What About Phonics?
Murray State University
“Why Johnny Can’t Read”
• In 1955 Rudolph Flesch said
“Teach the child what each
letter stands for and he can
read.” Lots of people still say
this today. Do you think this
is true?
A Strategies Approach
Good readers use a variety of strategies to
figure out unfamiliar words. They:
– Think about what would make sense
– Think about what would sound right
– Look at what it starts with and think about
what makes sense
– Look at parts of the word they know
– Read on to the end of the sentence
– Reread
– Skip it
Don’t we ever say, “Sound it out?”
• NO!
• WHY NOT?
• The English language is not a strictly
phonetic language. Many, many words do
not follow rules and cannot be “sounded
out.”
• There are consistencies, but NOT when you
try to “sound it out” letter by letter from left
to right.
An Experiment in word
perception.
•
•
•
•
•
QLH WCGMZ PGTXW NBFJMSV
BAX GORPLE CHURK FRENTLY
ANGRY GROW TAXES BOY UGLY
SILLY WINDOWS HIT THE BOX
FUNNY CLOWNS MAKE ME LAUGH
Does reading proceed from
left to right?
hat
bit
cut
mop
hate
bite
cute
moping
Can you decode these words?
• philomight
• chailosophous
• whibelitious
• chiricean
What did you do to decode these words?
Did you sound them out, one letter at a
time, from left to right?
“A person who attempts to
scan left to right, letter by
letter, pronouncing as he
goes, could not correctly
read most English words.”
- Venezky, The Structure of English
Orthography
Is English a Phonetic System?
• In a strictly phonetic system,
each sound is represented by
one consistent symbol, and each
symbol always represents that
sound.
• A always says /a/; /a/ is only
represented by a.
Is English a Phonetic System?
• What sound does “o” make?
• pot
• so
• one
• women
• now
Is English a Phonetic System?
• What sound does “t” make?
• Top
• nation
• think
• nature
Do phonics rules work?
• move, love, stove
• break, bread, freak
Does this rule work?
• “When two vowels go walking the
first one does the talking.”
• YES - nail, bead, pie, boat
• NO - said, head, chief, build
• % usefulness:
•
45
Does this rule work?
• “When a word ends in
vowel+consonant+e, the e is
silent and other vowel is long.”
• YES - cake, late, bone, June
• NO - have, come, move, bare
• % usefulness - 63
Does this rule work?
• Two ee’s together make a long e
sound.
• YES - fee, see, feeling, wheel
• % - 98
Does this rule work?
• The combination oa makes a
long o sound.
• YES - boat, coal, toast
• % - 97
How would you pronounce these?
• Phrank
• Chright
• Pholightly
• geroymality
• repantenable
Implications for instruction:
• Systematic, intensive phonics
(following a phonics program
which emphasizes phonics rules
taught in isolation) teaches
children that English is a
phonetic system. They expect
“sounding out” to work.
Implications for instruction:
• Children need to know
that phonics rules don’t
always work but may give
you an approximation.
Implications for instruction:
• Children need to have other
strategies for figuring out words
–What makes sense? Reading on,
re-reading, looking at the picture
–Chunking - Do any parts of this
work look like other words I
know?
Implications for instruction:
• Children need to be
taught phonics in context,
so they can see how to
use phonics in tandem
with other cues.
Implications for instruction:
• Children need to be shown the
consistencies:
–consonants are more consistent
than vowels;
–blends and digraphs are quite
consistent;
Implications for instruction:
• Children need to be shown the
consistencies:
–Spelling patterns (rimes) are very
consistent: -ake, -all
Implications for instruction:
• Suggested teaching order:
– 1. Phonemic awareness – rhymes,
what word starts the same as…
– 2. Single consonants - b, d, f…
– 3. Consonant blends and digraphs th, sh, ch…
– 4. Vowels: spelling patterns (rimes)
– 5. Vowels: digraphs (oy, oi, ow, etc.)
Implications for instruction:
• Teach spelling patterns (rimes)
–all, ball, fall, wall, tall, small
–sail, snail, hail, tail
–way, say, day, play, bay
–light, fight, sight, slight,
–ride, hide, tide, pride, slide
Video: Using onsets and rimes
• As you watch, write down ideas that
you can use in your classroom.
To sum up: Recent research has shown that
• most readers figure out unfamiliar words
by analogy – they think of words they
know with similar “chunks” in them.
• children have trouble hearing individual
sounds within words but can readily hear
and identify “chunks” of words.
• most phonics “rules” do not work much of
the time, but “chunks” of letters are much
more consistent!
So, phonics instruction should focus on
helping children identify these “chunks”.
• Onsets are the letter(s) before the
vowel.
Consonants: c, d, f, g, h, j, …
Blends and digraphs: th, sh, ch br, tr, str,
…
• Rimes are the vowel and letters after
the vowel (in one-syllable words).
-ake -ame –ike -ain -ing -ack -an at, etc.
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What About Phonics? - Murray State University