Originally Posted by Plummeting
Lillian, I think we need to draw a strong distinction between what actually is research-based and what educators have been told was research-based. The schools have followed the fads all willy-nilly for years and the way they justify their haphazard approach to education is by saying it's all based on the latest and greatest. The reality is that it's usually just not true.
And since I said I told you all I haven't even started homeschooling yet, I think I need to explain, however, that I've read tons of actual research into different educational methods and the results they produce. A few things are certainly true and actually are verifiable according to research. There's really no basis at all for the idea that referring to the research is useless since the schools say *everything* they want to do is based on research. There is research out there that is both valuable and informative and parents should study it.
As to the whole word vs. phonics argument...it's been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that phonics is superior. The research on that is pretty much definitive. The only people still disagreeing are the ones who sell whole word curricula and the ones who believe that all learning occurs without instruction. Some people will learn very wel by the whole word method. Most people won't learn well that way. It's really not in question at this point.
In many ways, I agree with you. I have read research on both sides of the reading debate (my master's degree was in reading instruction). I can argue equally well for phonetic instruction and whole-word instruction. I agree that the schools go with what is in vogue. For many years that was whole-word (really, look-say) instruction. Some of the students thrived, many learned how to read, and others (like an older cousin of mine) lament because they never learned phonics. Now, the tide has turned and phonics is the way to teach reading. Actually, it's touted as the only way to teach reading. Many students thrive with phonics instruction. I've personally seen it. But, there are those who don't. (I'd argue that more thrive with phonics instruction than whole-word instruction, just to be clear.) Unfortunately, those who do not often get let behind and struggle for years with reading. I've personally taught them. In school settings, if you are not reading fluently by 2nd grade, you are a detriment to the school as most states begin standardized testing by then. Schools panic.
I think that attitude has seeped into the homeschooling community. We hear the push for reading by 6 or 7 through the media, though friends/family members who are teachers or were teachers, or through friends/family members in the school system. Even curriculum focused on homeschoolers tends to focus on phonics instruction. Classical education is based on early phonics instruction being the key to raising good readers.
We started early (well, about 4 1/2 to 5 years) with phonics instruction. We made sure ds#1 knew all his letter sounds, moved onto word families with short vowels, blended consonants, etc. We started the Explode the Code first book. He did great with it, but when we'd try BOB books, he struggled. He could spell phonetically, but not read phonetically. I have since done more research and realized ds is much more of a visual-spatial learner. Reading for him is whole-word. If he were in school, were a very well researched phonics-based instruction were taught, he'd struggle. He'd be in reading classes because at 7 1/2 he is still learning to read beginning primers. Pushing phonics on him at home, no matter how much research there is to support it, highly frustrated him and threatened to make him turn-off to reading (when in fact he LOVES books and LOVES stories and LOVES learning).
So, while I agree with you about the need to do your research as homeschoolers, and really seek out true research, we also need to really listen to our children. That is something that we can afford that isn't afforded in the school system. When you have 20, 30, 35 students in a classroom, it is very hard to structure any learning to individual needs. You go with what works for most and hope the others catch on along the way. At home, we can go with what works individually for our children. There isn't any real harm in necessarily starting phonics instruction at age 5 or 6, but if there is resistance, we, as homeschoolers, need to respect that resistance and go back to the drawing board. We ended up stopping all reading "instruction" until this current school year. Even then, it wasn't until a month ago that I found readers that seem to work with ds#1. He's still a bit reluctant, but we are slowly pushing forward. As we learn whole words, I am throwing in some phonics instruction too, if anything, to help eventually with his writing.
But, phonics versus whole-word instruction is not a closed-cased, regardless of what the research seems to say. There are still many children out there that will not learn with phonics instruction because their brain is not wired that way. And though the majority of students do well with phonics instruction, that does not mean that whole-word instruction should be thrown out with the bathwater.
Some curriculum creators are trying to address this, for instance Patricia Cunningham and Dorothy Hall with Four Blocks approach
. But, even that will have its limitations for children who are whole-word learners. It is a better approach, though, than straight phonics instruction.