The Nonsense Of Whole Word Reading

The early advocates of whole word reading methodology (which has changed identities using various other names) sold their education-destroying concepts via absolute nonsense.

Consider one of the first arguments against phonics: memorization is rote and tedious.

Factually, for a person to learn to read using phonics they must master the 54 sounds that the 26 letters and certain letter combinations make. Then they must remember the various exceptions to these sounds.

Compare that to a person, keeping in mind that most people start learning to read at a very young age before their mind is fully developed, having to memorize thousands upon thousands of words and how they sound by where each of the letters, both upper and lower case, are located in the word.

One of the major problems (among many other issues) with whole word reading is that there are many words spelled very similar to each other. And yet others are spelled quite differently that sound exactly the same. What that does to a child learning to read by looking at a string of letters is cause confusion.

Witness this fact.

Assume that little Johnny looks at the letters t h r o u g h and is told that the word sounds the way the instructor tells him. Ok, good. Johnny knows that t h r o u g h sounds like through. The instructor also informs him that through means “in at one end out out of the other.”

Johnny, now possessing the knowledge of how through sounds and what it means, a little later comes across the word thorough. To Johnny that word looks like through so he, in most cases, automatically assumes that the word is one and the same. Then he sees the word thought. And the word though. Same result.

To top it off, Johnny then learns that t h r e w sounds exactly the same as through but has a different definition. Add some more confusion to poor Johnny.

Proponents of whole word (look-say, sight word, sight read, etc.) will laugh this off as simplistic, that it does not occur and if it does the student must have a learning disability.

But they are wrong. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Back in 1927, neurologist Dr. Samuel Orton, under a Rockefeller Foundation grant, concluded that children who had been diagnosed with ‘congenital word blindness’ (now called dyslexia) were actually severely harmed by the methods that had been used to teach them to read (sight-reading).

However, that is not the point of this mind-numbing whole word example of “teaching.”

The accusation that phonics is rote memorization and has too many exceptions to the rules and thus should not be used falls totally flat on its face when one considers that there are over 500,000 words in the English language and these experts expect a person to “memorize” (which is what whole word is) half a million words!

How can anyone memorize that many different letter combinations and their equivalent sound? Aside from the obvious fact that whole wordies are demanding that poor Johnny memorize all of them (or at least tens of thousands) when their argument against phonics was that it was not good because it demanded memorization of 54 letter and letter combination sounds and a handful of exceptions.

Systematic and explicit phonics is THE most effective method to teach reading. And it is far easier to learn the sounds and exceptions than to attempt learning the sounds made by letter combinations made in over half a million words.

End note: student Johnny is used as a tribute to Rudolf Flesch for his early fight supporting phonics in his best-selling book Why Johnny Can’t Read, originally published in 1955. Anyone who has not read it should do themselves a favor and get a copy. It can be ordered here: Amazon.

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