Friday, February 9, 2018

A Fresh Look at Phonics

I started reading a new book last week and felt like a "Super Nerd" as I excitedly told my husband I was reading this "really great" book about phonics. I have read a lot about phonological awareness and phonics over the years and always believed they both play an important role in learning to read. A Fresh Look at Phonics is different than other books I've read though.
Rather than just tell you about phonics, why you should do it, and the phonics activities you should use, it delves into the key ingredients for success and most importantly the 10 common causes phonics instruction fails. It provides research and background to support suggested phonics practices, it addresses common instructional pitfalls (which I learned I was guilty of), and it offers clear next steps.

There are a few ah-ha's that stuck out to me from the first chapter.

1. We over emphasize rhyme. Instead of spending so much time looking for rhyming words, naming words that rhyme, and playing rhyme games we should consider spending more time on the "power skills" of oral blending and oral segmentation, which have a greater reading and writing pay off.

The ah-ha... Rhyme and alliteration activities abound and children's books are full of both making reading aloud lots of fun, but the instructional benefit of working with rhymes is not as great as spending the bulk of your instructional time working with words as the phoneme level.

2. Typically, there is an emphasis on separating phonemic awareness from phonics. We often hear the following: "you do phonemic awareness activities in the dark because you only need to be able to hear" and "you need the lights on for phonics activities, so that you can see the print."

When in fact, research suggests that when students being learning letter sounds, slowing integrating them into phonemic awareness tasks is helpful. For example: follow up a oral segmentation activity using sound boxes and counters by having students place letter cards or write the letters in each box to connect the sound to the spelling.

The ah-ha... we are missing the opportunity to increase learning when we don't gradually include letters into phonemic awareness activities as students advance through the skills.

3. There is a lack of support during phonemic awareness activities. Supports and scaffolds should be added to phonemic awareness exercises, then slowly removed to assess student growth.

The ah-ha... Hand signals for stretching sounds, manipulatives, and support aids such as sounds boxes and picture cards should be added to phonemic awareness activities in order to concretize the activity and support remembrance of sounds.

4. We lack accuracy in testing alphabet knowledge for both accuracy and speed. This causes teachers to miss valuable opportunities to adjust their instruction and be responsive to the diverse needs of their students. 

The ah-ha... Teachers should monitor student growth in recognizing letters and their sounds over an extended period of time to ensure mastery. Teachers should determine whether or not students can name the letter and sound (accuracy) as well as whether or not they can do so automatically (speed). Both scores provide separate information that informs instruction. There is a difference between the student who can name 20 letters accurately in 20 seconds and another who names all 20 accurately in two minutes.

5. Our language of instruction is confusing language or lacks specificity. For example: mat and sat rhyme because they both end in /at/ not because "they end in the same sound." Saying it is because they end in the same sound implies that it is because they both end with the /t/ sound.

The ah-ha... To avoid confusion, carefully consider the language and explanations you use.

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