The nature of reading difficulties is complex. Many children have difficulty processing letters and sounds. Others can decode text but have trouble understanding what they have read. What is a teacher to do? What does research support?
Phonics instruction or whole-language?
Do we have to choose?
Reading instruction is not one-size fits all. Instruction may involve phonics, strategies for constructing meaning, or both. Over my career, I have developed the belief that children need an integrated approach. As a parent of a bright child with dyslexia, I saw the need for phonics. Complementing the phonics instruction, I worked with him on developing meaning and expressing his thoughts and ideas about the text. He finally became a reader when he found a series that he could read and enjoy. (This supports the idea that readers to need to read a lot and read interesting books that they choose.)
Research also reminds us that complementary strategies support struggling readers:
" Since reading essentially involves two basic and complementary processes: learning how to decipher print and understanding what the print means, an integrated approach to reading instruction is mandatory. This assertion is consistent with key findings from Cowen’s (2003) synthesis of six major research studies of approaches to beginning reading – each of which concur that reading for meaning and understanding cannot be taught separately from direct phonics instruction.19 Likewise, and despite the cautions of Adams (1991) and Moats (2000), in making the case for a ‘balanced approach to reading instruction’, Strickland (1998) notes: ’Avoiding instructional extremes is at the heart of providing a balanced program of reading instruction’ (p. 52)." Found Here
I like Strickland's statement! Teachers need a toolbox full of strategies that will meet the needs of students. We cannot rely on just one strategy or approach to reach our struggling readers. Teachers need professional development and support in order to reach these struggling students.