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Many teachers will be using supplemental phonics and word-recognition materials to enhance reading instruction for their students. In this article, the authors provide guidelines for determining the accessibility of these phonics and word recognition programs.
This article examines the content and instructional plans of phonics and word recognition to be used with children with reading disabilities.
Information is provided about the content of effective word-recognition instruction. Guidelines are included based on this information as well as on 4 other aspects of reading instruction i. These guidelines will assist educators in selecting programs that enable all children to be successful in learning to read.
The goals of reading instruction are many, but certainly include that children will read with confidence, that they will understand what they read, and that they will find reading a source of knowledge and pleasure. To achieve these goals with all children, an effective classroom program of beginning reading instruction must provide children with a wide variety of experiences that relate to a number of important aspects of reading.
Some of these experiences focus on meaning. For example, children take part in oral language activities that concentrate on concept and vocabulary development; children hear good stories and informational texts read aloud; they read and discuss with other children what they read, often under the guidance of their teachers.
Other experiences focus on word recognition of printed words as children engage in print awareness, letter recognition, writing, and spelling activities.
Children take part in phonics lessons and word-recognition strategy instruction. They learn that the sounds in spoken words relate to the patterns of letters in written words in predictable and often generalizable ways. As they read books and other print materials, children learn to combine their knowledge of print and sounds with their knowledge of language to read with meaning and enjoyment. It is evident that no one aspect of a beginning program should monopolize instructional time.
Many publishers — both large and small — have developed programs of phonics and word-recognition instruction. Some of the phonics and word-recognition instruction are integrated in large basal reading programs and others are in supplemental programs narrowly focused to address one aspect of instruction. Many teachers teach phonics and word recognition by using the district's commercially published basal reading program, typically a program of instruction that includes grade-level materials for teaching reading with a teacher's guide and student reading materials as well as ancillary materials that support the primary components.
These programs often contain phonics and word-recognition activities embedded in a sequence of instruction that includes shared reading from children's literature, guided reading in predictable stories, and writing activities. These commercially published basal reading programs are particularly important because they are typically adopted by a school or district and become the cornerstone of instruction for most classrooms.
Recent reviews of the major commercial programs Smith et al. Stein et al. In addition to the basal programs, teachers often supplement their regular instruction with published phonics programs. These programs are commonly used with students identified as having reading disabilities.
Many parents seek out such programs to use at home if they are concerned that their children are experiencing difficulty learning to read in school.
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There are literally hundreds of supplementary programs on the market, and new programs appear regularly. These programs take many forms. Many appear in traditional print form that feature board and card games, flash cards, word lists, story books, and workbooks. Some combine traditional instructional materials with audiotapes, electronic games, videotapes, and computer discs. Still other programs provide essentially all instruction by computer. This article is designed to be used to examine the content and instructional plans of phonics and word-recognition instruction to be used with children with reading disabilities.
The purpose of the article, however, is not to explore the many meanings, interpretations, and merits of phonics and word-recognition instruction. Rather, the purpose of the article is to help those who intend to use commercially published programs of instruction to make good choices that will benefit both teachers and students with reading disabilities. Such an examination can provide information about the content of a program's word-recognition instruction and its suitability for providing access to the general curriculum for students with reading disabilities.
The main goal of such instruction is to help children figure out the alphabetic system of written English and become comfortable with that system as they become readers Lyon, The goal of phonics is not that children be able to state the "rules" governing letter-sound relationships. Rather, the purpose is to get across the alphabetic principle, the principle that there are systematic relationships between letters and sounds.
Phonics ought to be conceived as a technique for getting children off to a fast start in mapping the relationships between letters and sounds. It follows that phonics instruction should aim to teach only the most important and regular of letter-to-sound relationships, because this is the sort of instruction that will most directly lay bare the alphabetic principle.
Once the basic relationships have been taught, the best way to get children to refine and extend their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences is through repeated opportunities to read. Phonics then is the system of instruction used to teach children the connection between letters and sounds Snow et al.
We do want to warn the reader, however, that this term is entirely abused and has many different meanings to different people.
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A generally agreed on definition may not be possible. This means, to understand that in written English, words are composed of patterns of letters that represent the sounds of spoken English words. Some children seem to figure out the alphabetic principle almost effortlessly, with little or no instruction. They also benefit from word -recognition instruction that offers practice with, for example, word families that share similar letter patterns. Additionally, children with reading disabilities benefit from opportunities to apply what they are learning to the reading and rereading of stories and other texts.
Such texts contain a high proportion of words that reflect the letters, sounds, and spelling patterns the children are learning. To help children map the relations between letters and sounds, effective phonics and word-recognition strategy instruction should provide them with opportunities to become comfortable with a number of aspects of reading, including alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, sound-symbol relations, word-identification strategies, spelling and writing connections, related reading practice, and reading fluency.
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Each of these elements of phonics and word-recognition instruction is discussed in this section. Each discussion is followed by a set of guidelines for program evaluators to consider as they examine programs.
We relied on the following sources for determining what is most important to phonics and word-recognition instruction:. Children must become expert users of the letters they will see and use to write their own words and messages Lyon, Children's knowledge of letters is a strong predictor of their success in learning to read Adams, That is, children who begin first grade able to quickly and accurately identify, say, and write the letters of the alphabet have an advantage in learning to read.
Children whose knowledge of letters is not well developed when they start school need a lot of sensibly organized practice that will help them learn how to identify, name, and write letters. Toward that understanding, children learn to identify rhyming words and to create their own rhymes. They also learn that sentences are made up of separate words, words are composed of syllables, and words are made up of sounds that can be separated from each other and manipulated in other ways.
Finally, they learn that sounds that are separated or segmented from words can be put back together again to form words.
Some children have a great deal of difficulty learning to separate, or segment, the sounds in spoken words, and to then reconstitute the sounds i.
It is important to make some clear distinctions: Phonemes are the separable individual sounds in words. They are the smallest units of sound. The onset is the initial single phoneme or initial consonant cluster in a word and the rime is the remaining set of phonemes in a word. Rimes are larger than phonemes, but smaller than syllables. Most sequencing of phonemic awareness instruction begins with rhyming words and then moves to helping children learn how to divide or segment sentences into words, words into syllables, words into onset and rime, and finally, one-syllable words into phonemes.
Not all programs include the same content.
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For example, some programs introduce onsets and rimes before requiring students to identify and manipulate each of the separable sounds of one- syllable words. Some programs do not include onset and rime activities. In many programs, segmentation is introduced by having children identify and segment the initial sound of a one- syllable word.
After practicing with initial sounds, the children then learn to identify and segment final sounds, and finally work with medial sounds. Still other programs have children learn to segment and then blend each individual sound of spoken one-syllable words. Phonemic awareness activities usually involve oral tasks in the absence of print.
In some programs, however, the instruction directs the children to use auditory clapping and visual cues Elkonin boxes, blocks to help them understand that the sounds in words can be separate entities. At the more advanced levels of instruction segmenting and blendingthe relations of sounds to written letters often become part of the instructional sequence, so that the children hear and see the relations between sounds and letters.
Children's early reading development is dependent on their acquisition of the sound-letter relations that underlie written English. Many children with reading disabilities benefit from explicit and systematic teaching of these sound-letter relations; this is typically described as or labeled phonics.
Phonics instruction is usually categorized as explicit or implicit. In explicit phonics instruction, the sounds associated with the letters are identified in isolation and then blended together to form words. The teacher directly tells students the sound represented by an individual letter.
In contrast, implicit phonics instruction includes helping students identify the sounds associated with individual letters in the context of whole words, rather than in isolation. Typically, students are asked to infer the sound of a letter from a word or set of words that contain that letter.
For example, in teaching the sound for mthe teacher is directed to:. Have the students say man and listen for the beginning sound. In implicit phonics, children are often encouraged to utilize context and picture cues to identify any unfamiliar words they encounter in text selections. Most supplementary programs employ explicit instruction. There is no set rule about how quickly or how slowly to introduce sound-letter relations. Obviously, it is important to gauge the rate of introduction by the performance of the group of children with whom the program is being used.
Furthermore, there is no agreed on order in which to introduce sound-letter relations. The advice most often given is to avoid programs that teach all possible sound-letter relations before providing real reading practice. Rather, the sound-letter relations should be selected so that the children can read words as soon as possible.
That is, the initial sound-letter relations presented in a program should have high utility. For example, matand th are of high utility, whereas gh as in throughey as in theyand a as in want are of less high utility.
It should be noted that programs that present all of the consonants before any of the vowels are taught do not allow children to read words, even after they have learned several sound-letter relations. An effective program may start with two or more single consonants and one or two short vowels. The children can read words that are spelled with these letters. Then, more single consonants and more short vowels are added, along with perhaps a long vowel. As each new sound-letter relation is introduced, the children read words spelled with those letters.
For example, if the relationships for afnsand tare presented first, the children can work with the words fananatantfastand fat among others. Then if the relations for mthcand i are added, the children can work with such words as ifcatsatmanand that.