Why Phonics is missing “Phocus”

Why have phonics and whole language each focused on only one skill?

There is an old joke about a man under a streetlight who is scanning the ground around him. A passerby stops to ask what the problem is. The man responds, “I lost my keys and I’m looking for them.” The passerby replies, “Where exactly did you lose the keys?” He answers “On the other street.” Astounded, the passerby asks, “Why are you looking here?” To this, the man says, “Because that street is dark and this one has a street light.”

Sadly, this anecdote is not off the mark when it comes to reading instruction. For a host of reasons going well back in our educational history, the light in reading has been on decoding (figuring out the words) and comprehension (understanding the message that the words in combination convey). In practice, these two areas have been translated as phonics (the sounds of words) and text (the stories children read and create). To continue the metaphor, no other area holds a candle to these two. To the degree that other areas are acknowledged at all, they are seen as ancillary skills that receive minimal teaching time and that are not meaningfully integrated into the reading instruction.