Original Research

What are we really teaching? The implications of including phonics instruction in Group Guided Reading

Caroline R. van der Mescht
Reading & Writing | Vol 14, No 1 | a386 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/rw.v14i1.386 | © 2023 Caroline R. van der Mescht | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 04 May 2022 | Published: 13 October 2023

About the author(s)

Caroline R. van der Mescht, Department of Education, Faculty of Education, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa


Background: In the context of the ongoing crisis in early reading literacy in South Africa, this article gives insight into teacher practices which reduce learners’ opportunities to read continuous text for meaning.

Aim: This ethnographic study investigated the microcosm of teacher practices in well-resourced environments.

Setting: A purposive sample was drawn of three Grade One teachers in former Model C primary schools for intensive investigation of their literacy teaching practices. A pilot study established that a literacy teaching event resembling Group Guided Reading was attended every day by every learner in these classrooms and therefore provided the focal event in the research.

Method: Micro-ethnographic classroom observations, with accompanying video recordings and transcriptions were the primary data sources. Interviews provided narrative and descriptive data. Data were analysed by means of qualitative content analysis and discourse analysis.

Results: Findings suggested that the introduction of flashcards and texts designed for phonics practice into a methodology designed to promote reading for meaning has a cumulative impact on the time teachers spend on discussion, modelling comprehension strategies and silent reading. Potentially this limits learners to only one of the four roles of a reader, that is, a reader as code breaker.

Conclusion: Findings caution against teachers making changes to the requirements of explicit teaching methodologies. The aims of Group Guided Reading are not achievable when phonics instruction reduces engagement with continuous text.

Contribution: This article, by critiquing a practice, encourages teachers and teacher educators to consider the balance between whole-language and phonics-based approaches.


whole-language approach; early literacy; Group Guided Reading; roles of the reader; text choice in reading; phonics teaching; decoding; comprehension; Foundation Phase teacher practice


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