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The Reading Wars

The Reading Wars

“The Reading Wars, The reading wars,

Causes me to roar, and snore and think of dinosaurs,

Cause while we are fighting,

Kids are hiding 

in the trenches

Because of the reading wars.” 

Reading Wars come up often in discussion of literacy - the fight between whether we teach the “whole language” OR “phonics”

In truth, doing both - using the “whole” and the “parts” are important for teaching children. The difference tends to be the amount of time it takes for the most “vulnerable” children to learn anything. 

The reality is that for those who learn to read with ease, how we teach matters less. They learn anyway.

However, as we move down the line of “language challenges” the more specialized, more informed our teaching must become. Challenges certainly arise in teaching phonetic skills to the most “vulnerable” students. 

What can we do? What do teachers see when children do not “pick up” basic literacy skills?

It becomes painfully obvious that the child cannot decode words, that they do not have the correct sound-symbol correspondence, and therefore struggle to put letters and sounds together to create meaningful words while reading a complete sentence. It’s a painful and traumatic experience for them.

To me, the question is “What does the child recall when they return to our classroom day after day?”
Can they recall yesterday’s lessons? 

Can they remember the sounds taught or are we back to the beginning like the child was not in the classroom yesterday? 

When teachers are aware the child is not learning the skills taught, WE, the teachers have failed. 

Teaching literacy relies on building all skills - in fact, teaching any skills relies on the building, recalling, and reenacting skills - if we cannot remember something, or reproduce what was taught, it is difficult to move forwards. At this point, it takes more practice, more repetitions, different types of instructions, and it takes longer to learn.  

Here I see challenges: there are so many components of literacy, some are obvious, others we take for granted, while others, are simply hidden. Those who learn to read with ease have this range of skills at their fingertips. When “those who learn with ease” have misunderstanding they will eventually be sorted. How do we know? Over time, these students become skilled readers. 

On the other extreme, those who struggle, lack both knowledge and skills at various degrees on any number of levels, making the teaching of literacy more complex than is often recognized. I was one of these students. I learned to read (decode) words. I failed to comprehend. No teacher recognized my struggles or my limitations. 

I have seen criticism of literacy experts like Marie Clay (founder of Reading Recovery) and Michael Pressley (Author of Reading Instruction that works). However, the knowledge that experts have on literacy is enormous. I am sure if they encountered a student who struggled, their teaching methods would vary to meet the needs of that student. 

So let’s put wars behind us, discuss, plan, collaborate, modify, and measure students’ progress both formally and informally - so ALL data gathered is both measurable and observable.  

So I suggest, lets end fighting, pick kids up out of the trenches and work continually to modify our instruction to simply ensure our children learn to read.


Lois Letchford’s dyslexia came to light at the age of 39, when she faced teaching her seven-year-old non-reading son, Nicholas. Examining her reading failure caused her to adapt and change lessons for her son. The results were dramatic. Lois qualified as a reading specialist to use her non-traditional background, multi-continental experience, and passion to assist other failing students. Her teaching and learning have equipped her with a unique skillset and perspective. As a teacher, she considers herself a “literacy problem-solver.”

Reversed:  A Memoir is her first book. In this story, she details her dyslexia and the journey of her son’s dramatic failure in first grade. She tells of the twist and turns that promoted her passion and her son’s dramatic academic turn-a-round - as in 2018, he received his Ph.D.

You may also contact Lois at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule her for speaking or leadership engagements.

Reversed A Memoir


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