How Phonics Transforms the Experience of Learning to Read
Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Phonics remains a bit of a divisive subject, but I really liked using this reading system in my classroom because it was so rewarding for the children. I found that the move from learning the first phonic sounds to reading their first words was relatively fast, and this was empowering for the child. Seeing their faces light up when they realised that they were actually reading the words on the page was a magical moment.
There are different terms for phonics. In the USA, this reading program is known as Blended Phonics and in the UK, it is referred to as Synthetic Phonics, but although the names are different, the basic premise is the same. The general concept involves getting children into reading as early as possible, by giving them the tools to do it from the offset.
How Phonics Works
This reading system is based on the sounds (phonemes) of the letters. Every letter carries equal importance, and the focus is on decoding the words, rather than guessing at the meaning or recognising the shape. The system has proven to be fast and effective, which is why it has been implemented by education authorities around the world.
Children are initially taught a series of sounds, such as ‘t’, ‘m’, and ‘a’. The letter name is not important at this stage; the focus is on the sound that it makes. For instance, ‘m’ is ‘mmm’, not ‘em’. The child is then shown how to blend the letters together to read words. They quickly realise that ‘m’ ‘a’ ‘t’ blends into the word ‘mat’. From here, they can begin reading groups of words – for example, ‘a dog and a bag’.
My experience of using phonics in the classroom was, perhaps, a little bit different because I was teaching children who were learning English as their second language. This meant that I had to adapt the reading system slightly, but the result was the same. After just a few sessions, children from Russia and Bulgaria had grasped the system and were able to read basic words. Their delight at their achievement was simply wonderful to see.
Developing Listening Skills to Benefit Reading
Repetition in songs, rhythms, words and phrases can enhance emergent literacy, and so the development of a child’s listening skills should not be underestimated. Research has found that audiobooks can help reluctant and developing readers to engage with narratives. Listening to stories also gives struggling readers access to content that is more appropriate to their age and interests, and this can help the child to find pleasure in reading.
For more on phonics, check out Ruth Miskin: https://www.ruthmiskin.com/en/
She is one of the UK’s leading authorities in reading development.