We have been teaching Gavin to read using Glenn Doman’s “whole word” method. He is also learning phonics from the TweedleWink DVDs that I play for him, his Disney’s Phonics Quest computer game, and at school. He can recognise quite a number of words using the “whole word” method, but he isn’t quite able to read new words applying the rules of phonics. Up until now he recognises the letters at the start of the word, but not in the middle – for instance, “evening” might be read as “every”.
Whenever he reads out words for his father or grandparents, there is a tendency for them to ask him if he can spell “insert word here”. But just because he can recognise the word “apple”, it doesn’t mean he can spell the word “apple” when asked. I guess this demonstrates the pitfalls of learning to read using “whole words” and this is why it is recommended that a child also learn how to read using phonics. It is believed that phonics has the benefit of helping a child learn how to read words he has never seen and how to spell.
Doman said that once a child has learned to read a certain number of words using the whole word method, he will be able to infer the rules of reading to new words and recognise new words on his own. This has been affirmed by an individual who was taught to read using the Doman method.
What about being able to spell? Is the Doman method leaving that to chance? Possibly. The individual who learned to read using the Doman method said she had always been a terrible speller and believes this to be because she never learned phonics. Likewise, although Gavin can read quite a number of words, he isn’t necessarily able to spell them out when asked.
After pondering over this for some time, it has occurred to me that this could be due to any number of reasons:
- The most obvious is the dislike for being tested. Doman said that no child likes to be tested. Indeed whenever we ask Gavin to demonstrate his knowledge, he starts to get coy and deliberately answer incorrectly, or simply state, “I don’t know.”
- Gavin may not have learned how to spell because learning to recognise words is simply the first step. A similar example would be learning to read Chinese characters. Just because you can recognise characters doesn’t necessarily mean you can write them. I suppose recognising a word and remembering the order of the letters required to spell it might be the same.
Does that mean we can forget about teaching phonics? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I still believe that phonics has a place in reading and spelling and should not be omitted even if you want to get your child off to an early start to reading.