- Advocates and experts are warning an overemphasis on phonics-based reading instruction can be detrimental to English language learners, producing students who master word pronunciation but don't comprehend what they're reading, Chalkbeat reports.
- In 2019, as part of a nationwide trend, Colorado state legislators required schools to use science-based literacy curriculum such as phonics-based reading instruction. Researchers who study ELL learning warn this does not take into consideration ELL needs, and that teachers should not ignore other components of reading instruction such as comprehension and oral language.
- Supporters of the curriculum say proper teacher training around literacy can ensure they don't overemphasize phonics instruction at the expense of other components of reading.
Colorado’s 120,000 ELLs make up 13% of its K-12 students, and 58% of 3rd-graders are not meeting grade-level standards in reading and writing. The state’s ELL population also accounts for a disproportionate amount of students struggling in reading.
Regardless, the need for effective reading instruction is critical, as 74% of students who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade face academic challenges later. Increasingly, research is showing links between students' proficiency in reading and later academic success, even in other subject areas.
Educators who support the use of phonics during reading instruction for ELLs say former phonics instruction methods have marred its reputation. Phonics, they say, is a bottom-up strategy, which contributes to interactive reading.
There are activities ELL teachers can use to make the most of phonics instruction including: reading books out loud while students read along; adding classroom signs, posters and calendars; and giving students predictable patterned books. Games and songs help students identify and name both upper and lower case letters. Writing activities encourage students to practice making the letters and give them opportunities to experiment with the letters to make words and messages. Instructors should also give students activities that build their vocabulary and comprehension.
As the phonics/whole language reading instruction debate rages on, district administrators can take pressure off teachers by providing support and direction. Many educators feel both methods have value, especially since not all students learn the same way.