A Message from Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell:
We have long advocated for collaboration over polarization, rationales over labels, observation over rigidity and what we, as educators, need to continue to assure equitable literacy instruction for all children. In support of teachers, school leaders and children, this 10-post blog series offers clarity around mischaracterizations of our work. Throughout the series, we will address these misconceptions in order to set the record straight and offer a space for the education community to hear directly from us. Continue to join us here, on the Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ blog, as together we navigate to a place of clarity.
Question 6: Could you speak to the role of phonics and teaching children to read, and clarify your approach to phonics instruction?
Phonics is essential for reading and writing, and research certainly supports this, but phonics is not the end goal of literacy or becoming literate. An overarching principle in literacy learning is that the purpose of reading must be constructing the meaning of the text using language and print. When the focus is only on accuracy and decoding, young readers may not understand that the purpose of printed language is to make sense and to convey a meaningful message. They may give so much attention to decoding that they have little attention to give to thinking about the meaning, the language, and the messages of the text.
In the pursuit of accurate reading, teachers must, of course, focus on helping children with decoding. But instruction must also include a focus on thinking within, about, and beyond the text. Therefore, an effective literacy design includes explicit phonics instruction and takes place within a comprehensive approach so that learners have ample opportunities to apply their understandings as they engage in meaningful reading and writing. The bottom line is, we believe there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching phonics or phonemic awareness.
In fact, there is no laboratory or classroom-based research that one phonics approach yields better student outcomes than another. Instruction should begin with the child and their unique strengths. This responsibility to every child belongs to us as teachers and educators—not to any particular program.
This blog is part of the Just To Clarify FAQ audio blog series. Click below to navigate to other blogs:
Q1: Why have you chosen not to participate in the latest debate about how to teach children how to read and what advice do you have for teachers?
Q2: Can you clarify what MSV is and why you believe it is important?
Q3: Some have suggested that you support the use of guessing. Can you comment on this?
Q4: How does guided reading and the use of leveled texts advance the literacy learning of children and what role does guided reading play within a comprehensive literacy system?
Q5: In your view of early literacy development, what is the role of decodable texts?
Q6: Could you speak to the role of phonics and teaching children to read, and clarify your approach to phonics instruction?
Q7: Some people have referred to your work as “balanced literacy” or “whole language.” Do these labels accurately describe your work?
Q8: What do you mean by “responsive teaching” and why is it important?
Q9: Elevating teacher expertise has always been a hallmark of your work. What has led you to advocate so strongly that teachers are the single most important factor in a child's learning achievement?
Q10: Much has been said about the role of teachers in teaching children how to read, but what role do school administrators, coaches, and other teacher leaders play?