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EDUCATION REPORT – Learning to Read - 2004-06-10

Broadcast: June 10, 2004

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Education Report.

For most American children, summer is a time away from schoolbooks. But it is not supposed to be a time away from reading. One of the most important issues in American education is how to teach children to read. The most common methods depend on phonics. This system teaches children to connect words with the sounds of the letters that form those words.

Children often learn the sounds of letters before they learn to read. With phonics, children are taught to “sound out” words they do not know. For example, to learn the word “cat,” children first learn to recognize the sound of the letter C. Then they learn the sounds of the letters A and T used together. Finally, they join these sounds to form the word.

In another method of teaching phonics, children learn to recognize the whole word first. They write the word enough times until they remember it. Schools often present this method during the teaching of reading, not before. Then the children learn to study words for their sounds. This helps them understand why some letters are used in a word instead of others.

Experts say phonics makes it possible for children to sound out many words that they do not recognize by sight. However, the sound of a letter is not always the same in every word. For this reason, many teachers add other methods to teach reading.

A few years ago, a committee studied many reading methods. The National Reading Panel urged teachers to use phonics in their programs. And in two-thousand-two President Bush signed an education law called No Child Left Behind. It includes a program called “Reading First.” The goal is to increase the reading skills of American children. The program is based on the suggestions of the National Reading Panel.

Over the years, there has been a lot of debate among teachers, parents and politicians over ways to teach reading. Another method is called whole language. Children are taught ways to learn new words not so much by how they sound as by how they are used. Supporters of phonics say this requires too much guessing. But a lot of experts say the best way to teach reading is to combine phonics and whole language methods.

This VOA Special Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Steve Ember.