Editor’s Note: This is a piece I originally wrote for HomeschoolBenefits.org.
As a teacher, I have used many different approaches for teaching reading: phonics, whole language, literature based, etc. Many workshop instructors attempted me to convince me their program was the best. I have also encountered many people who believe that phonics and sight words is the only way to teach reading and that whole language is the reason children cannot read. Then there are those TV commercials that claim their program is the miracle cure that will have your child reading a book with a few short lessons. Of course, the fine print says it is one of their books.
Whole language and literature based approaches use interesting materials and real books. Children learn that reading is more than just a “reader” used in reading class. However, one problem is vocabulary. For beginning readers this can be challenging. If children are exposed to predictable books, then some children may memorize them rather than actually read them.
Teaching phonics helps children learn the skills to decode words themselves. It is easier to have books that children can successfully read when books using controlled vocabulary are used.
Then there are the miracle cure programs. They are based on research, and they are expensive. Does this mean that they must work? Not necessarily. These programs will work for some children, but may not help a child with a real disability. I taught in a school for learning disabled students that required students in my 45 minute reading to attend 15 minutes of a computerized reading program, because it would teach them sight words. Next, they had to attend 15 minutes of bean bag therapy. The rationale behind the bean bag therapy was that this would improve motor skills and fix their reading problems. I was left with 15 minutes to teach reading, and I had students reading on eight different levels. There was very little time for actual reading.
So what is the best way to teach reading? The literature based approached is good, because it develops an interest in reading; reading is about books and not just a subject in school. Phonics instruction helps a child learn decoding. I have reached the conclusion that my mom was right. The best way to teach reading is to give a child a book that they will enjoy and have them read every day. A child will only learn to read by consistent practice. So the best method for teaching a child to read is … to read, read, read.