teaching with phonics doesn't work

Teaching with Phonics, and why it must stop – Overview

Teaching With Phonics


This is the first in a 4 part series, a series which has one sole aim – to completely discredit the current method of teaching British children how to read (teaching with phonics), and raise awareness of the fact that our children are being let down by the Department for Education on a daily basis.

Other parts in the series can be found below, which will be updated as the series progresses.


Part 2 -What is phonics?

Part 3 – The whole word approach


If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles


The heading for this part is taken from a quote by general Sun Tzu (an ancient Chinese military general & philosopher, and author of the celebrated “The Art of War”). For our purposes, the ‘enemy’ is a problem and the part of ‘yourself’ is being played by the solution – to understand both, is to be victorious.

Victorious? As I said, the plan is to discredit the problem by showing that the solution is a far superior ‘opponent’. By the end of the series you will hopefully understand why teaching with phonics is deeply flawed, and why it has to end.


The series breakdown

The overview


To start this short series, I want to introduce the problem, which is phonics, and the solution, which is the whole word approach to teaching reading.

I will also be highlighting what the Department for Education has to say about the issue, and also shine a light on their arrogance and complete disregard for the evidence against the phonics method of teaching reading.


Teaching with Phonics


The second post will take a closer look at the current method, the one favoured by the DfE, along with some examples. This post will aim to be as explanatory as possible, in as an unbiased a way as possible – think Wikipedia, but a little more reliable.


The whole word approach


As with the post before it, this will attempt to explain this method in as clear a way as possible without trying to lead the reader in any particular direction; facts are key, not bias (although there is obviously some, on my part).


The summary


With this post, now that you have had the opportunity to learn about both approaches to teaching reading, I will explain exactly why one is potentially damaging, and should dropped as a teaching method in favour of the other.

You will also learn just why the arguments against the whole word method, which you will also read about, are invalid.

Still with us? Excellent.


A brief history of teaching with phonics, and the whole word approach


According to the Department for Education, phonics…


…is a way of teaching children to read quickly and skilfully. They are taught
how to:


  • recognise the sounds that each individual letter makes;
  • identify the sounds that different combinations of letters make
    – such as ‘sh’ or ‘oo’;
  • and blend these sounds together from left to right to make a word.


Children can then use this knowledge to ‘de-code’ new words that they hear or see.
This is the first important step in learning to read.


Sounds great, doesn’t it? And it is, at first glance, but you just try teaching a child the difference between ‘take a bow’, and ‘tie a bow’ using phonics.


try explaining context and sentence structure to a 4 year old. I dare you


Sit down with a child, and have them read a book to you using phonics… It is damn near impossible, when they are just starting to learn reading, to get through a sentence without explaining, half a dozen times, that letters only make certain sounds when next to another certain letter, or when the word as a whole has a different meaning depending on context. Yeah, try explaining context and sentence structure to a 4 year old. I dare you.

The whole system of phonics is two dimensional, and more complex sentences and ideas are nigh on impossible to teach this way – and that is its fundamental flaw. Letters do not always have the same sound, not even in words with different meanings but are spelled the same way. And when you add in ‘silent’ letters…

Considering how flawed teaching with phonics is, it must still be the best way of teaching kids to read – otherwise why would the DfE have it in a death grip, refusing to let it go?


Whole word reading


This is an excellent definition of whole word reading…


The Whole Word method of literacy instruction instructs learners to recognize words as whole units without breaking them down into sounds or letter groupings. It focuses on the word as the minimum unit of meaning and therefore the essential base element of reading – Helping Every Child To Read

Now, this sounds so obvious that it couldn’t possibly be right! The word is the essential base element of reading? Get out of town! Seriously, though, this method of teaching stands in direct confrontation with the phonics system – it’s a total contradiction.

How is it, that something so opposite to the current methodology can:


  1. be the correct approach, and yet
  2. go completely ignored by the people whose sole purpose is to educate, and make sure our children have the very best teaching aids, approaches and teachers themselves?


Surely, this cannot work.

The tnihg is, the hmuan bairn is etxmerley cmoeplx and is able to dcihper wrdos in wyas taht dnot seem pssiolbe at frist ganlce.

If you could read the above quite easily, then congratulations – you just took a step in proving my point. The second part of this series will be along soon, and we will take a closer look at the phonics system.

Teaching With Phonics - Why It Should Stop
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Teaching With Phonics - Why It Should Stop
The phonics method of teaching reading is deeply flawed, geared toward helping the minority at the expense of the majority. This approach is not how children need to be taught, there is a better way!
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SJD Content Writing
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