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Phonics: The Best Way

Phonics – instruction in the sounds of letters and letter combinations ­– is the single most effective way to teach children to read, and it provides a systematic, whole-language foundation that enables students to independently decode words. Sometimes referred to simply as ‘letter sounds’, phonics is the most effective way to teach folks of all ages how to read. It demystifies reading by making it accessible to every single learner, and it’s no less true for students who speak other languages, students who have a delayed reading trajectory, or students who learn differently. Phonics never encourages guessing based on words found in a larger context; instead, it is the only method that systematically teaches the nearly insurmountable task of being able to decipher the phonemic building blocks of new words. In other words, for readers, it gets the message across, which inevitably leads to improved fluency and comprehension. A sound phonics foundation offers perhaps the best objective method available to improve spelling and writing. In fact, students can’t write accurately without first understanding the code that connects sounds to their written representation. Moreover, since reading lectures are perceived as ‘a piece of cake’ and immeasurably easier than they truly are, our phonics-based approach quickly instils confidence in young readers, making a positive and lifelong relationship with reading both possible and likely. The single most important point is that phonics almost always makes their learning faster. When we look at academic research on reading acquisition over the past four decades, we cannot deny that a strong phonics foundation underlies every single effective approach we have to reading written language.


Decoding Skills: Phonics helps children figure out the relationship between different sounds (or phonemes) and the letters (or graphemes) that represent them. This is the ‘sounding out’ skill they use to figure out words as they read.


Word Recognition: Understanding phonics helps children recognize familiar words more quickly and accurately, as they can apply their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to decode words. As a result, children learn to recognise sight words more quickly and accurately because phonics reduces the activation of superfluous words like was, saw, and bats while increasing the activation of an already activated reading word.


Spelling Skills: Phonics instruction supports spelling development by helping children understand how letters represent sounds in words, enabling them to spell words phonetically. If spelling is a form of decoding, then phonics can help with it: the child sees the letters in front of her and knows what they mean in terms of sounding out words For Rozzoni, the parents who were resistant to explicit instruction on reading despite research, logic and good practice, she questioned the causes. Perhaps they could be influenced by the stresses of adult life. Maybe they weren’t committed to the topic. Or possibly, she wrote to me in an email, they were victim to a stigma around what is seen as phonics.


Independence in Reading: Once children grasp phonics principles, they can apply them independently while reading new and unfamiliar words. This empowers them to become more fluent readers. When children learn how to decode words using phonics principles, they can then apply these principles to reading words they have never seen before, thus allowing them to become more fluent readers.


Comprehension: While phonics focuses primarily on decoding, it indirectly supports reading comprehension by freeing up cognitive resources that children can then allocate to understanding the meaning of the text. This is why phonics is indirectly a particularly useful contribution to reading comprehension: by easing the task of decoding, each child will have fewer cognitive resources tied up in that task, and more available to focus on reaping the meaning of the written word.


Systematic Approach: Phonics instruction typically follows a structured and systematic approach, starting with basic letter-sound relationships and progressing to more complex phonics patterns. This sequential instruction helps build a solid foundation for reading. Sequential, rather than haphazard or whole-word approaches, phonics instruction organises the alphabetic principle in a sequential and orderly way, beginning with the simplest letter-sound correspondences and then progressing to more complex phonics patterns.


Evidence-Based Practice: Research consistently supports the effectiveness of phonics instruction in teaching children to read. Many studies have demonstrated its positive impact on reading achievement, particularly for struggling readers. The teaching of phonics to children has been supported by research as an effective instructional strategy for many decades. Numerous studies have found a positive effect of phonics on both reading performance for normally progressing children and struggling readers.




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