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A Vote for Balanced Reading Programs Including Phonics

October 26, 2002

Re "Hooked on Phonics? We Should Lose This Addiction," by Mary Lee Griffin, Commentary, Oct. 22: Structured reading programs have helped more students than they've hurt.

In California, we went through a decades-long phonics alternative, the whole-language reading instruction program and found it lacking. There seemed to be a strong causal relationship between lack of structure in the reading program at induction and the lack of interest in reading found in older students at the "low-performing schools."

There is substantial evidence that a structured approach to reading in the primary K-3 grades is helpful at low-performing schools. Certainly, with class-size reduction, a focus on English immersion and a structured reading program, we are seeing much more active and interested readers at the middle-school level here in my corner of the south San Joaquin Valley. With the end of mandated bilingual instruction for nonnative speakers, the inclusion of phonics in any balanced reading program is essential.

Mark Kotch

Delano, Calif.

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As a mother of three young adults, all book lovers, I wholeheartedly agree with Griffin, although I would like to add one more factor in helping kids become not only good readers but possess a love of reading all of their lives. There is research that shows that a very important factor in reading success is based on skillful parents as well as skillful teachers. Parents who provide their children with books and make "story time" a part of every day -- from infancy on -- create an environment where books and reading are associated with time spent with parents in a positive way. Parents are also able, through example, to introduce their children to the magic of books.

Cynthia Baker

Redondo Beach

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California parents who share Griffin's distaste for our current frenzy over phonics can check up on her assertions by asking themselves four questions: Can my child read the first sentence from The Times out loud (front page, far-left column)? Can my child recognize most of the place names on the front page? Can my child understand (and spell) most of the words on the front page? Can my child identify the main verb of the first sentence?

Phonics or whole language, shouldn't parents be able to judge for themselves exactly how well our schools are doing -- especially on the K-8 level?

Robert Oliphant

Acting Director

Front-Page Literacy

Coalition, Thousand Oaks

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