Beginning Reading Instruction: From Debate to Reformation
H ow should children be taught to read? No other issue has piqued the interest and emotions of educators and lay persons as has this one. From the onset of literacy instruction, teachers have voiced strong and often opposing views about the proper way to teach reading (Mathews, 1966). In the United States, the alphabetical methods of colonial and revolutionary days gave way to two major alternatives in the mid-1900s. The first expanded on the previous approach by teaching the sounds of letters. The second, representing a distinct departure, initiated children into reading by having them learn whole words. This dichotomy in approach continued into the current century but with some changes. The phonics approach became modernized by abandoning an earlier emphasis on alphabet learning and spelling while incorporating blending practice. The word method became elaborated into sentence and story methods with analysis of larger units into their components (i.e., sentences into words, words into phonemes). At the same time, the hornbook of the early period gave way to graded readers and finally to basal series (N. B. Smith, 1934/1970).