Decoding: the dullest part of learning to read?
Two new articles out today in The Conversation (Australia)*, which stir the seemingly eternal ‘Reading Wars’ theme, a saga has been raging far longer than Star Wars.
I can’t escape the feeling that, actually, both authors basically agree. It reminded me of football. All fans agree that scoring goals is good; winning is good; ‘giving your all’ is good; but if you are wearing the wrong badge, support the ‘wrong’ team, then that’s bad and demands immediate ‘banter’.
Both authors agree that:
- Decoding is essential, but not enough;
- A range of things should be happening in the classroom to foster good reading (teacher reading to class; discussion / development of vocabularies; enjoyment of reading; understanding how to manipulate words through morphology and understand patterns via etymology).
But it seems to be that there is some kind of loyalty to the tribe; Phonics, or Whole Language? If you are in one, you are absolutely not welcome in the other. Perhaps it's just a political rift?
I wonder if we all agree that, actually, Decoding is the most dull of all the aspects of learning to read? Essential, yes - but dull? The one we want to get out of the way quickest so that we never have to think about it again? I mean, who really wants to think about a split digraph longer than you have to?
The magic of reading is in the making of meaning, the conjuring of ideas, emotions, landscapes and drama. In sharing knowledge. Yes, decoding will unlock the coded page of a book and allow these wonders to appear before you; assuming you’ve the concepts, vocabulary (and space and time) to explore them.
So, can we all recognise decoding (essential, always essential) as the dullest, least inspiring aspect of learning to read? A key to the magic, but absolutely not the magic? And if so, could we agree that, while taking care of business with regard to decoding, it must always, always be subordinate to a cherishing of what reading is - the extraordinary exchanging of ideas, of dreams, of wisdom and disaster, and yes, of opinions?