If you need a quick introduction to the Reading Wars, take a few minutes to read Valerie Strauss’s The Answer Sheet post “Another blast in the reading wars.”
The post consists mostly of a letter written by Steven Dykstra, and signed by others, in response to critics of NCTQ’s review and rating of teacher preparation programs (see previous The Answer Sheet posts “Literacy experts say reformers reviving ‘reading wars’” and “How the ‘reading wars’ are being reignited“).
Here’s a taste:
The Reading Wars are an ongoing struggle between those who understand that children must be taught to use letters and sounds to decode and spell words, and those who think children should mostly or entirely eschew that method (generally known as phonics) in favor of guessing. The first side is guided by science, the alphabetic nature of our written language, and a common sense recognition that understanding the meaning of text is predicated on accurately identifying words. The second side believes that children should be taught to construct meaning from text based on their own meaning-based intuitions about what the words might be. That is, rather than reading the words of a text to expand their knowledge and understanding (as well as their reading prowess), this second side encourages children to use their own existing knowledge and understanding to guess at words.
Supporters of Reading Recovery might take note of a quote from Marie Clay:
“All readers, from five year old beginners on their first books to the effective adult reader need to use: the meaning, the sentence structure, order cues, size cues, special features, special knowledge, first and last letter knowledge before they resort to left to right sounding out of chunks or letter clusters, or in the last resort, single letters.” (citations omitted)
If Marie Clay sounds right on the money to you, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this issue. I’m opposed to causing children to become “reading failures” before we clue them in that written English is a code system that uses single letters and combinations of letters to represent the sounds used to create spoken words.