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Should We Teach Phonics to Remedial Readers?

Many teachers were trained in the notion that phonics skills are best learned implicitly in the context of authentic literature. Although many students can probably learn essential decoding skills in this manner, it is also true that explicit phonics training is a more efficient method of instruction. More importantly, it has become increasingly sure in a unified body of research that a certain percentage of students do not learn to read through implicit phonics training. So, yes we should teach phonics to remedial readers.

Phonics involves pronouncing and blending the speech sounds (phonemes) when they are represented by the alphabetic symbols (spellings). Phonics instruction means to teach how to pronounce sounds and words from their spellings. There are about 43 common speech sounds (phonemes) in English and these are represented by about 89 common spellings.

Phonics is not phonemic awareness, which involves the ability to identify and manipulate the speech sounds. It is not spelling, because it does not apply the sounds to the alphabetic symbols.

Why is phonics instruction important and can remedial readers learn phonics?

Reading is not a developmentally acquired skill that naturally derives from phonics. Phonics instruction, using the most common sound-spelling relationships, is the most efficient and effective approach for many children (Adams, 1988; Stanovich, 1986; Foorman, Francis, Novy, & Liberman 1991). New research shows that phonics-based instruction can actually change brain activity in adults with dyslexia, resulting in significant improvements in reading (Flowers, 2004).

Which method of phonics instruction works best?

Research-based explicit, systematic phonics instruction works quickly and efficiently to “fill in the gaps” as determined by diagnostic phonics assessments. Reliable whole-class assessments have recently been developed to enable remedial reading teachers to isolate the phonetic elements that individual students need to master. Based upon this data, teachers can form small groups to remediate each phonetic element.

What about English-language Learners?

Specific speech sounds differ among languages, making phonics and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELLs). ELL research findings are consistent with primary language research findings in that both phonics and phonics instruction clearly benefit ELL reading development. Furthermore, there is no evidence that phonics and phonics instruction in English needs to be delayed until a certain level of English oral language proficiency is achieved.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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