Teaching Phonics

By Kim Southwell, Ph.D.
Founder, Owner& Director Reading Ranch Tutorial Center

Is there anyone else out there old enough to remember the “Hooked on Phonics worked for me” commercial tagline? These educational materials are still popular and do a stellar job giving children a solid foundation of early literacy support, but there are likely many parents who dismiss the program as unnecessary. And why? Well, that’s what teachers at school are for – to teach our kids how to read.

It’s widely assumed that teachers have all the answers, but believe it or not, even the best ones currently leading the charge in our private and public school systems aren’t trained to teach phonics. According to an article written by APM Reports and later published by The Hechinger Report, schools too often leave out a key piece of the reading puzzle because teachers aren’t trained to teach phonics. We’ll get back to that article in a second. But first …

If you have a child at The Reading Ranch® Tutorial Center, you probably have heard the term phonics thrown around quite a bit. Phonics is a method of teaching reading and writing by correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters. More than just giving kids lots of books and hoping that practice will make them better readers, phonics is a tool to help them hear and sound out new words.

Once beginning readers have some awareness of phonemes and their corresponding graphic representations, further reading instruction heightens their awareness of language, assisting them in developing the later stages of phonemic awareness; thus the process of learning to read begins.

The article states that more than 60 percent of American fourth-graders are not proficient readers, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Furthermore, children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives. These are statistics we preach all the time at The Reading Ranch.

Phonics is a critical piece in reversing that trend because the brain is NOT wired to read. It is wired to speak, which is why language is so much easier for us to pick up at an early age. If your parents speak English, you will undoubtedly pick it up quickly. It’s the same thing for any other language. But the ability to read is an entirely different skillset.The article goes on to point out that the starting point for reading is sound. Children must figure out how the words they are hearing and know how to speak correlate to the letters on the page.

According to experts, research indicates that phonemic awareness is the best predictor of the ease of early reading acquisition – better even than IQ, vocabulary, and listening comprehension. Phonological awareness is not only correlated with learning to read, but it is the foundational ability underlying the learning of spelling-sound correspondences.

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