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EDUCATION REPORT – April 25, 2002: Learning to Read - 2002-04-24

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

One of the most important issues in American education is how to teach children to read. Currently, American public and private schools use a number of methods. The majority of these methods depend on a system called phonics. The phonics system links letters with their spoken sounds.

Phonics helps children understand which letters are used in words, and the reason they are used. In phonics, children learn to write the letters that represent the sounds they hear.

Many American students learn the sounds of letters before learning to read. They learn the sounds of letters alone. They also learn the sounds of letters used together. When children see words they do not know, they speak the sounds of the letters. Then they put the sounds together.

For example, a child learns to recognize the sound of the letter “c.” Then she learns the sounds of the two letters “a” and “t” used together. Using phonics, she can join these sounds to form the word “cat.” This method is called “sounding it out.”

In another method of teaching phonics, children learn to recognize the whole word first. They look at the word “cat.” They write the word a number of times. They do this until they remember the word. Schools often present this recognition method during the teaching of reading, not before. Then the children learn to study words for their sounds. They can understand why some letters are used in a word instead of other letters.

Experts say phonics makes it possible to say the sounds of many words a child does not recognize by sight. However, in the English language, the sound of a letter is not always the same. For this reason, many teachers add other methods to phonics to teach reading.

Two years ago, a committee studied many reading methods. The report of this National Reading Panel urged that teachers use phonics programs to teach children to read. Earlier this year, President Bush signed a new education law. It includes a program called “Reading First” to increase the reading skills of American children. The program is based on the committee’s report about using phonics.

Some educators disagree. They say other programs also are effective. They fear that phonics programs will take the place of other teaching methods.

This VOA Special Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.