One of my favorite clients, I will call her Renee in order to retain confidentiality, came to me in 8th grade reading at the kindergarten level. She had years of intervention in school. The school curriculum was project based and the reading program was based on the whole language philosophy. What is “whole language?” It is a literacy philosophy based on the fact that learning to read involves more than just reading the text. I will not do any “whole language” bashing here because I really don’t believe one way of learning to read is good for all. I don’t think that just “whole language” or just phonics will address all students.
So what’s the answer? When reading instruction doesn’t seem to be working it’s time to identify exactly what the problem is? There is no magic pill. For instance in Renee’s case her memory for sounds was very poor. She could master a sound in a week or two, but could not retain it over time. It took 2 years of sound drills and activities to get it into her rote memory where it finally stayed. What did I do different from the school? I learned that Renee did not retain sounds and therefore every session had to include sound work. Also Renee is intellectual so explaining to her that we were learning a code system helped her understand what she was trying to accomplish and alleviate embarrassment because phonics work can be percieved by teens as being “babyish.”