My second grader is having a rough time with reading assignments. In first grade the teacher emphasized using phonics and this year's teacher is using whole-word recognition. Which technique is the better technique and how do I assist at home?
You have definitely selected a hot educational issue for us to discuss. Ever since the whole-word approach was introduced, there has been a heated debate over whether this approach or a phonetic approach was superior for beginning readers. Considerable research has resulted in the opinion that neither method is definitively superior to the other. Most children learn to read well using either one of the methods although neither should be used exclusively. The answer to the phonics controversy is to remember that the only effective way to teach reading is to meet the different learning styles of children. Your child may need systematic phonics instruction to discover the relationship between letters and sounds while others can learn to read through the whole-word approach and a minimal use of phonics.
We're sure that your child is receiving some phonics instruction in the second grade reading class. However, teachers using the whole-word approach do not teach structured phonics in the usual sequential order and they will not devote as much time to working on phonics as teachers who use the phonics approach.
Since you feel that your child was making better progress with the phonics approach, talk with the teacher and ask how you can supplement your second grader's classroom work with more time at home on phonics. You need to collaborate with the teacher. Otherwise, your child may be confused if the teacher is working on certain sounds and you are teaching others.
Don't limit your efforts in improving your child's reading to phonics exercises and playing phonics games. Make it a point to read to your child each and every day. Not only will it stimulate your child's interest in reading; it will also serve as a model for your child to imitate.