How Idaho educators can build a solid foundation to help students learn to read • Idaho Capital Sun

The quest to unlock the magic of reading is as complex as it is crucial.

In recent decades, phonics has probably been more discussed, more vigorously debated, and less understood than almost any other topic in reading education. In the past, those decrying poor reading performance in the United States have turned to phonics as a solution.

We learned about the colonial alphabetic spelling system through the basal readers that predominated in the first half of this century. Basal readers combine published short stories, excerpts from longer stories, and original works. A collection of workbooks, assessments and activities are also included.

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Any error or perceived error in the methodology was met with a call for a return to phonetics. This demand has been raised again recently as a trend towards a new, integrated approach to language teaching has emerged among many prominent educators. The tension between these newer approaches – although very different in their application – and approaches based on a phonetic focus can still be heard today.

First, it is important to understand what phonetics is and what it is not.

I generated ideas from this discussion from my years of research and collaboration with my mother, the late Dorothy Strickland, professor emeritus at Rutgers University. She is the author of Teaching Phonics Today: Word Study Strategies Through the Grades.

“Reading is a complex process that requires more than a single strategy,” my mother wrote. “Beginners use a variety of pictorial, configurational, and graphical cues when they need to decode (read) or encode (write) written language. Phonics is not alone. It is used in reading and spelling and its use is determined by reading and spelling.”

The sound-letter association used in reading and writing requires an understanding of the alphabetic principle. There are connections between spoken sounds and letters, or combinations thereof, on which the English language is based.

There is an awareness of the sounds associated with a particular letter or combination of letters. For example, the letter “b” at the beginning of the word “back” and the letter combination ck at the end of back each represent a single sound.

What are the goals of teaching phonics?

We want to help children learn the alphabetical principle. Next, teachers strive to demonstrate the predictable, organized, and logical relationship between written letters and spoken sounds. Decoding, when we use letter-sound relationships to translate a printed word into speech, is sometimes called “sounding out” a printed word. When children learn things like this, they can apply these patterns to both familiar and unfamiliar words. You can begin to read fluently.

That seems simple enough. The problem is that phonetics has come to mean so much more over time. In some ways it has polarized the field.

Educators are said to be either on one side or the other: more or less spoken language. Phonics is viewed as “the solution” by many people concerned about reading proficiency in the United States.

Some emphasize phonics or the science of reading first. They practice a kind of skill and drill approach. This style suggests that young children need extensive instruction in phonics before reading and writing.

Others call themselves “Balanced Literacy Educators.” The teachers in this camp focus more on young learners doing meaningful reading and writing work. Such efforts promote knowledge of letters and sounds in even the youngest learners.

But my review of scholarly research in this area found that while the media has spent a lot of time on disputes that seem to be tearing the field of reading apart, there is consensus in many areas.

Phonics is crucial for kindergarten, first, and second graders. This fact is widely recognized and accepted. And everyone agrees that our ultimate goal is to produce young learners who will develop into motivated, lifelong readers and writers.

Most teachers, myself included, are centrist. Too much attention to arguments and camps leads to an us versus them mentality. You end up with caricatures, many of which are inaccurate. Most educators are not extremists. Most teachers are aware that different children have different needs that manifest themselves at different stages of learning.

English is an alphabetic language and phonetics are undoubtedly important for learning to read. But the most important thing is that it needs to be used, and in conjunction with other word learning skills. Teachers should distinguish between the standards (a shared idea of ​​what children should know and be able to do) and the curriculum (how we get there).

Phonics should not be viewed in isolation, but in the context of actual reading and as one of numerous word learning strategies. The best teaching occurs in the context of helping children think with text.

The discourse on the so-called science of reading raises some interesting questions. As author and educator Nancy Bailey said: Is there a science of history? A science of mathematics? Is there a science to everything? Is there a science of science?

Most educators want to learn from both ends of the continuum and bring together everything that works for children, from phonics approach to professional development.

I appreciate this reminder that professional development in phonics teaching is essential. This way, no educator has to feel inadequate when working with a child who has trouble printing.

The best approach is to help children learn to recognize letters and numbers in a fun way, while they learn the broader concepts about print and books that they need to foundation their literacy skills. Ultimately, it's not just about teaching children to read, but also helping them learn independently. This lays a solid foundation for a lifelong journey of discovery through the written word.

Anna Harden

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