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by Sharon Vaughn and Sylvia Linan-Thompson
Table of Contents
This chapter provides an overview of phonics and word study: what it is, how to assess it, the sequence of skills, and how to design instructional activities. The chapter also includes instructional classroom activities to guide teachers and parents and an annotated bibliography.
To learn to read and spell using phonics, children have to learn the relationship between letters (graphemes) and sounds (phonemes), and then remember the exact letter patterns and sequences that represent various speech sounds (Moats, 2000). Other terms for phonics include letter-sound correspondences, letter-sound relationships, and sound-symbol associations. There are several forms of phonics instruction, including synthetic, analytic, embedded, spelling-based, and analogy-based phonics. The National Reading Panel (2000) reports that the various forms of phonics instruction vary in 13 important ways, depending on the size of the unit, the pace of instruction, and the precise elements of the learning activities. Because word study is based on the stages of spelling, this chapter describes an explicit approach to phonics instruction that includes a range of skills, from alphabetic knowledge to reading in decodable books.
Given the differences and similarities available across instructional approaches, how will you know if the program you are using is effective? To read successfully—to read independently and construct meaning from text—beginning readers need to be able to identify words automatically and have an effective strategy for decoding unknown words (Bos & Vaughn, 2002; NRP, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). To reach this point, students have to learn the relationships between 44 speech sounds and more than 100 spellings used to represent them (Blevins, 1998; Bos & Vaughn, 2002). They then have to apply this knowledge to reading both known and unknown words, in isolation as well as in context, and learn to read irregular words.
An effective phonics program follows a defined sequence and includes direct teaching of a set of letter-sound relationships. Each instructional set includes sound-spelling relationships of both consonants and vowels. Sequencing helps students to learn the relationship between letters and sounds, and to use that knowledge to blend the sounds in order to read words, and to segregate the sounds in order to write words, even before they have learned all the letter-sound correspondences. Effective programs also include books and stories that contain a lot of words for children to decode using letter-sound relationships, and provide children with opportunities to spell words and write their own stories using letter-sound relationships (Blevins, 1998; Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievment [CIERA], 2001; NRP, 2000; Texas Education Agency [TEA], 2000).
Phonics instruction provides key knowledge and skills needed for beginning reading. However, phonics should not be the entire reading program, but should be integrated with other elements such as language activities, story time, and small group tutoring, to create a balanced reading program. While two years of phonics is sufficient for most students, other students may require more instruction. Use assessment information to adapt phonics programs to meet the needs of individual students (NRP, 2000). Most important, starting early is key. As Stahl (2001) notes, “Early and systematic instruction in phonics seems to lead to better achievement in reading than later and less systematic instruction” (p. 333). Adams (2001) points out that to learn to read, “all students must know the letters of the alphabet, understand their linguistic significance (phonemic awareness), and learn the logic and conventions governing their use (phonics); and . . . ensuring students' grasp of these basics must be a serious goal of any responsible program of beginning reading instruction” (pp. 67–68).
The goals of phonics and word study instruction are to teach children that there are systematic relationships between letters and sounds, that written words are composed of letter patterns representing the sounds of spoken words, that recognizing words quickly and accurately is a way of obtaining meaning from them, and that they can blend sounds to read words and segment words into sounds to spell (Adams, 1990; Chard & Osborn, 1999; NRP, 2000). Gough and Tumner (1986) identify two basic processes necessary for learning to read: learning to convert letters into recognizable words, and comprehending the meaning of print. The first process can be taught through phonics and can lead to students comprehending the meaning of text.
The combination of deficient decoding skills and difficult material results in unrewarding early reading experiences that lead to less involvement with reading activities (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998). On the other hand, systematic and explicit phonics instruction improves children's word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension, and is most effective when it begins in kindergarten or 1st grade (CIERA, 2001; NRP, 2000).
The crucial elements of phonics and word study are: phonological and phonemic awareness, print awareness, alphabetic knowledge, alphabetic principle, decoding, reading practice with decodable text, irregular or high-frequency words, and reading fluency. How much time you spend on each of these elements will depend on the age and level of your students. As children participate in phonics and word study activities, their understanding of the conventions that govern language will increase. The elements do not have to be taught sequentially; for example, kindergarteners benefit from learning prerequisite skills for strong word recognition, the communicative function of print, alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, and the alphabetic principle (Chard, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1998). As students master the skills, they can use them to decode and spell regular words and practice reading decodable text. Most students who have had effective phonics instruction can read quickly and easily, and have an effective decoding strategy for reading unknown words.
Print awareness is the ability to understand that
Children develop print awareness when they have opportunities to hear books and participate in read-aloud activities. To help them develop this awareness, you can reinforce the forms and functions of print found on classroom signs, labels, posters, calendars, etc.; explain print conventions such as print directionality, word boundaries, capital letters, and end punctuation; and emphasize book awareness and handling. Listening to and reading predictable, patterned stories and books helps students practice what they are learning (Reutzel & Cooter, 1999; TEA, 2000). These kinds of books help model the concepts of print and conventions, as well as oral reading fluency and expression. Students should read the same predictable and patterned stories repeatedly, and the stories should include the use of context and picture clues and repeating language patterns (Bos & Vaughn, 2002).
Alphabetic knowledge, also known as alphabet recognition, involves knowing the shapes, names, and sounds of letters and progresses from letter names to shapes to sounds. Children should recognize and name letters quickly and accurately (Adams, 1990). Knowledge of letter names is strongly related to the ability to remember the shapes of written words, treat words as sequences of letters, and develop the alphabetic principle (the association of letters with their corresponding sounds). Students who cannot name certain letters are likely to have trouble mapping sounds to their corresponding letters; those who already know something about written letters tend to be more interested and able to learn more about the letters (Chard & Osborn, 1999).
Most children can identify an average of 14 letters when they enter kindergarten (Hiebert & Sawyer, 1984); others do not know any. These children need planned instruction that allows them to see, play with, and compare letters. Specifically, activities should use a sequence of letter introduction that can be adjusted to each student's needs—some might learn several letters each week, whereas others may only learn one. Teachers should include games, songs, and other activities that help children identify letters, learn uppercase and lowercase forms, and point out differences and similarities among the letters. Teachers should also plan writing activities that encourage children to practice writing the letters they are learning and to experiment with and manipulate letters to make words and messages (Blevins, 1998; TEA, 2000).
The alphabetic principle refers to the systematic relationship between sounds and letters. Children who understand that the sequence of letters in written words represents the sequence of sounds in spoken words and who know letter-sound correspondences can use this knowledge to decode both familiar and unfamiliar regular words (Bos & Vaughn, 2002; Ehri, 1991; TEA, 2000). Children who understand the alphabetic principle can translate the letters and patterns of written words into speech sounds automatically.
Effective alphabetic principle instruction should be planned and sequenced. To achieve this goal, adopt the following practices:
Decoding is the process of reading letters or letter patterns in a word to determine the meaning of the word; for students, it is a strategy for reading unknown words. Once children develop this skill, they can apply it to reading words automatically and effortlessly. This allows them to focus on getting meaning from what they read (NRP, 2000; TEA, 2000). Students should begin by working with word families, spelling patterns, and onsets and rimes. As they become more sophisticated readers, they will need more advanced decoding strategies that focus on structural analysis: the ability to understand parts of words in order to understand the words as a whole. These parts of words include:
When teaching structural analysis, teachers should teach meanings along with recognition, and model how to look for word parts. Structural analysis will increase the number of words students can easily decode. Consider the following:
Decoding lessons should include discussions about the text, to promote comprehension and reinforce the idea that the purpose of reading is to get meaning (TEA, 2000). Decodable books allow students to practice new skills, but teachers should gradually introduce books and stories that are less controlled so that they can extend those skills further.
Not all words can be read through decoding. For example, in irregular words, some or all of the letters do not represent their most commonly used sound (for example, the vowel sound in from is not the usual sound for a short o). Students should encounter some of these words in texts for beginning readers, and will need to identify them by sight or automatically. To help students learn these words, teachers should introduce them in a reasonable order, and cumulatively review the ones that have been taught.
Sound-letter correspondences are important components in beginning reading instruction; rather than teach them in isolation, teachers should coordinate them to reinforce and extend student learning. Daily, integrated lessons that include explicit introductions to letter-sound relationships and opportunities to blend sounds, build and practice spelling words, and read words and decodable texts will enhance the beginning reading experience (Blevins, 1998).
By emphasizing all of the processes that contribute to growth in reading, teachers will have the best chance of making every child a reader. (National Reading Panel, 2000, p. 92)
Once your students meet the prerequisite conditions for word recognition, print awareness, alphabetic knowledge, and phonemic awareness, you can begin teaching them about the four subprocesses essential to teaching phonics and word study: letter-sound knowledge or alphabetic understanding; regular word reading; irregular word reading; and reading in decodable text.
Letter-sound knowledge—also known as alphabetic understanding—helps students understand that the letters or clusters of letters that make up words represent separate spoken sounds, and that to read a word they must first identify the most common sound of each letter, then blend the sounds together. Figure 3.1 provides the most frequent spellings of the 44 English sounds, as well as keywords to guide pronunciation. It is important to teach the most common sound for each letter first.
Though teachers often teach one letter a week, introducing letter sounds in alphabetical order limits the number of words the students can form, thus limiting their ability to practice using the alphabetic principle to read and write. A better strategy is to teach letter-sound associations that can be combined to make words that children can read and understand. The combination of a vowel and a few consonants—for example, /m/, /s/, /a/, /t/—allows children to form several words. Teachers should begin by teaching sounds that are easy to articulate. Continuous sounds, such as /m/ and /s/, are easy to say and hear because the sounds can be held without distortion, whereas stop sounds, such as /p/ and /b/, are easily distorted. It is not practical to teach all the letters with continuous sounds before any with stop sounds, because some stop sounds appear often in books for beginning readers. If a student is having trouble, teachers should focus on letter-sound relationships that are easier to pronounce.
During initial instruction, teachers should separate confusing letter-sound associations, such as letters that are visually or aurally similar, and determine that students have mastered one before teaching the next. Visually similar letters can differ in the vertical direction of their extensions (b/p, d/q), their left-right orientation (b/d, p/q), and their top-bottom orientation (w/m, u/n) (Blevins, 1998). Aurally similar letters include /b/, /p/, and /d/. As with visually similar letters, aurally similar ones should be separated to help students learn each as a distinct sound.
The following is a common sequence for introducing letter-sound correspondences:
Here is a basic lesson for introducing letter-sound correspondences once students have learned letter names and forms:
Once children know three or four letter-sound associations, teachers should begin regular word reading and building activities. For example, students who have learned the letter-sound correspondences for i, t, p, n, and s can begin applying them to reading words such as it, in, pit, pin, sit, sip, and tip. Teaching them the short sound for a can more than double the number of words they can read and write.
Students need opportunities to practice regular word reading. Once they learn enough letter-sound correspondences to form words, teachers should integrate regular word reading into the instruction. Here is a basic regular word reading lesson that teaches students to blend sounds:
Since about a quarter of the most frequently used words in children's writing and texts are irregular (Moats, 2000), they should learn to read irregular as well as regular words. Figure 3.2 includes a list of irregular words; because students can't apply their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to these words, they will have to learn them as whole words.
Source: Adapted from Moats (2000), p. 189.
Here are some guidelines for teaching irregular words:
Learning letter-sound relationships in isolation is necessary, but not enough. Students must know how to apply their knowledge to reading text. They should begin by reading decodable text comprised largely of words containing previously taught letter-sound relationships and gradually move to less controlled text as their ability and confidence grow. Because most decodable texts contain irregular words, be sure to teach these in advance if students do not know them. Once the class has read a book as a group, teachers should provide opportunities for the students to reread the text. Many publishers have decodable book series, and 1st grade basal programs often include decodable texts. Figure 3.3 provides a list of decodable book series for teachers. (For specific letter-sound relationship lessons, see the instructional activities section of this chapter.)
Lippincott Phonics Easy Readers
Phone: 1-800-442-9685; Web site: http://www.mhschool.com
Phone: 1-800-724-6527; Web site: http://www.scholastic.com
Phone: 1-888-772-4543; Web site: http://www.sra4kids.com
Phonics Readers Plus
Phone: 1-800-531-5015; Web site: http://www.steck-vaughn.com
Sundance Phonics Readers
Phone: 1-800-343-8204; Web site: http://www.sundancepub.com
Monitoring student progress helps teachers plan instruction and alerts them if students are falling behind. Teachers can use the information gleaned from monitoring to group students for instruction and modify the pace of instruction based on the skill level of students in each group. Student progress in every area can be monitored informally. For example, to assess student knowledge of letter-sound relationships, teachers might maintain a list of letter-sound associations that the students have already mastered; about once every two weeks, they can ask the students to identify the sounds of letters on the list, or to give the letter name of a given sound. Teachers can also give students a letter dictation—provide a letter name or sound and have the students write the corresponding letter.
Teachers should monitor regular and irregular words separately, but can use the same process for each type of word. To monitor word reading in isolation, teachers should ask students to read a set of familiar words and see if the students can read them automatically. In most instances, it will take the students fewer than three seconds to read the word. Teachers can also keep a record of the words students miss repeatedly while reading connected text.
Note: Each lesson title in the following activites indicates whether the activity is an introduction to a new skill or element or a follow-up practice lesson.
Objective. Students will identify letter names and letter sounds.
Materials. Uppercase and lowercase letters.
Sequence. Begin by introducing one vowel and three or four consonants, adding new letters as students master them.
Scaffolds. Use one vowel and two consonants; use only lowercase or uppercase letters.
Challenge. Show students a letter. Tell them to listen carefully to directions since they will sometimes be asked to name the letter, and other times to name the sound.
Objective. Given a letter sound, students will write the letter that makes that sound.
Materials. White boards, markers, erasers.
Variation. Ask students to write the letter as many times as they can in 10 seconds while saying the sound.
Scaffold. Give students either letter names or sounds.
Objective. Students will identify letter names or sounds.
Materials. Uppercase and lowercase letters on index cards.
Variations. Use regular or irregular words.
Note: This activity was adapted from the University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2001a).
Objective. Given a regular word, students will read it.
Materials. Word cards using words from the following list:
Objective. Students will read words containing rime patterns.
Materials. One set of cards containing previously studied onsets, and oneset containing previously studied rimes.
Objective. Students will read previously taught regular words.
Materials. A laminated tic-tac-toe board for each pair of students, word cards with regular words, and ten plastic counters, half in one color and the other half in another color.
Variation. Fill the squares with irregular words.
Challenge. Impose a time limit for reading the word.
Objective. Given irregular words, students will read them.
Materials. Three to five word cards, a pocket chart, a notebook that has each page marked with one letter of the alphabet, and pencils.
Sequence. Begin with the most common irregular words.
Variation. Use words from a text that students will be reading.
Objective. Students will read irregular words that have been previously taught.
Materials. For each student: a game board (see Figure 3.4), word cards matched to the game board, and a chip or game piece.
Source: Adapted from the University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2001a), p. 17.
Variations. Fill the squares with regular words or specific onset-rime patterns. For kindergarten students and struggling 1st graders, fill each square with a letter, and ask students to provide either the name or sound.
Scaffolds. Pair students with more able partners and ask them to take turns reading the word cards; limit the number of words.
Objective. Students will understand that affixes change the meanings of words.
Materials. Chart paper, a marker, and a list of root words students can read and give the meaning.
Sequence. Most common prefixes and suffixes, less common prefixes and suffixes.
Variation. Use suffixes.
Scaffold. Limit the number of prefixes introduced.
Note: This activity was adapted from the University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2002b).
Objective. Students will add previously taught prefixes or suffixes to a root word, and will give the meaning of the new word.
Materials. Three to four cards with root words written on them per student and 1 × 1.5-inch sticky notes with a prefix or suffix written on each.
Scaffolds. Limit the number of affixes used; use only prefixes or suffixes.
Bear, D. R., Templeton, S., Ivernizzi, M., & Johnston, F. (1996). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling. Des Moines, IA: Prentice-Hall, Inc.This book provides an approach to word study instruction based on developmental stages of spelling. The text includes a discussion of the basis for the approach, instructions for assessing students prior to beginning instruction, and activities for students in each of the stages of development.
Blevins, W. (1998). Phonics from A to Z: A practical guide. New York: Scholastic Professional Books.This guide provides a wealth of information for teachers in a practical, easy-to-read format. The book begins with a brief description of phonics, followed by activities, lists, and teaching guidelines for alphabet recognition, phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondences, and regular and irregular word reading.
http://reading.uoregon.edu/au/index.php.This Web site includes a definition of alphabetic principle, research findings on phonics, a discussion of the importance of phonics, and instructions on how to sequence phonics skills in grades K-3.
http://reading.uoregon.edu/instruction/.This Web site provides information on critical phonics skills and features of phonics instruction.
http://www.texasreading.org/utcrla/materials/primary_phonics.asp.This Web site allows readers to download a professional development guide on phonics and decoding instruction that includes strategies and instructional materials.
http://www.nifl.gov/partnershipforreading/publications/reading_first1phonics.html.This Web site provides an introduction to phonics instruction, including science-based findings and a discussion of different instructional approaches.
http://www.ed.gov/offices/oese/sasa/rb/slide009.html.This Web site provides a discussion of phonics instruction, including research findings, different instructional approaches, and cautions about the process.
http://www.nrrf.org/aboutphonics.htm.This Web site introduces science-based phonics instruction and contains links to several papers, as well as a list of phonics product companies.
http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/reading/ldrp_chard_guidelines.html.This Web site includes an article on effective phonics and word recognition instruction for students with reading disabilities.
http://doe.state.in.us/publications/phonics.html#anchor3978700.This Web site allows readers to download a “Phonics Tool Kit” booklet and includes video clips that explain the kit. The booklet provides reading strategies (including phonics) and contains practical tips for teachers.
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