Last Sunday there was a feature article in the New York Times on the science of reading emphasizing that “science” has confirmed the need to teach children phonics. (Science of Reading – New York Times)

While this comes after decades of debate, the article notes that the “science of reading” has determined (finally), that there is a correct way to teach reading and it looks like phonics instruction has been declared the winner.

(Not to mention that this was already determined by researchers under the Bush Administration with Reading First and Leave No Child Behind.)

Once again, though, the determination that phonics is the winner, on some level, does not make common sense and does not “pass the smell test.”

The question is not whether phonics instruction is the best way to teach reading, but whether or not the child needs it.

Let’s put it this way.

About 70% or so  of six- and seven-year-olds get on the “reading bike” in kindergarten and first grade without much trouble and before you know it they are reading pretty fluently.

Fortunately for this group their  “reading brain” kicks in, mostly through a type of reading osmosis, such as interacting with books in early childhood and being read to regularly by their parents and other adults.

There was little to no formal phonics instruction, yet they became adequate readers.

For the wobbly remainder, the 20 – 30%, many of whom have a learning disability like dyslexia, the natural interactions did not take hold. There was no reading by osmosis.

Guess what they need?

That’s right –  phonics-based instruction.

Unfortunately, by and large over the last 30-40 years that’s not how it’s gone in the schools.

Common sense did not govern instruction and most kids received a model of reading (often referred to as “top-down”) emphasizing reading comprehension.  Phonics instruction was deemed as “so yesterday” and virtually eliminated.

Top-down approaches became the rule of he land.  For the 70%, for those who already know how to read, that is fine.

For the remainder, they wobble along making little progress with such approaches.

Makes common sense, right?

And it even passes the smell test!

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