Teaching Phonics: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers
SOR training courses. Understanding this relationship is critical because English represents individual units of sound phonemes with corresponding single letters and groups of letters graphemes.
While phonics instruction teaches students about the relationship between letters and sounds, effective phonics instruction teaches students to associate sounds with the corresponding letters and letter patterns so that they learn to encode write and decode read words using the sound-symbol correspondence. This is a strategy that all good readers demonstrate Ehri, Although there are a number of approaches to teaching phonics, not all are equally effective, nor do they make use of brain science.
When it comes to early reading instruction, the gap that exists between what we know and what we do is wide, particularly with regard to what we know about the brain and how we teach kids to read. Information on human nature should be the starting point for discussions on how to teach children to read and write. According to Dr. Timothy Shanahan , most educators have been misguided on the ideas about the nature of reading and ultimately how to teach it effectively.
All of the familiar techniques were devised before we had a scientific understanding of reading, and are based on theories that we now know are wrong. The more Secrets that beginning grade learners know, the more they are able to read and write. These elements need to be taught to ensure all students gain the most from early reading instruction. The incontrovertible finding from the extensive body of local and international evidence-based reading research is that children during the early years of their education must first master the alphabetic code via systematic, explicit and intensive instruction in: phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension strategies.
Of these elements, phonics is the area in which early readers are most deficient. Phonics is also the area in which brain based teaching methods are least likely to be employed.
Its brain based approach accelerates early learner skill mastery to better support phonics skill transfer to reading and writing. By systematically prioritizing learner access to high-leverage phonics skills and simultaneously offering additional skills i. This information on human nature should be the starting point for discussions on how to teach children to read and write.
Research clearly shows phonics to be a cornerstone of effective, early reading instruction. In order to become a reader, one has to develop these phonological paths. There are several ways to do this, but no way has been found to be more effective than explicit decoding instruction focusing on phonemes—not on cueing systems. Kids need to become fearless code breakers, not left in the dark to guess. Many educators, however, continue to ignore this well-proven fact.
Shanahan , explains that educators should focus on what the research says kids need to learn to read, rather than focusing on elements that have no basis of evidence.
Martha Pierson By offering skill content through multiple learning modalities visual, auditory, kinesthetic learners gain easier access and are capable of more immediate retrieval Siegal, When students find the right connections, they will learn. Concentrating heavily on storage and recall of unconnected facts is a very inefficient use of the brain. Studies show that with whole-brain teaching children learn faster and retain more. By introducing information to the brain from as many angles as possible, more neural connections are created and strengthened.
As a result, learning is more holistic and multidimensional. By engaging multiple modalities and pathways for learning, phonics skills are stored in different learning networks, providing learners with more avenues for easier retention and retrieval. Studies have revealed that more than 99 percent of learning occurs at the nonconscious level and that the nonconscious mind is responsible for the bulk of our mental processing.
James Asher In contrast, the conscious mind works much more slowly, and is overall less adept and efficient at processing information.
For these reasons, it can be said that the nonconscious mind is more intelligent than the conscious mind Williams, The task of learning letter-sound associations is not an easy one for beginners. Difficulties arise from several sources. The number of associations to be mastered is considerable: more than 40 sounds for 52 visual figures, plus sounds for combinations of letters i.
Furthermore, the associations between letters and sounds are totally arbitrary, as there is nothing inherent in the visual symbol that suggests its name or sound. First graders had much trouble learning pairs of arbitrarily associated, meaningless terms Ehri, Deffner and Wilce, Paired-associate learning in children is much improved when learners create or are provided with concrete, meaningful, interactive, and imaginable connections that link the stimulus and response terms in memory.
Auditory Phonics Instruction Auditory pathways are activated by sound and engage when both listening and talking. The left side of the brain processes rapid auditory information faster than the right. This skill is critical in separating the sounds of speech into distinct units for comprehension. The left hemisphere, usually responsible for language development, develops slower in the male brain. Thus, males often have usually developed more difficulties with reading.
Learning to Read Kinesthetically Understanding the research on body intelligence enables teachers to take advantage of muscle memory as an access point for learning. James Asher Children learn by touching and doing. There is a large collection of research that proves what many have suspected all along, human bodies are meant to have ample opportunities to move. As a result, learning is enhanced when movement is embedded in instruction.
This traditionally slow pace of individual letter-sound instruction at the earliest grade levels often takes an entire kindergarten year or more to acquire. Lyons and Ghetti noted that children, as young as four years of age, benefited from phonemic awareness and letter sound instruction when the instruction was presented in an interesting and entertaining way.
Studies prove that the body remembers as well as the mind, and for certain learners, even better. This is especially true for very young learners whose cognitive processing centers are often underdeveloped.
This is also true for many struggling, upper-grade learners. Intentionally adding movement to enhance learning is referred to as embodied learning.
This practice has been shown to enhance recall and aid in the transfer to long-term memory. This is because what fires together is wired together in the brain.
Therefore, performing a task or recalling information that causes different neurons to fire in concert strengthens the connections between them Immordino-Yang, In this way, learning becomes nonconscious and effortless.
Timothy Shanahan Although there are a number of approaches to teaching phonics, not all are equally effective, nor do they make use of brain science. It is essential that educators be familiar with brain compatible practices and practices that are brain antagonistic.
Based on what we currently know about the structure and function of the brain, brain compatible teaching emphasizes the way the brain naturally learns. Lessons that are brain compatible enable teachers to target instruction to areas of learner strength and bypass areas of inherent weakness Sprenger, Tapping Into Brain Plasticity The brain is malleable and is shaped by experience.
An overwhelming body of evidence shows our brain is altered by everyday experiences, such as learning to read, learning vocabulary, studying for tests, or learning to play a musical instrument. The ability of the brain to rewire and remap itself by means of neuroplasticity is profound.
When the correct skill-building protocol is used, educators can make positive and significant changes in our brains in a short time. Our brain is involved in all we do, our brain changes from experience, therefore our experiences in learning at school will also change our brains.
Education research and cognitive science have given us deeper insights into the process of learning…. Like a piece of silly putty, the brain is molded and reshaped by the forces of life acting on it. James Zull We now understand that the brain has the quality of plasticity. It responds to experiences that stimulate activity in particular areas of the brain, thereby facilitating the growth of neural connections in and between those active regions. If the sequential developmental process—from sounding out to whole word recognition—does not occur, then children will be forced to employ less rapid and accurate systems such as prediction from context, guessing from pictures, and guessing from the first letter Hempenstall, David Bronson The brain is often referred to as the ultimate pattern-making machine, seeking and storing memories based on patterns, or repeated relationships between ideas.
This system facilitates our interpreting of the world—and all the new information we find throughout each day—based on prior experiences. It is also far from ideal from a brain based learning perspective. This groundbreaking study provides some of the first evidence that a specific teaching strategy for reading has direct neural impact. Bruce McCandliss Additionally, rote memorization requires brain storage, which is not limitless.
The human brain must discriminate which concepts and ideas should be placed into the working memory on its way to the long-term memory. It takes approximately 30 seconds for this process to occur. Presenting information that is too complex, lacks relevance, or provides insufficient sensory stimulation will be difficult to learn Jenson, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang , that feature of our biology makes perfect evolutionary sense, as one would not expend energy and effort trying to process random things that have no personal importance.
Doing this would be a waste of energy. This has important implications for the way in which teachers design their lessons, especially in subject areas that inherently hold no personal meaning for learners, such as phonics skill instruction. Knowing the Secrets i. If something does not make sense, the brain will drop it. Earl Miller The brain seeks meaning and relevance, learning best on a need-to-know basis.
However, traditional phonics instruction only offers arbitrary rules for letter sound behaviors with no meaning. Additionally, the individual letter sound skills that are taught at the earliest grade levels are often irrelevant to the sounds letters actually make in text. Moving instructional practice from what is fundamentally brain antagonistic to brain compatible requires students know how, and for what, information is to be used. Geoff Petty , traditional methods of instructional delivery and focusing curricula on key concepts must change.
It is vital to align instruction with that which is important to learners. Information presented must be grounded in personal meaning or future relevance. We can do this by purposely orchestrating meaning. Instructional focus should target strategies that enhance retention of learning and on curricula that students perceive as relevant to their lives. Deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts.
Emotion guides our learning. The emotional brain filters all incoming information. If it is emotionally stimulating, it will be marked for memory and prioritized learning in the brain.
At a Loss for Words
Teaching letter-sound relationships in a research-based scope and sequence should be coupled with providing ample opportunities for students to practice these skills.
Research shows that systematic and explicit phonics instruction has a greater impact on reading and spelling when it occurs early in kindergarten and first grade. For students to become good readers, phonics instruction must be in combination with meaning-focused activities, like reading rich texts and vocabulary activities. Use It in the Classroom Watch how a teacher uses the Orton-Gillingham approach, which is highly multisensory, with her whole class.
The program uses both hearing and touch to explore letters and their sounds. Using a systematic phonics instructional program regularly promotes skill development in Morphological Awareness, Phonological Awareness, Alphabet Knowledge, Decoding, and Sight Recognition. Phonics can be taught during whole class lessons or in small groups to focus on students' individual needs.
Design It into Your Product Videos are chosen as examples of strategies in action. These choices are not endorsements of the products or evidence of use of research to develop the feature. Learn how the Simplex Spelling Phonics 2 app uses reverse phonics with a focus on syllables to foster Phonological Awareness through spelling.
Providing a hint button that displays all of the possible letter combinations that make a sound supports a deeper understanding of Phonological Awareness and more complex spelling patterns. Products can directly teach phonics to develop Alphabet Knowledge and Phonological Awareness and also allow students to practice recognizing, saying, writing, and blending letter sounds. Products can also blend phonics and meaning-focused activities to differentiate for each student.
View References Resources Below are additional examples, research, and professional development. These resources are possible representations of this strategy, not endorsements.
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Effective Reading Instruction
Semantics is that aspect of language concerned with meaning. The curriculum from the beginning must include instruction in the comprehension of written language.
Structured Literacy is distinctive in the principles that guide how critical elements are taught: Systematic and Cumulative. Structured Literacy instruction is systematic and cumulative. Systematic means that the organization of material follows the logical order of the language. The sequence must begin with the easiest and most basic concepts and elements and progress methodically to more difficult concepts and elements. Cumulative means each step must be based on concepts previously learned.
Explicit Instruction. Structured Literacy instruction requires the deliberate teaching of all concepts with continuous student-teacher interaction. It is not assumed that students will naturally deduce these concepts on their own. Diagnostic Teaching. The teacher must be adept at individualized instruction. The instruction is based on careful and continuous assessment, both informally for example, observation and formally for example, with standardized measures.
The content presented must be mastered to the degree of automaticity. References Brady, S. Brady, D. Fowler Eds. Denton, C. An experimental evaluation of Guided Reading and explicit interventions for primary-grade students at-risk for reading difficulties.
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Strategies for Phonics Reading Intervention
Scientific Studies of Reading, 15 4 Kleiman, G. Kruidenier, J. Lonigan, C. Executive summary of the report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Marzola, E. Strategies to improve reading comprehension in the multisensory classroom. Mathes, P. The effects of theoretically different instruction and student characteristics on the skills of struggling readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 40 2 Phonological skills and their role in learning to read: A meta-analytic review.
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