The relative effectiveness of a meaning emphasis approach and a phonics emphasis approach to teaching beginning reading in English to second- or third-grade bilingual Spanish readers
Fuller, Laurice M.
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This study related the current debate over a phonics-versus-meaning emphasis approach to teaching beginning reading in English to the second-language (L2) reading instruction of second- or third-grade bilingual Spanish readers. The purpose of the study was to investigate which emphasis approach better develops these pupils' English reading comprehension ability. The study also investigated the amount of relationship between the pupils' prior Spanish reading ability and the development of their English reading comprehension ability. Eight classes in a large urban school system's transitional bilingual education program were involved in this one-year study. A four group (emphasis by grade) factorial analysis design was utilized. The means and the results of the three two-way ANOVA's and the three two-way ANCOVA's that were computed indicated that regardless of grade a meaning emphasis approach was more effective in developing the pupils' comprehension ability even after controlling for prior Spanish reading ability. However, decoding ability was developed regardless of which emphasis approach was employed. These findings provide strong support for the psycholinguistic view that meaning rather than phonics should be emphasize. The significant positive correlation that was found for one group between prior Spanish reading ability and the development of English decoding ability might be explained by the theory that decoding strategies may be a process that was acquired through learning to read in Spanish. Significant positive correlation was also found for another group between prior Spanish reading ability and the development of English comprehension ability. From these results, it seems that prior Spanish reading ability should be developed in order to promote the transfer of Spanish reading skills to L2 reading. It is recommended that teachers should directly emphasize the development of English reading comprehension ability by using a meaning emphasis approach and let the 12 learners figure out the English code system by applying their own decoding strategies based on their knowledge of Spanish decoding skills rather than confuse and delay their progress with meaningless phonic drills and exercises.
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