Frequently Asked Phonics Questions
Don't we teach phonics now?
Don't we teach phonics now?
This can help students become better guessers when reading, but is this really the best way to determine the meaning of a word? Look at the words "lobotomy" and "laparoscopy." They each have the same shape, beginning and ending letters, and same general meaning in context (both being surgical procedures). Few of us would wish for a surgeon who could only read these words in this way!
Do mistakes like this really happen? In Virginia a teacher was recently hired to tutor a licensed pharmacist who could not discern the difference between "chlorpropamide," which lowers blood pressure, and "chlorpromazine," which is an antipsychotic.
"Mistakes like this happen all too frequently. But as Mark Twain once wrote, 'The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug!"
What is good phonics?
Reading is taught like any other complex skill such as learning how to dance or play the piano. One note, step, or sound is learned at a time, and very gradually combined into more complicated chords, routines, syllables and words. Sight-reading whole groups of notes at a time, or combining steps into an entire dance routine, or reading whole sentences and books is what occurs naturally as a result of training and practice, and should never be used as a teaching tool in the beginning. Phonics is the process--sight reading is the result.
Explicit phonics provides the tools and teaches the skills needed to unlock and decode all the wonderful, classic stories in today's literature-rich curricula. Students become immersed in a rich and authentic literary experience, joyfully exploring the exciting, uncharted world of new words and fresh ideas!
What about comprehension?
For example, many studies show that if babies are exposed to classical music it can enhance their IQ. We also know that very young children can learn a second language much easier than older children or adults.
Four to six year-olds love to make noises, build, and take things apart. This is the time to teach them the name and sound of each letter in the alphabet!
After that, children are developmentally different in two key ways:
(1) the ability to blend sounds into words, and
True reading readiness is the ability to put these skills together, and varies greatly from student to student, depending on illness, allergies, maturity, etc. One thing it has nothing to do with is intelligence, any more than wearing glasses does!
Don't children have different learning modes?
If a multisensory approach is used to teach phonics, then all students will learn whether auditory, visual, or kinesthetic. A multisensory method had the synergistic effect of addressing the strongest learning mode while reinforcing the weakest.
How children learn is different - but what children learn should be the same. Everyone should be able to decode the longest of unfamiliar words, syllable by syllable, no matter what their learning mode.
Is there a Math/Reading connection?
Using a computer analogy, when words are learned as a whole they are stored randomly and retrieved individually. This takes a good deal of time and energy. We frequently see children who can read, but do so slowly, with effort, and never for pleasure.
Skills frequently fade because they are not connected to anything. A four-year study of a whole language reading program by the North Carolina Department of Education showed that most of the skills gained in first grade had faded by third grade.
How should phonics be taught?
Introduce One Letter At A Time
Use a multisensory technique - it has the synergistic effect of addressing the strongest learning mode while reinforcing the weakest.
Every letter introduced should have multiple pictures beginning with the letter sound. Listening for and identifying these sounds develops the phonemic awareness that is the first step in learning how to read. Multiple pictures also more accurately illustrate the subtle range of sounds comprising each letter - similar in effect to a 3-D hologram.
These features are especially helpful to ESL, dyslexic, ADD, or speech/hearing impaired students.
Use A Graduated Blending Technique
A gradual transition from words into sentences eases the reading process. For many students it is too big a jump from reading a word to reading a sentence.
Blend Letters Into Words As Soon As Possible
Memory experts have long known it is much easier to learn something new if you are able to connect it to something else that is already known.
Integrate Spelling and Reading
Teach all of the spelling rules. This knowledge is a real short-cut to spelling accuracy, and gives students an educational edge. Learning one rule for many words is so much easier than learning each word individually!
Practice Readings Should Be 100% Decodable
Using a piano analogy, just because a child knows the keyboard notes does not mean he is ready to play a lovely sonata! Just because a child knows letters and sounds does not mean he is ready to read good literature.
Is "Phonemic Awareness" Phonics?
Reading aloud to children, rhyming, singing, and other oral activities will help develop this skill. For example, with phonemic awareness you would listen for and become familiar with sounds in the following words: "weigh, tough, edge"
However, unless you are able to connect these sounds with how they look in print there is no way you would be able to read them. Only by knowing the sound/symbol relationships of the letters and spelling patterns would you ever be able to read these words! Reading is a visual skill.
Phonemic awareness is the important first step in learning how to read. It is an important precursor to phonics, but should never be confused with instruction in phonics.
What about dyslexia?
However, it has been my experience in thirty years of tutoring that some students who had been labeled dyslexic no longer reversed letters or words after having been taught explicit phonics.
In medical references, dyslexia is issentially defined as "failure to see or hear similarities or differences in letters or words a tendency to substitute words for those he cannot see." Guessing! Our students are trained to do the very thing that medical journals define as dyslexic.
A compelling hypothesis is that those students who no longer had dyslexic symptoms after having been taught explicit phonics were not really dyslexic to begin with, but only suffering from a lack in their educational training.
Current research shows early reversals to be a normal developmental stage for many children. Just as crawling prepares a child for walking, incorporating blending skills when teaching beginning reading will train eyes to move smoothly across the page from left to right. Blending exercises are essential to prevent or remediate established patterns of reversals!
Students who are truly dyslexic need more time and practice to develop good reading skills, but the end result will be ease and fluency of reading with excellent comprehension.
Isn't "invented spelling" important?
Recent research has revealed that accurate spelling is critical to the reading process. Skillful readers have internalized detailed and precise spellings of words, and in a fraction of a second map them to the speech patterns they represent. This research has also shown that to whatever extent this knowledge is underdeveloped or inaccurate it is strongly associated with specific reading disability.
Reading and spelling enhance each other, and should be taught as an integrated unit, by patterns. Today's spelling words are usually taken from the story being read, and taught randomly. What if we had to learn math randomly - 12 x 7, 6 x 9, 5 x 11, etc.?
Invented spelling is not true freedom!
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