Is Your Student (or child) Reading or Word Calling?
by Bill Lauritzen
eading implies understanding.
Many students in our schools today do not read. They simply have
learned to say the sounds of the words without really understanding
the meanings of the words.
Part of the problem may be in the method of teaching called phonics
(sounds). Phonics has been battling for decades with
the whole word and whole language method.
Whats the difference between them? In phonics, the student
learns how to say the sound of th. In the whole word
method, the student learns the whole word thunder
along with its meaning. In the whole language method, the student
is immersed in literature about storms with the hope that he
will absorb some things about thunder.
The advantage of phonics is that by putting sounds together the
student can sound out new words. He knows th
and he knows ink so he reads think. He
is able to read many words that he has heard and understood,
but never seen. And in this age of radio and TV there are
plenty of words like that.
The disadvantage of phonics is that the student also can sound
out words that he has never heard, and doesnt understood.
For example, he sees th, e, ro,
and pod, and bravely reads theropod,
catches his breath, and continues on. The teacher, if not extremely
astute, never bothers to check if he understands what therapod
represents. (A type of dinosaur that stood on its hind legs.)
Soon, you can get a situation in which the whole class is boldly
calling out words, thinking they are reading. The principal of
the school sticks his head in the classroom, and everyone looks
like they are reading and so gives the teacher a good rating.
The superintendent stops by the school and everyone looks like
they are reading, and so he gives the school a good report, and
so on up to the governor, etc., etc. Teachers make this situation
worse when, during the reading-aloud time, they give the correct
pronunciation of a new word without concurrently giving the meaning.
This word calling situation might be termed phonics
So the colleges administer special tests of comprehension called
SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests), to see if students really comprehend
what they read, etc. So the parents pay special tutors to help
their kids memorize the type of words and questions on the SATs.
So the colleges revise the SATs to prevent this, etc., etc.
The solution is not to stop teaching phonics. The solution is
to teach phonics (sounds), but also semantics (meanings). Teach
how to link the word to what it stands for.
The solution also is for teachers and students and parents and
superintendents and governors and presidents to be honest. If
they dont know something they should say so. Not try to
put up a false front.
Many people are afraid of losing their jobs or reputations, so
they wont do this. It takes a great deal of courage. However,
if they had the courage to do this, they would be able to look
at themselves in the mirror. One may have to do what I did and
spend some time reviewing his or her education. They could eventually
get their jobs back, this time on a solid footing.
Dont live a life in fear of being found out. By simply
admitting our ignorance, we can open the door to real learning,
real knowledge, and real competence. We can set an example for
our children and our students.
Dont tolerate word calling. It is a poor substitute for
real reading and real understanding. Teach phonics, gently immerse
the kids in literature (dont drown them), and dont
forget to teach semantics. Raise literacy.
Part 2 of a series
on raising literacy by William Lauritzen. He holds a masters degree in
Industrial Psychology/Ergonomics and has studied education for
over 15 years.