It is a parent' s delight to see their child grow and develop. Your child’s first step, first word and reading for the first time are milestones every parent loves to witness. Most children naturally learn to walk and talk but learning to read must be taught. Reading is foundational to all future learning. What then are the best methods for teaching this critical skill?There are two main theories. The classic method focuses on teaching all the sounds of each letter or groups of letters called phonics. Students learn that letters make sounds, and putting letters and sounds together makes words. Taking it a step further, students discover that putting words together make sentences and from there paragraphs and so on.
The modern method, more typically seen in today’s Kindergarten classrooms, involves memorizing the most commonly used words. If a student encounters an unknown word they are told to use the context of the story or pictures to merely guess. Some modern curriculums claim they include phonics but fail to teach all phonograms. Often word families, word patterns and long vowel/short vowel sounds are taught in isolation. This does not prepare students for when they encounter longer, more sophisticated unknown words.
If we look to history as our guide, the classic method of phonics instruction that is systematic has been proven by research over and over again to be the most effective way to teach students to read.
As the United States struggles to compete with other nations in math and reading, bureaucrats are constantly looking for new methods to solve the educational crisis in America. The answer is not found in new curriculum or new practices. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when history shows us the strength of the classic methods educators have used for hundreds of years. Explicitly teaching phonics has proven to be a successful way to teach students to read.
What are the benefits to using a phonics-based reading program to learn to read? Here are 5 reasons:
1. Students learn to decode unfamiliar words
Rather than teaching the short vowel sounds this year and the long vowel sounds next year, which is often the case in today’s classrooms, students need to be taught all of the sounds that each letter and each group of letters make. This removes the need to memorize “sight words” and gives students a greater grasp of how words are made and read.
Once all the phonograms are mastered, Kindergarten students are prepared to decode any word they encounter. The ability to decode unfamiliar text will inevitably expose students to a more extensive vocabulary. It has been proven that the more “rare words” a child is exposed to the more likely they are to experience academic success.
2. Students become better spellers
When students know the phonograms and how to break a word into sounds, they are also able to spell correctly. Understanding sounds and language rules aid the student in choosing the correct phonogram for the sounds they hear in a word when writing. The writer will have confidence and capability to continue his or her train of thought and focus on the content of the writing rather than being continuously interrupted by spelling mistakes.
3. Students learn the rules of their language
In addition to learning all the phonograms, students need to be taught the rules of the English language. A solid grasp of the rules helps students to choose which phonogram to use when they encounter a sound. For example, if I hear a “sh” sound it can be spelled using “sh”, “ch”; “ti”, “ci”, or “si”. The rules lay out predictable patterns to follow that allow us to choose the correct phonogram that corresponds with a given sound. When a word break the rules students can look back at the word origins to understand why the word does not follow the predicted pattern.
4. More fluent readers
Once students have become proficient in decoding they can read with greater speed and much less frustration. This leads students to quickly move on to more challenging books and the cherished books of history are opened up to them. In addition, textbooks for subjects such as science, math and history are read with greater ease.
5. Improves reading comprehension
Once decoding becomes automatic it offers brain power to fuel comprehension. The ease and speed that comes with solid fluency allows readers the capacity to determine meaning and consider the author’s message.
With reading proficiency dropping nationwide it is essential that our classrooms ensure students learn to read. Systematic phonics instruction must be the backbone of our early literacy instruction. It will guarantee the success of all readers, even those who have struggled in the past.
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