What is phonics?
Phonics involves the relationship between sounds and their spellings. The goal of phonics instruction is to teach children the most common sound-spelling relationships so that they can decode, or sound out, words. This decoding ability is a crucial element in reading success.
Why is phonics teaching important?
Most poor readers tend to rely so heavily on one reading strategy, such as the use of context and picture clues, that they exclude other strategies that might be more appropriate. To become skilled, fluent readers, children need to have a repertoire of strategies to draw on. These strategies include using knowledge of sound-spelling relationships in other words, an understanding of phonics. In addition, research has shown that skilled readers attend to almost every word in a sentence and process the letters that compose each of these words.
Therefore, phonics teaching plays a key role in helping children comprehend text. It helps children map sounds onto spellings, thus enabling them to decode words. Decoding words aids in the development of word recognition, which in turn increases reading fluency. Reading fluency improves reading comprehension because as children are no longer struggling with decoding words, they can concentrate on making meaning from the text.
In addition, phonics teaching improves spelling ability because it emphasises spelling patterns that become familiar from reading. Studies show that half of all English words can be spelled with phonics rules that relate to one letter to one sound.
How is phonics taught in our school?
At Langley Mill, we use the Sounds-Write phonics programme to teach our children to read, spell and write. Sounds-Write is effective in teaching pupils to read, spell and write because it starts from what all children know from a very early age – the sounds of their own language. From there, it takes them in carefully sequenced, incremental steps and teaches them how each of the 44 or so sounds in the English language can be spelt.
The words used in the teaching process and the conceptual knowledge of how the alphabet code works are introduced from simple to complex, in accordance with the fundamental principles of psychological learning theory. For example, at the start, simple, mutually implied (one sound, one spelling) CVC words (consonant, vowel, consonant) only are introduced. Pupils quickly learn to read and spell words such as 'mum', 'dog', 'jam' and 'sit'. When all the single-letter sound-spelling correspondences have been introduced and established, Sounds-Write initiates the concept that the sounds '', '', '' and '' can be spelt with the two letter-spellings '', '', '' and '', respectively.
As the programme progresses, the complexity of one-syllable words is carefully increased through a variety of VCC, CVCC, CCVC, CCVCC and CCCVC words, such as, for example, 'elf', 'hand', 'swim', 'trust' and 'scrub'.
After this, pupils' understanding of the concept 'two letters - one sound' is further developed through the introduction of the most common consonant two-letter spellings: '', '' and '', in words like 'shop', 'chimp' and 'thin', for example.
Finally, two, three and four letter spellings of the vowels are introduced and pupils are taught how to read and spell polysyllabic words, starting with simpler words (such as 'bedbug') and gradually moving to the more complex (such as 'mathematical').
All of this is taught within a well-structured, incremental and coherent framework based on the knowledge - both conceptual and factual (see below) – on which the alphabet principle and thus the writing system is based and the three key skills needed to enable learners to use the principle effectively.
Our approach teaches the conceptual understanding needed to become an effective reader:
- that letters are spellings of sounds: visual language is a representation of spoken language
- that a spelling can contain one, two, three, or four letters - examples are: s a t, f i sh, n igh t and w eigh t
- that there is more than one way of spelling most sounds: the sound 'ae', spelt as in 'name', can be represented as in 'table', in 'rain', in 'eight', in 'play', and so on
- that many spellings can represent more than one sound: can be the sound 'e' in 'head', 'a-e' in 'break', or 'ee' in 'seat'
Within this conceptual framework, we teach the factual knowledge required to become an effective reader and speller: the approximately 176 spellings that represent the 44 or so sounds in English, starting with the most simple one-to-one correspondences.
Reading and spelling also requires expertise in the skills necessary to make use of the alphabet code and pupils need to be able to:
- segment, or separate sounds in words
- blend, or push sounds together to form words
- manipulate sounds: take sounds out and put sounds into words
Sounds-Write provides opportunities for practising these skills on an everyday basis until pupils achieve the automaticity required for fluent reading and spelling.
If you would like to learn more about our approach to phonics, please register for the online course, free for everyone! Click here to see the course and register online!