Struggling Readers – Does Phonics Still Apply?

Reading specialists have long wondered how best to help older students who struggle with reading. Should they be taught to decode by using phonics programs developed for primary children?  We all know that when students have to spend too much mental energy on decoding, that there is none left for comprehension. As a result, it is vital that older struggling readers learn to read more fluently so that they can spend their mental energy on understanding what they are reading rather than decoding the words they see on the page. While phonics programs are vital for young readers, there has been much controversy over whether or not these programs actually are the best way to help older, struggling readers. Researchers believe that adults use patterning extensively when they read. For example, if you know the word “beak” then you can easily identify the pattern words “leak” “teak” and “peak.”  Wylie and Durrell (1970) identified 37 common rime patterns that make up over 500 common words. Helping older students break words into known word parts can also be a helpful strategy for older readers. It is also the most common strategy that adult readers use to decode new words they encounter while reading.

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