Anyhoo, Mary Damer, chimed in about how many of the classrooms she visits which claim to be doing phonics, really aren't doing phonics.
When a district buys a phonics program like Open Court or Hougthon Mifflin and continues to do "4 Blocks" or any other variation of balanced literacy in the early grade classrooms, one can observe for days without seeing a legitimate phonics activity where children are orally connecting letter sounds with graphemes and receiving feedback. The teachers simply avoid those activities in the teachers guides and often do not know how to do them. Often the teachers skip all of the separate decodable reading and instead only select the leveled books that are always suggested in the "so called" phonics programs. I've talked to many people from California who have reported this same thing going on out there. When the The Whole Language Umbrella Organization hosted its conference just before Reading First started and had the lead discussion group titled something like "Surrender and Win" I wondered what would be coming down the corner. I didn't anticipate that the name for "whole language" would simply be replaced by "balanced literacy" and five to ten minutes of unrelated phonics practice or something where letter sounds are mentioned would be touted as a phonics.
When I go observe in districts (often RF schools) which claim to be doing phonics in kindergarten and first grade but where they also admit that they are combining phonics with balanced
literacy what do I see:
1. word sorts (sight word based activity)
2. whisper reading (teacher doesn't hear all of the student errors like the observers sitting behind the students do -- no corrections given)
3. partner reading (partners don't know how or can't correct errors which can number up to 3 or 4 per sentence -- no corrections given)
4. Complete lack of "cold reads." All stories and books are first listened to on tape or read aloud to the children sometimes several times -- sight word approach.
5. Word walls with all words high frequency words that students learn by sight (sight word based activity)
6. Silent reading (still can't show an improvement in reading achievement this way)
7. Lots of discussion and some student writing about what they would like to read (but no direct instruction leading to students having the skills to read what they would like to read.)
8. Teachers having students complete worksheets circling the first sound of pictures (no oral connection between letter sound and grapheme so it's simply a review activity unless the students are unable to do it in which case it's a frustration level activity.)
9. Teachers saying a sound and having children hold up the letter sound on one of five colored cards on their desk. Only problem is that some of the children hold up the card that is the same color held up by the child in front of them....they are matching cards not connecting the letter sound with the grapheme. Some children hold up two cards at the same time. There is usually little error correction as the inaccuracy abounds.
10. Teachers unable to clearly articulate the letter sounds adding schwas (saying /buh/ instead of /b/ or /muh/ instead of /m/ thus forcing children to delete phonemes instead of simply blending phonemes into words.
It is stuff like this which makes you appreciate the sad state of education.