The Great Debate: The Traditional Phonics Approach versus the Whole Language Approach in an Early Reading Classroom
Educators have long debated the best ways to implement early literacy instruction. Research has led to the formation of two distinct approaches, which combine theory and practice. Whole language and traditional phonics have become the base for which early literacy instruction is formulated. Conflicting beliefs regarding each approach has created a divide among literacy pioneers as to which approach is the most comprehensive and effective for students. The following paper explores the whole language and traditional phonics approach as it relates to the delivery of early literacy instruction. The paper first defines and identifies the theories and beliefs underpinning each approach through principles of learners and learning. Based on the theories and beliefs from each side, the paper then discusses what a whole language and traditional phonics curriculum looks like in an early reading classroom. Specifically, the paper focuses on curriculum and teaching strategies that capitalize on the theories of each approach, the physical environment and materials utilized, and the types of assessment that best evaluate student growth and performance in each reading program. Through careful analysis of learning gains and losses that may result by strictly following only one approach, the paper reveals the need for a balanced approach to early literacy instruction. The paper cumulates with implications regarding implementation and the conclusion that a balanced program may be the most effective method of instruction. The conclusion also addresses issues in determining what exactly constitutes a "balanced" early literacy program.