I was one of those kids who moved around a lot between Pre-K and 2nd grade. Each school had a different approach to reading, so I struggled to learn fundamental reading skills. In fact, I'm still challenged at times when I need to sound out the pronunciation of new words. But I didn't really appreciate the challenge I faced as a young child until recently when I started researching the crucial role that phonics (the ability to decode basic letter-sound associations and then use the relationship between sounds and letters to form words) plays in developing core reading skills.
Studies suggest that a child's ability to develop phonics skills starting in Kindergarten, and continuing to build these skills over the next two years, is a strong predictor of a child's ability to read proficiently and achieve higher reading scores by 3rd grade. So, let's explore how phonics contributes to stronger reading proficiency.
Historically, phonics was frequently taught in isolation. Children were given a set of worksheets to work with independently using repetitive drill and practice exercises. Research has shown that young readers frequently had trouble applying the decoding skills they learned in isolation to real-world reading tasks. As a result, many reading experts now recommend integrating supplemental reading assignments more closely with phonetic instruction.
Carefully selecting stories for supplemental reading can enhance and reinforce specific phonics skills. Let's look at some specific recommendations that can make the learning process more effective, especially for kids who might be struggling to decode, pronounce and spell new words.
1. Instead of relying primarily on repetitive drill and practice, integrate assignments with stories. Kids typically find working in context of a story more meaningful and engaging.
2. Motivation can be a key factor, especially when a child is frustrated and struggling. Help kids apply phonics to explore aspects of a story (characters, plot, challenges, time and place) or make a more personal connection as they apply their new phonetic skills.
3. Studies have also reported that following a consistent and systematic process that focuses on sequential steps with timely, ongoing support, combined with specific feedback makes learning to decode words more efficient and can streamline the learning process.
4. Since the connection between letters and sounds is typically not readily apparent to young, emerging readers, modeling the process of decoding sounds and letters followed by independent practice can be very helpful.
To be effective, experts recommend modeling or demonstrating how to use specific sound-symbol relationships to decode new or unfamiliar words. Supplemental stories that include songs, rhyming words or repetitive language are very helpful.
After modeling these techniques with a story, encourage kids to practice applying their new phonetic skills by reading stories aloud to one another.
5. Folktales are loaded with many of these verbal attributes since they originally came from the world's great oral traditions. As a result, using folktales for supplemental reading has the added benefit of making it easier for kids to read stories aloud, and practice decoding sounds into words.
As kids learn to separate written words into its specific sounds and then blend the sounds of letters to make words, they are laying the foundation for becoming more proficient readers. Using a combination of these recommendations along with highly engaging supplemental reading assignments can go a long way to help kids discover the joy of reading for pleasure.
When kids experience the satisfaction of reading for pleasure, it can last a lifetime. I know, because I was one of those kids who struggled to learn basic phonics skills, but fortunately, my lack of phonetic awareness ultimately didn't prevent me from becoming a passionate reader as a child. However, it would have made learning to read a whole lot easier and much less frustrating, if my teachers had incorporated some of these basic teaching techniques into their classroom instruction.
The First Music, by Dylan Pritchett, is a great August House title to incorporate into phonics lessons. This musical tale, inspired by the sounds and rhythms of the West African rainforest, reveals the music we all have inside us. Readers are encouraged to participate with homemade instruments and dance moves. Check out the lesson plans for more activity ideas.
The First Music
By Dylan Pritchett
Illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks