth year of school. An early start to learning to read could have long term effects not just on reading skills, but on other cognitive areas such as vocabulary and general knowledge, and writing , which are pertinent for academic success in school (Juel, C., 188).

Askew and Fountas (18) describe three actions that are necessary to encourage successful early reading. The first is that there needs to be the expectation that children need to work at the point of difficulty and this must be established early. The second is that children must be encouraged to actively respond from the start. Children need to be engaged in the process of reading and children need to take matters into their own hands. The third is when something is completely new, the material needs to be related to something already known, so it is easier to learn. Askew and Fountas (18) also discuss that active learners will monitor their own reading and writing. In their article they state the following

To foster active learning, we as teachers have to plan and reinforce a self extending system. We must show children ways to detect errors for themselves, and we must encourage them to do so. We must teach them a variety of alternatives for problem solving when reading and writing texts. All children, from the beginning, need to learn that they must work at points of difficulty, they must take some initiative, and they must make some links. (p.1)

Skilled Reading

Reading is highly complex and depends upon the mastery and coordination of many skills. By adulthood, most of us read so quickly and effortlessly that we dont think about the skills we are using. Highly skilled readers fixate their eyes very briefly on virtually every word on the printed page. The printed words are very rapidly represented by the brain both orthographically and phonologically. Decoding is possible because correspondences between spellings and pronunciations of words has been built up for years of instruction and practice (Snow, C., Scarborough, & Burns S., 1). Snow, Scarborough, and Burns (1) state

Using both orthographic and phonological representations, the mental dictionary is quickly searched for an entry that most closely matches the input with respect to its pronunciation and/ or spelling. When a satisfactory match is found, we say that the printed word has been recognized. At this point, we can now retrieve all the other information that has been stored about the word, including its meanings and syntactic constraints. As successive words from the text are recognized, skilled readers apply their general language skills and background knowledge to derive a cohesive understanding of the sentence being read, and of the larger text which it is embedded. Good readers constantly monitor their comprehension to make sure that the result makes good sense. (p. )

Gifted readers are skillful, flexible readers who read often. Skills eventually become automatic. Gifted readers monitor their reading. They know how to select strategies and monitor their comprehension. Gifted readers find books that they love and become passionate about them (Abilock, 1).

Students who learn to read proficiently in the early grades have a permanent advantage over delayed readers, who are not gifted readers. Anyone can become a proficient reader. Children need to have positive expectations about reading and think of it as a pleasurable activity. Late decoders can become gifted readers and deficits can be supported by school practices (Abilock, 1).

Research also suggests that younger and poorer readers rely more heavily on context than do more skilled readers (Perfetti, 185; Stanovich, 186). Several researchers have hypothesized reasons for these differences. When students use context clues, they frequently do so as an alternative to carefully examining letter-sound sequences in words. Context is an insufficient and unreliable strategy, and therefore inhibits the reading achievement of these poor readers (Adams, M.J. 10).

Age Acquisition of Learning to Read

Early years up until preschool lay the foundation for successful achievement in response to school instruction. The first three years of formal schooling are critical in laying the groundwork for the rest of their lives. The following is a collation of age and expected growth in reading competency (Snow, C., Scarborough, H., & Burns S., 1).


The primary challenge for this age is to have the child discover and appreciate the functions and benefits of written language. They become interested in print by looking at signs and labels. They may recognize several books by their covers and understand that they are read from front to back, left to right, and by looking at the print rather than the pictures. Three-year-olds may know that writing can be used for communication. They may learn individual letters and numbers. Experiences at this age should give them a positive attitude toward literacy (Snow, C., Scarborough, H., & Burns S., 1).


They face the challenge of learning more details about print and words and how the alphabetic system works. They can attend to the meanings of words and their internal structure. Many four-year-olds learn to appreciate and produce rhymes, count syllables, and notice phonological similarities between words. They make progress in identifying, differentiating, and reproducing letters. Some can write their own names. Many children at this age attend preschool or acquire this information by participating in home literacy activities. These children are also learning many new vocabulary words (Snow, C., Scarborough, H., & Burns S., 1).


Five-year-olds have developed some degree of phonological awareness. They are now able to figure out how the alphabetic system works. Knowing what phonemes represent, children can switch letters around to change the pronunciation and meaning of different words. With support they may be able to read regularly spelled words as well as recognize some frequent sight words. They can understand texts that are read aloud to them and formulate questions about the texts (Snow, C., Scarborough, H., & Burns S., 1).

First graders

First grade is typically the time when children are introduced in a systematic fashion to the alphabetic code and are expected to remember and apply reliable information about sound- letter correspondences in reading words (Snow, C., Scarborough, & Burns S., 1, p. 5). First graders reading should become accurate and relatively automatic. They should use their decoding skills along with meaning to figure out words. They should be able to participate in discussions of texts they have read themselves or someone has read to them. They need to continue getting exposure of literacy (Snow, C., Scarborough, H., & Burns S., 1).

Second graders

In second grade, more details of English spelling are learned and vocabulary skills should continue to grow. A major new challenge is to achieve fluency or automaticity with the new skills learned in first grade. They should learn to read without knowing they are decoding. Reading practice should be provided so they can become fast and automatic in their recognition of words. Especially at this level they need instruction in comprehension strategies (Snow, C., Scarborough, H., & Burns S., 1).

Third grade and beyond

More and more skill and fluency in decoding are attained at this age. Students should engage in silent reading rather than reading aloud. The literacy skills that the students have been learning in the earlier grades will help in reading other material like science and social studies. Students continue to learn how to sharpen their comprehension skills and should continue reading independently in order to attain skilled reading (Snow, C., Scarborough, H., & Burns S., 1).

Many people assume that children who learn to read at an early age are gifted readers. This is not necessarily true. The age at which children learn to decode is influenced by certain biological and cultural factors unrelated to giftedness. Those that possess a strong auditory short-term memory span, and are able to name letters rapidly, are often early readers. Also the ability to decode successfully is also related to how language is represented symbolically in the childs culture (Abilock, 1).

People around the world disagree about the age children should be when they begin to read. Davey (cited in Where can children be taught to read?) indicates that the best age to begin reading in New Zealand is age 6 (Davey, 1-double quote). It has been thought that it might be better for children to start reading at a later age and this will enable them to learn faster. It is felt that many children are not ready and not mature enough to learn to read at age five. They have a hard time rising to adult expectations and may develop negative feelings about reading (On-line, No author).

One hundred years ago there was a strong view among educators that children were not mentally equipped to learn to read and also that reading was bad for the eyes. In Greece the focus of education was music and gymnastics at the age of six. Academics would come at a later age. Some educators thought reading should begin and age eight or even ten years of age (On-line, No author). If children were only aloud to begin reading when they were older, then it would not be possible for children to learn at a younger age. There are many countries where children learn to read, even though they are only 5, 6, or 7 years of age. In the article When can children be taught to read the author states

In England, Israel, India, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Uruguay, and New Zealand, children begin school at 5 years of age. In the United States, France, Argentina, Japan, and Australia, school starts at 6 years of age. In Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Hungary, Iceland, Greece, Sweden, Afghanistan, and Ecuador, it is 7 years of age. (p.1)

There is no clear evidence that any age is more privileged than another. The importance the culture gives to reading, depends on the age at which a child begins school. For many years it was felt that the best age to begin reading was when the child had a mental age of 6.5 years (Morphett, M.V., & Washburne, C., 11). Morphett and Washburne (11) conducted a study using 141 children giving the children reading and intelligence tests. They found that children did not seem to make reasonable reading progress until their cognitive development was about 6.5 years. They based their conclusions on a sample of children learning to read at 6 years of age. Colheart (17) concluded that it does not depend on the mental or chronological age of the child, but on the kind of instruction they receive, the ability of the teacher, the size of the class, as well as the ability and motivation of individual children.

One study examined the writing skills of a group of 0 pre-schoolers who had already learned how to write. These children were able to spell words phonetically by using the sounds contained within the names of the letters of the alphabet. This study showed that at age five students can acquire reading-related skills, as revealed in their writing (Read, C., 17). A more recent study conducted by Bradley and Bryant (18) worked with sixty-five 4 and 5 year olds. The children were divided into four groups. One group received training in phonological awareness. A second group received phonological and letter-sound training. A third group received training that was unrelated to the reading training. The fourth group received no training. The trained children received forty lessons spread over two years. The results showed that the children who had received phonological and simple letter-sound decoding training made the most progress. There were no clear differences among the other three groups. This study showed that pre-school children can make progress if given specific reading instruction.

Coltheart (17) has discussed that the best time for children to read is when they are ready to read. There is little variation when children learn to walk or talk. Most children are walking and talking by the age of two. There is a lot of variation when children learn to read, and some simply never learn. Reading is not part of our evolutionary inheritance, children have to learn to read. On the other hand Smith (176) has argued that children are able to read before they can recognize any words. If children are left alone, they will make their own progress without any formal instruction at all.

There have been studies conducted to see if there is a big difference in both age and ability between boys and girls when learning to read. In most countries there are more boys in the groups of students with the lowest reading scores, yet in the studies conducted in reading, overall boys did better than girls. There are discrepancies, but they dont seem to cause a major problem. The differences are very small (On-line, No author).

Six cases of early readers were researched. Books, Sesame Street and playing with blocks were the interest of these children from the first few months until about 18 months of age. By 18 months they had learned some sight words and knew letters of the alphabet. They started learning the sound of letters by 4 months. By 18 and months they started making their own words, using blocks and magnetic letters. By three years old they were sounding out unfamiliar words and started reading books on their own (Anbar, A., 186).

Children can learn to read as early as one year old. It isnt easier for a child to understand a spoken word rather than a written one. What does matter is that the words be big enough for the childs eye to see, and the sounds be loud enough for the ears to hear. If a parent spends fifteen to twenty minutes a day working on language development, then that child will learn to read at a very young age. Ages one and a half to three seem to be the most favorable for beginning reading. The best teacher at this age is the intimate caretaker. The best school is the home. Here the child feels safe and there is much consistency. Reading is learned, not taught. Children have to want to learn to read and not be forced when they are not ready. Many readers have no direct instruction from their parents. Most of those early readers parents had read to them, answered their questions, and shown that reading is an enjoyable pastime for adults. These readers have received various forms of encouragement and assistance (Children as Early Learners, unknown author).

In the article Children as Early Learners, the author talked about a child named Kimio who learned to read at a very young age. At six months, before the child could speak, he could sit up, recognize familiar faces, and understand the names of familiar objects. The upper-case letters were printed in red and taped inside the footboard of the childs crib. The lower-case letters were taped to the headboard. The parents would point to the letters and name them several times a day. By Please note that this sample paper on A LITERATURE REVIEW COMPARING THE TEACHING METHODOLOGIES OF PHONICS AND WHOLE LANGUAGE ALONG WITH DETERMINING THE OPTIMUM AGE FOR BEGINNING READING is for your review only. In order to eliminate any of the plagiarism issues, it is highly recommended that you do not use it for you own writing purposes. In case you experience difficulties with writing a well structured and accurately composed paper on A LITERATURE REVIEW COMPARING THE TEACHING METHODOLOGIES OF PHONICS AND WHOLE LANGUAGE ALONG WITH DETERMINING THE OPTIMUM AGE FOR BEGINNING READING, we are here to assist you. Your cheap research papers on A LITERATURE REVIEW COMPARING THE TEACHING METHODOLOGIES OF PHONICS AND WHOLE LANGUAGE ALONG WITH DETERMINING THE OPTIMUM AGE FOR BEGINNING READING will be written from scratch, so you do not have to worry about its originality.

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