How Does the Choice of Teaching Method Affect Learning?
Teaching Methods in Reading
The teaching method is a term that is used to encompass all of the principles and strategies used for instruction. In terms of teaching students how to read, there are two main teaching methods being used today: the whole word approach and the phonics method.
The whole word approach teaches reading by introducing words as whole units. The whole word approach does not require students to analyze the sub-parts of the word, but merely requires them to memorize how it looks through the use of “visual hooks” so that they can recognize it by sight. By contrast, the phonics method teaches reading by first introducing the sound-letter associations so that the student can then decode words based on the letters used. Thus there is no limit to the number of words he or she can read once he or she has successfully learned the 40+ sounds that correspond to the 26 letters of the alphabet.
The whole word approach, also called the “look-say approach” or “sight reading method”, was the most often used teaching method in American schools until recently, when the federal government instituted massive literacy reforms on the basis of compelling results that point to the value of using phonics up to the third grade.
Teaching Method and its Effect on Literacy
Some pedagogic experts claim that students will learn how to read regardless of the teaching method used. And indeed, this may be true, because students without any severe intellectual deficiencies do acquire some reading skills at school. However, it all boils down to a question of proficiency, because just having “some” reading skills is quite a long way from being literate.
The most recent exam results compiled by the National Assessment for Education Progress reveals that 25% of eight graders in America are reading at “below basic” levels. Reading at below basic levels means that these students are ill-equipped to perform crucial task such as understanding complex material, increasing their reading and speaking vocabularies, and improving their study skills. In short, they are unlikely to succeed in college unless some intervention is applied. Even then, there is decreased hope of these students ever reaching their full potential, as education experts have found that the fourth grade is considered the watershed year when it comes to acquiring literacy skills. Interestingly, these results were achieved before the phonics literacy reforms were instituted.
A student who has been exclusively taught using the whole word method will have significant blind spots: there are only so many words that can be memorized by form, and context clues are unreliable when used to identify a specific word. Students can progress from one grade level to another without being able to read at all, because memorization and using clues does not define reading. A student’s use of clues can also lead, in many instances, to guessing; the incorrect guesses that naturally result lead to miscomprehension of the text.
Phonics as Part of the Solution
The growing population of individuals with problems in literacy is prompting both government and private institutions to come up with solutions. As the problem has been officially declared a national health problem, the National Institute of Health Studies is taking an active part in resolving the issue. They are discovering that, given the proper instruction in sound-letter relationships, 95% of even the least skilled readers can learn to read at grade level. This discovery is highly crucial, because when children in the first grade struggle with reading in the first grade, they soon come to the conclusion that they neither like reading nor want to learn how to read.
Teachers need to be aware of when their students are not benefiting from their teaching method. Most teachers are sensitive enough to recognize when students do not or cannot seem to engage in reading lessons, but being aware and recognizing non-response is not enough— it needs to lead to discernible adjustments in the teaching method so that the learning needs of the students are met. Clearly, how students are being taught is just as important as what they are being taught.
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