I just read the book “The Logic of English” written by Denise Eide. This is a great resource for teachers in terms of assisting you with integrating phonics instruction into your program. I intend to use this resource to strengthen my phonics instruction within my grade one class. She advocates that all students should be taught reading within a systematic phonics program and this would result in improving the nation’s reading scores and reduce the amount of struggling readers. This is debatable but I do believe that phonics instruction is important and should be integrated into a balanced literacy framework. I learned to read and started my teaching career based on phonics programs that included rules, worksheets and where most of the phonics instruction was taught in isolation of text. This became obsolete once the “whole language approach” emerged. Experienced teachers such as myself remained teaching phonics in conjunction with using a “whole language approach.” In 2000 the “International Reading Panel” tried to settle the wars between the two opposing philosophies and out of this was born a “balanced literacy” approach to learning. I feel that all classrooms today should be using this framework to guide their reading and writing instruction.
The link below from John Hopkins School of Education outlines the reasons some children struggle with reading and possible intervention programs. It does note that these students do benefit from a systematic phonics program. However, most of these programs are meant to be used within a small learning group setting.
How I Tackled My Dilemma in Teaching Phonics
I have always believed that phonics instruction is very important but I struggled for many years on how to incorporate it effectively. Teaching in isolation of text seemed very disjointed and not that meaningful to my learners. When I started incorporating phonics instruction within my reading selections, I started to enjoy teaching phonics and it just flowed naturally.
Example of Phonics Instruction For Hard “Gg” Sound
I introduce the letter “Gg” and its related sound through reading the book “Good Night Gorilla” by Peggy Rathmann. This is followed by reading the reader “Zoo Escape” as a shared and guided reading instruction (based on a balanced literacy model).
At the beginning of the Kindergarten year I only teach the hard “Gg” sound and later the soft “Gg” sound.
Importance of Follow-up Activities – Word Work
Literacy Center Games
It is obvious that just introducing the letter is not enough for the students to fully internalize the concept. Follow-up activities are crucial in fully grasping how this sound works in conjunction to printing and reading. The literacy center games are meant to be used for this purpose. The link below outlines the process in which I go through for my students to fully grasp the concept of learning new letters and their related sounds.
Dictation – Extending Word Work
“When writing by hand, the movement involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain which helps us recognize letters. This implies a connection between reading and writing, and suggests that the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading.”
Anne Mangen Univeristy of Stavanger, Norway
The above statement supports the idea that students do not internalize the connection to the letter and sound until they are able to print that letter. This has also been my experience. For this reason, each day I have a short dictation period where my students print on their erasable whiteboards. I will dictate words and they must print the initial letter that represents that word. By the end of the year, most students can print the entire word (usually CVC words). This is part of my word work and phonics instruction and is a very important one.
Extending the Concept To “Soft Gg” – Later In The Year
When doing the fairy tale theme we read different versions of the book “The Gingerbread Man”. This is followed-up by looking at the letter “Gg” and introducing the other sound it makes. The reader “Gingerbread Man Perseveres” is used as a shared and guided reading follow-up.
You may introduce the following spelling rule as outlined in the book “The Logic of English.”
Gg may soften to /j/ when followed by e, i, or y. Otherwise it says /g/.
Phonics instruction is important especially for those students who are not strong visual learners. These students are auditory learners and need phonics instruction. For me, I like to teach phonics in conjunction with the stories that I am reading and incorporating into my word work blocks. For kinesthetic learners, printing the letter(s) in conjunction with learning the phonograms is an important step in internalizing how they are used in representing sound units within writing and reading.
The book “The Logic of English” will provide you with all the different phonograms that we use in the English language. It also provides you with all the different spelling rules that can be applied when learning to spell English words. It is a great book to read to provide guidance on how you can approach your phonics lessons and spelling instruction. I would tend to stick with teaching the consonants and the two vowel sounds (long and short) initially at the pre-k level.