Reading Acquisition through Phonics Method in a Turkish Public Elementary School: A Case Study

Article excerpt

In Turkey, the Ministry of National Education (MONE) changed the reading instruction method in elementary schools from whole language approach to phonics emphasis in 2005. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to examine the impacts of phonics method on reading acquisition in a Turkish sample; to understand what elementary school teachers think and how they practice phonics emphasis method in educational settings and to inquire problems these teachers face with while implementing this new technique. The data were gathered through in-depth interviews from three first grade public elementary teachers in one elementary school and analyzed by using case study techniques. Implications were discussed and recommendations were made for future studies.


Reading acquisition and its instruction are very critical components of elementary education (Walpole & McKenna, 2007). Teachers dealing with large classrooms might not have sufficient support and tools to teach all of their first graders how to read in the same time period. While teaching their students how to read, educators employ several teaching methods in addition to the materials they use and activities they conduct in the classroom. In addition to that, motivation of students and involvement of their parents are also some other crucial constituents during the reading acquisition process (Pressley, 2006).

There are two major techniques used by educators to teach their students how to read. The purpose of this study is to include: (1) whole language approach which exercises reductionism by focusing on sentences and words rather than syllables and letters; and, (2) phonic instruction method, which emphasizes attention to the individual components of words and involves teaching children how to connect sounds with letters or groups of letters. The first method had been used for decades in Turkish elementary schools. However, as Sahin, Inci, Turan and Apak (2006) stated, MONE decided to change the system of reading instruction by removing the first method and introducing the phonics method. The reason for the change was to improve the quality of reading instruction in elementary schools (Sahin et al, 2006).

Although there have been some studies (e.g., Sahin et al, 2006) done about the impacts of phonics method on reading instruction in Turkish elementary schools, there has been no qualitative research done about the issue yet, to the authors' knowledge. Since this new method has potential effects on motivation of the students and teachers, parent involvement, and material types to be used, this investigation is comprehensive and multifaceted. Qualitative data gathered through interviews with teachers provide a clear picture of the situation (Creswell, 2007). Therefore, this case study helps to analyze, discuss, and evaluate the implementation of this new method by using a qualitative and in-depth approach.

Statement of Problem

Reading is one of the most important skills gained in early academic life (McGuinness, 2004). Early reading achievement is the major primary determinant of later reading performance which is a very significant factor of thorough academic achievement (Chall, 1996). For that reason, reading instruction has a critical role in children's academic development.

There has been long and intense discussion going on between phonics and whole language instruction advocates in the United States and other English speaking countries with respect to philosophy, usage, effectiveness, and outcomes of both approaches. Recently, MONE switched to phonemic reading instruction from whole language approach in Turkey. Thus, this investigation provides wider perspective for the discussion between whole language and phonics by evaluating the impacts of this shift by practicing teachers in the field. In addition, this research examines applications and outcomes of phonics method in a public elementary school setting. …