There's a reason some educators promote sight reading and others promote phonics, and it's not just a matter of philosophical or political ideology. Both approaches have their strengths, and therefore both approaches have their advocates. But Mary Pecci thinks both approaches are sufficiently lacking, and what's needed is more of a hybrid approach.
In her now-classic At Last! A Reading Method for EVERY Child!, she describes at length why the sight and phonics approaches are insufficient by themselves, and how to craft a reading method in which every child learns the same way, and eventually the phonics and sight aspects fade altogether into a single unified way to read anything.
Pecci begins by comparing the sight and phonics methods and showing where each falls short. She then presents three rules for teaching reading: teach only the reliable facts, clear the slate, and give a uniform approach. This process involves first teaching only letters and sounds which are uniform, actively eradicating bad habits already in place, and providing a system by which students are able to decode and read words.
For every word, students are trained to ask two questions: What's the family?, and, What's the word? Students learn to recognize contextual phonic clues which help them determine what family the word is in, and then to decode the word. Families include sight (sounds that cannot be sounded out), short vowel, and long vowel.
This approach isn't too difficult, though a quick glance at the book may suggest otherwise. It's a thick volume, and there's a lot of text in it, but much of this is made up of charts and flashcards for you to reproduce, as well as information regarding seatwork and assignments, review, testing, and more.
One of the most obvious strengths of Pecci's approach is that it can easily be used to teach young students, older kids and even adult remedial students. It is designed for classroom use, but it's easily adaptable to one-on-one situations as well. Parents or teachers will have to spend plenty of time with the material, but training a competent reader is a pretty good incentive.
In the back of the book you'll find a complete plan for presenting Pecci's unified decoding approach, including lesson plans, ideas for teaching comprehension, seatwork guidelines, reading analysis charts, etc. Pecci encourages teachers to stay well away from busywork, and so she provides lots of alternatives.
If students can't figure out a word's pronunciation, they look it up in a dictionary. By using this method along with the inflexible decoding tools and word families, you won't have to use a bunch of phonics rules to teach your kids to read. This combined approach is now quite popular, and while Pecci's 1969 book was one of the first to present it, there are books like The Reading Lesson which are much easier to use.
The seatwork and charts, however, make this a very helpful book. At Last! can certainly be used by parents to teach their kids to read successfully, though most parents won't want to wade through the whole thing; we suggest using it as a resource for lesson plans and assignments in conjunction with a more straightforward combined method reading program.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
Did you find this review helpful?