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Phonics in 10 Minutes

This post is for parents concerned about their child’s reading; for news and social media junkies who want to intelligently respond to current events, such as the recent dramatic improvement in Mississippi reading scores due, largely, to a re-emphasis on phonics; for elementary teachers who never had a phonics course in their teaching credential program; for secondary teachers who wonder, “Should I be teaching phonics to my frosh English students who can barely read?”; and for literacy coaches and reading specialists, like me, who want a quick start user guide to present to parents and teachers. In this 10-minute read, you’ll find out what the following terms mean and what they have to do with teaching phonics, enough to keep you from sounding stupid in any job interview or lunch conversation with other parents, principals, teachers, language coaches, and reading specialists.

Think of this as a Quick Start User Guide to Phonics. In order of appearance: phonics, phonemes, graphemes, decoding, encoding, synthetic phonics, explicit and systematic phonics, sound-spellings, decodables, sound-by-sound blending, slanted /lines/, consonant blends, consonant digraphs, analytic phonics, onsets, rimes, word families, diphthongs, embedded phonics, implicit and incidental instruction, cueing systems, MSV, guided reading, r-controlled vowels, silent final e, instructional phonics sequence, continuous sounds

Definitions

Let’s begin by defining phonics. Simply put, phonics is how we use the 26 letters of the alphabet as a code to represent our English phonemes (the fancy way of saying the 43 or 44 speech sounds). We put together these written speech sounds (called graphemes if you want to sound impressive) to read words. This is known as decoding. The Latin prefix, “de” means away from or out of, which helps us remember that decoding is making meaning out of the letter combinations. The other side of the language coin from decoding is encodingThe Latin prefix, “en” means in or into, which helps us remember that encoding is making the graphemes into words. To keep it simple: Decoding is sounding-out the words to be able to read them, and encoding is spelling the words.

Now that we have a definition of phonics, let’s take a look at the three approaches to phonics instruction. In our brief analysis, you’ll learn the key components of phonics instruction in the key instructional activities and the methods used by each phonics approach to teach them. To be clear, each approach helps students learn the phonics rules; it’s the how they are learned that differs. As an aside, these three methods of teaching phonics are the main points of contention in the never-ending Reading Wars, and the battles within each approach are just as contentious as those among the three approaches.

Types of Phonics Approaches

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

1. Synthetic Phonics: In this approach, teachers help students learn how to convert the 26 letters of the alphabet into the 43 or 44 English phonemes (speech sounds) and then blend these individual sounds to read words. The teacher introduces the graphemes (the spellings) for each of these phonemes in explicit, systematic instruction. Explicit means direct and sometimes isolated instruction that is unconnected to text. Systematic means planned, structured, and sequenced instruction.

Key Instructional Activities: The sound-spelling card (to the right) is a key instructional component of synthetic phonics. For example, students first learn the sounds and spellings listed on the three cards. (Previously, students had learned the /s/ on the seagull card and the /n/ on the newt card before the teacher introduces the sn_ on the snack card.)

Another key instructional activity is sound-by-sound blending. The teacher asks students to say the consonant blend sounds on the snack card; say the vowel sound on the iguana card; say the  consonant digraph sound on the cheetah card; and then blend the word, snitch. Students are taught the phonics rule that the _tch spelling follows short vowel sounds.

A third synthetic activity is the use of decodables. Decodables are short books, designed to practice specific sound-spellings introduced in the sound-by-sound blending activities. Decodables also review previously learned sound-spellings. Typically, a limited number of non-decodable sight words are used so that students build confidence in using their phonics skills.

*Note: The slanted /lines/ indicate sounds. The _blanks_ indicate that other letters must come before and/or after the spelling. A consonant blend is two or three consonants that frequently appear together at the start or end of syllables. A vowel, most commonly a, e, i, o, and u, appears in every syllable. A consonant digraph is two consonants which form one sound.

Rimes

Word Families

2. Analytic (Analogy) Phonics: Teaches students to look at the whole word, especially the onset (the beginning letter or letters) and rime (the sound pattern known as a word family), and to compare to similarly structured words which are already known.

Key Instructional Activities: For example, the teacher might teach the consonant blends br, cr, dr,  and fr as onsets and the rime, own (rhymes with down). Students practice combining the onsets and rimes as br-own, cr-own, dr-own, and fr-own. In the next lesson the teacher might teach the consonant blends gr, thr, and the consonant digraph sh as onsets and the rime, own (rhymes with phone).

Analytic phonics may include explicit and systematic instruction. Teachers introduce the rimes (word families) by syllable types.

*Note: The “ow” spelling in “own” as in brown is a diphthong. A diphthong is a vowel team in which two sounds are made. However, the the “ow” spelling in “own” as in shown is a vowel digraph. A vowel digraph is a vowel team in which only one sound is made.

3. Embedded Phonics: Teaches students phonics within the context of reading as needed to cue the pronunciation of a word. In contrast to the explicit and systematic instruction of the synthetic and analytic approaches, embedded phonics utilizes an implicit, incidental methodology. Phonics skills are learned deductively from the whole to the part as one of the three cueing systems for comprehension i.e., 1. M = Meaning 2. S = Structure (sentence structure, grammar, word order) 3. V = Visual (phonics, onsets and rimes, sight words).

Key Instructional Activities: The teacher groups readers by reading levels and students chorally and individually read a book together. When students struggle with the pronunciation of a word, they apply specific strategies to logically guess the pronunciation. For example, “What’s the sound of the first letter in this word? What word would make sense withe other words in the sentence? What hint does the picture on the page provide as to how to say it?”

The r-Controlled Vowels

A typical embedded phonics lesson might be planned as a mini lesson from a guided reading lesson on a book which uses a number of r-controlled vowels. After an initial reading, the teacher might ask students to search for and create a sorted list for all words using the /ar/, /or/, and /er/ spellings found on the cards to the right. Often, teachers use running records assessments of oral readings to determine the content of the mini lessons.

Silent Final e

 

Teachers may share the silent final rule in which the final at the end of a syllable makes the preceding vowel say its name (a long vowel sound) when a single consonant is found between the vowel and the final silent final e. For example, using the cards below, teachers could ask the group for example words of the a_e, i_e, o_e, and u_e spellings to create a word wall. Students might then write a story, using as many silent final words as possible.

Instructional Phonics Sequence

Generally speaking, all three phonics approaches follow a similar instructional order.

1. The most common sounds are introduced prior to the least common sounds.

  • Short vowels and consonant sounds
  • Ending consonant blends and “sh” and “th” voiced consonant digraphs
  • Beginning consonant blends, “wh” and “tch” consonant digraphs, “sh” and “th” unvoiced consonant digraphs
  • Long vowel sounds and silent final e
  • Long vowel sounds and r-controlled vowels
  • Diphthongs

2. Order of instruction separates letters that are visually similar e.g., p and b, m and n, v and w, u and n.

3. Order of instruction separates sounds that are similar e.g., /k/ and /g/, /u/ and /o/, /t/ and /d/, /e/ and /i/.

4. The most commonly used letters are introduced prior to the least commonly used letters.

5. Short words with fewer phonemes are introduced prior to longer words with more phonemes.

6. Continuous sounds e.g., /a/, /m/, are introduced prior to stop sounds e.g., /t/ because the continuous sounds are easier to blend.Check out Pennington Publishing’s Instructional Phonics Sequence with sound-by-sound spelling blending:

Get the Instructional Phonics Sequence FREE Resource:

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

*****

My take? Synthetic phonics is the most efficient means of teaching the alphabetic code and should be taught systematically as part of any beginning reading program or reading intervention program. However, good reading and spelling programs provide additional analytic phonics activities, such as syllabication and spelling pattern word sorts. Plus, while most students learn with a synthetic approach, others respond best with an analytic approach. Good teachers also use incidental embedded phonics instruction as teachable moments to study words in depth as they use shared and guided reading. The best means of determining whether any method of reading instruction is working? Assessment. Flexible teachers use data to inform instruction and the instructional approach to meet the needs of individual students.

Get the Diagnostic Reading  and Spelling Assessments FREE Resource:

I’m Mark Pennington, author of  the Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program). This program provides all the resources teachers need for flexible, student-centered reading instruction. The program is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

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The Phonics Wars

Phonics Wars

The Phonics Wars

The Reading Wars have largely centered on one key issue of contention: How to Teach Phonics. More aptly named, the Phonics Wars have been going on since the 1950s. Different sides will occasionally declare victory when new research comes out or when new test results are released, such as the recent Mississippi NAEP improvement, and claim that the wars are over. Locally, among your district, county, or state colleagues, there may be a ceasefire; however, nationally and internationally the wars continue to rage on. The best evidence to support this fact? Facebook reading instruction groups. Believe me, the battle lines are still drawn. Even within the same type of phonics, some of the toughest battles are being waged e.g., the current International Dyslexic Association v. International Literacy Association accusations and name-calling.

This post is designed to get you up to speed about the three approaches to phonics, the key instructional activities, the programs and supporters, and the lingo used by advocates. My instructional goal is help you classify reading strategies, lessons, and activities according to the three approaches to phonics.

Three Approaches to Phonics

1. Synthetic Phonics: Teaches students to convert the 26 letters of the alphabet into the 43 or 44 English phonemes (speech sounds e.g., /sh/) and then blend these sounds to read syllables and words. This is known as decoding. Students also learn to use the graphemes (the letters or groups of letters which represent the common phoneme spellings, also known as sound-spellings) to spell the syllables and words. This is known as encoding. Both decoding and encoding are taught together in synthetic phonics.

Example: Individual sounds: sh-ow-n Blended sounds: shown

*Note: The slanted /lines/ indicate sounds. The _blanks_ indicate that other letters must come before and/or after the spelling.

Key Instructional Activities: Sound-by-Sound Blending, Sound-Spelling Cards, Decodable Book Practice, direct spelling pattern instruction

Programs and Supporters: Read 180®, Open Court, SRA, LETRS, Success for All, LiPS®, Wilson Reading System® and Fundations, Orton-Gillingham, Language! Live®, Hooked on Phonics®, Saxon Phonics®, Fundations, SRA Corrective Reading, International Dyslexic Association, International Literacy Association

Lingo: The Science of Reading, structured, explicit, systematic, sound-out, alphabetic code, , word identification, word attack

2. Analytic (Analogy) Phonics: Teaches students to look at the whole word, especially the onset (the beginning letter or letters) and rime (the sound pattern known as a word family), and to compare to similarly structured words which are already known.

Example: sh-ock like the words st-ock and kn-ock

Key Instructional Activities: Word sorts, word family flashcards, rhyming books, spelling patterns

Programs and Supporters: Words Their Way®, Making Words, International Literacy Association, Dr. Seuss

Lingo: Word families, onsets and rimes, word sorts. “Get your mouth ready…”, word recognition, high frequency words, whole to part

3. Embedded Phonics: Teaches students phonics within the context of reading as needed to cue the pronunciation of a word. Phonics skills are learned deductively from the whole to the part as one of the three cueing strategies for comprehension i.e., 1. M = Meaning 2. S = Structure (sentence structure, grammar, word order) 3. V = Visual (phonics, onsets and rimes, sight words)

Example: “What’s the sound of the first letter in this word?” From the other words in the sentence, what would be your best guess as to how to say it?

Key Instructional Activities: Mini lessons, predictable texts, picture walks, guided reading, shared reading

Programs and Supporters: Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention, Reading Recovery, HMH Journeys , HMH Into Reading, Units of Study for Teaching Reading Series

Lingo: Whole Language, Balanced Literacy, Structured Literacy, guided reading, shared reading, leveled books, authentic reading, word walls, high frequency sight words, strategic guessing

*****

My take? Synthetic phonics is the most efficient means of teaching the alphabetic code and should be taught systematically as part of any beginning reading program or reading intervention program. However, good reading and spelling programs provide additional analytic phonics activities, such as syllabication and spelling pattern word sorts. Plus, while most students learn with a synthetic approach, others respond best with an analytic approach. Good teachers also use incidental embedded phonics instruction as teachable moments to study words in depth as they use shared and guided reading. The best means of determining whether any method of reading instruction is working? Assessment. Flexible teachers use data to inform instruction and the instructional approach to meet the needs of individual students.

Get the Diagnostic Reading  and Spelling Assessments FREE Resource:

I’m Mark Pennington, author of  the Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program). This program provides all the resources teachers need for flexible, student-centered reading instruction. The program is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar/Mechanics , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,