Professor Daniel Willingham is certain that phonics instruction is crucial to the process of becoming a successful reader, but he does understand why some teachers might think otherwise.
Interviewed for episode four of the Tes Podagogy podcast, the professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of books such as Why Don’t Students Like School? and The Reading Mind explains that without creative teaching, phonics can appear a dull way of getting pupils into reading.
“I think when you look at the materials of phonics instruction, they frequently are pretty boring, and there is no getting around it,” he explains. “As with many academic tasks, parts of it are really hard to make interesting and fun. That’s why it is controversial – one of our big concerns is that children love reading and you start looking at phonics worksheets and you think 'Oh my gosh, that is not the way to get kids to love reading'.”
Sticking with phonics
But what that should not mean, he argues, is that teachers abandon this way of teaching children to read. Phonics is clearly the most effective method, he says, but it requires the teacher to embrace it to get the most out of it.
“Where it is fun, it is down to the teacher, through enthusiasm and creativity,” he explains.
In a wide-ranging conversation, he goes on to discuss the importance of comprehension, the key areas where children can struggle when learning to read, how and when to introduce more challenging texts and why he thinks interventions around reading for pleasure are so important.
You can listen for free by downloading the podcast from iTunes or listening below.