"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." William Butler Yeats
What are phonics?
Children's reading development is dependent on their understanding of the alphabetic principle – the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language. Learning that there are predictable relationships between sounds and letters allows children to apply these relationships to both familiar and unfamiliar words, and to begin to read with fluency. The goal of phonics instruction is to help children to learn and be able to use the Alphabetic Principle. The alphabetic principle is the understanding that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds. Phonics instruction helps children learn the relationships between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language.
A kid's perspective: what problems with phonics feel like
Children will usually express their frustration and difficulties in a general way, with statements like "I hate reading!" or "This is stupid!". But if they could, this is how kids might describe how word decoding and phonics difficulties affect their reading:
I just seem to get stuck when I try t read a lot of the words in this chapter.
Figuring out the words takes so much of my energy, I can't even think about what it means.
I don't know how to sound out these words.
I know my letters and sounds, but I just can't read words on a page.
What kids can do to help themselves:
Play with magnetic letters. See how quickly your child can put them in alphabetical order while singing the alphabet song.
Have you child look at written materials around your house and at road signs to see if he can spot familiar words and letter patterns.
Ask your child to write notes, e-mails, and letters to friends and family. Make sure each sound is represented as he writes. When your child is trying to sound out a word, have him pay close attention to the print. Try to point out all the letters in the word, not just the first one or two.
A parent's perspective: phonics problems I see at home
Here are some clues for parents that a child may have problems with word decoding and phonics:
He often gets stuck on words when reading. I end up telling him many of the words.
His reading is very slow because he spends so much time figuring out words.
He is not able to understand much about what he has read because he is so busy trying to sound out the words.
It is as if he does not know how to put the information together to read words.
Saying "sound it out" to him just seems to make him more frustrated.
He guesses at words based on the first letter or two; it is as if he does not pay close attention to the print.
What parents can do to help at home:
For a younger reader, help your child learn the letters and sounds of the alphabet. Occasionally point to letters and ask your child to name them.
Help your child make connections between what he or she might see on a sign or in the newspaper and the letter and sound work he or she is doing in school.
Encourage your child to write and spell notes, e-mails and letters using what he knows about sounds and letters.
Talk with your child about the "irregular" words that she'll often see in what she's reading. These are the words that do not follow the usual letter-sound rules. These words include said, are, and was. Students must learn to recognize them "at sight."
Consider using computer software that focuses on developing phonics and emergent literacy skills. Some software programs are designed to support children in their writing efforts. Other software programs provide practice with long and short vowel sounds and creating compound words.
A teacher's perspective: what I see in the classroom
Here are some word or phrases that teachers might use to describe a student that may have problems with word decoding and phonics:
He has difficulty matching sounds and letters, which can affect reading and spelling.
He decodes in a very labored manner.
He has trouble reading and spelling phonetically.
He has a high degree of difficulty with phonics patterns and activities.
He guesses at words based on the first letter or two.
Even though I taught several short vowel sounds (or other letter sounds or patterns), the corresponding letters are not showing up in his writing samples.
Even though I taught certain letter patterns, he isn't able to recognize them when reading words.
What teachers can do to help at school:
Have students sort pictures and objects by the sound he is teaching. At each stage, children should be saying the letter sound over and over again.
Teach phonics in a systematic and explicit way.
Begin the systematic and explicit phonics instruction early, first grade at the latest.
Help students understand the purpose of phonics by engaging them in reading and writing activities that requires them to apply the phonics information that has been taught.
Use manipulatives to help teach letter-sound relationships. These can include counters, sound boxes, and magnetic letters.
Provide individualized instruction to students who need it.