Phonics v whole language

The case for import controls

Apologies for the not posting in the past couple of weeks! I’ve been on my travels as well as training teachers in Sounds-Write.
While I was away, I got talking to an Italian advisory teacher for early years who specialises in helping children with reading and writing difficulties. A practitioner of some thirty years’ experience, she said that when she began her career, typically, she’d see somewhere around three to four percent of children being referred to her. This included children with relatively minor problems as well as those with much more serious neurological problems.
However, in the past few years she has witnessed a steady increase in the number of children being passed on to her until the four percent is now approaching fifteen percent. Her response has been to put it to the teachers in her area that they are not doing their job and teaching their children to read using a phonic approach.
Reading and spelling in Italian is incredibly easy to teach and, taught properly, for young children to learn. There are around twenty-eight or so sounds in Italian and just over thirty spellings for those sounds. The relationship between sounds and spellings is almost entirely transparent, which of course is why it’s so easy to learn. However, what has been creeping in is the adoption of a whole language (‘global language’ my informant called it) approach. The effect of this is that although many children ‘crack the code’ implicitly, around fifteen percent or so don’t and are left floundering.

Italy seems to have a penchant for importing some of the dafter ideas from the UK and the USA into its education system. This would seem to be one case in which import controls should be re-established.