***This content is based on an interview with Reading Horizons Board Member and former TESOL President, Dr. Neil J. Anderson.***
Teachers who use the Whole Language Approach argue that words must be deciphered based off of context instead of decoding through the use of phonetic rules. They believe that teaching phonetic rules is ineffective because of the many exceptions to those rules in the English language. However, Dr. Neil J. Anderson has found that both schools of thought are valuable and that teaching phonetic rules is important because most students, especially English Language Learners (ELLs), have a larger spoken vocabulary than written vocabulary. And if students can dictate a word correctly then they will be able to access their spoken vocabulary as they read which results in increased reading comprehension.
This is what Reading Horizons Board Member and former TESOL President, Dr. Neil J. Anderson had to say about why teachers should teach phonetic rules despite the exceptions:
When I was a new graduate student in the field, I was taught that it was unnecessary to learn phonetic rules because there were so many exceptions to those rules. The more I’ve learned about teaching reading, I’ve come to realize that It’s really more about teaching the combination of both bottom up and top down reading strategies. Teaching top down strategies is actually pretty easy and most English language teachers do that very well. But unless you know the rules for decoding the words in English, we’re not adequately giving students the bottom up skills that they need in order to decode the words that are decodable.
If I could roll back the clock on my own career, I would learn those decoding skills well enough that I’d be able to automatically teach them to English language learners. It’s just such an effective way for them to become better readers.
When they can hear themselves correctly decode a word, and in many cases they’ve heard that word before, that’s going to help bring awareness to that particular word. We have phonetic rules available and I think it’s really important for us to teach those rules to second language readers.
As I have visited with my teachers over the years, I realize that many teachers wonder why they should be teaching phonetic rules when there are so many exceptions to those rules. I believe that it is important to give them the tools they need to effectively decode words that can be decoded. I’m confident that when they come to words that are not decodable, instead of being confused, they will immediately recognize that the rules do not apply in those cases. I think that anything we can do as language teachers that can help illuminate the code will help students understand how to use the code in effective ways in their reading.
Why Dr. Neil J. Anderson is an Advocate for Using Reading Horizons in the Classroom:
When I see what the product can do for second language readers who for the first time of their reading career the light bulb turns on for them. When they see that they understand this system well enough to actually apply what they’ve learned, it causes me to want to spread this information to other language teaching professionals. I share this information with my colleagues to allow them to see the benefits that this program could have for them and their classroom.