What You Need to Know about Phonics Instruction

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Unlock the secrets of effective phonics instruction! Explore science-backed insights, explicit strategies, and the art of abundant review. Boost literacy with evidence-based practices.

Phonics is the key that unlocks the door to reading proficiency, making it an essential element in literacy education. In this post, we’ll dive into the science-backed principles of phonics, the power of explicit instruction, and the strategic planning needed to build a strong foundation. Plus, we’ll share practical tips on integrating abundant phonics review into your teaching practices. Get ready to join us on this journey as we empower educators and students with the tools for reading success. Let’s make each word a stepping stone towards comprehensive literacy!

3 Things to Know about Phonics Instruction

When it comes to literacy education, understanding the core principles of phonics instruction is essential. What is phonics? The term is used in several ways, so let’s make sure we define what it is and its role in reading instruction. Phonics is how we teach sound-symbol (phoneme-grapheme) correspondences of the English language. Simply put, it is the instruction of sound-spelling relationships.

The science of reading emphasizes that phonics is crucial in helping students decode and comprehend written language. Research has shown that a systematic and explicit approach to phonics instruction dramatically improves students’ ability to connect sounds and letters, leading to fluent and proficient reading.

By embracing these evidence-based practices, we can tailor our instruction to help students grasp the mechanics of reading while nurturing a love for language and literature. As we explore the three critical aspects of phonics instruction, let’s remember the strong foundation provided by the science of reading. This foundation will guide us in implementing effective teaching strategies and creating positive student literacy experiences.

Teach with Explicit Phonics Instruction

Studies have shown that students who receive explicit phonics instruction show more gains regarding word recognition and encoding. So what is it, and what does it look like in the classroom? Explicit instruction means that the teacher is providing instruction in a direct way. We often see this in action using the gradual release of responsibility model. This approach consists of “I Do, We Do, You Do”.

Let’s begin with I Do. During this time, the teacher introduces and models the skill while the students watch and listen. The teacher continues to model the skill, and then students join for guided practice. This is the next stage, We Do. While in the We Do stage, the teacher guides students in practicing the skills, prompting them as necessary and providing feedback. This is a large part of the instruction. The teacher then begins to pull back support, with students practicing the skills on their own. This is the You Do stage when students independently practice the skill without guidance from the teacher.

We can avoid a few pitfalls when it comes to explicit instruction. The first pitfall is too much modeling. There’s a saying that whoever does the talking is doing the thinking. And whoever does the thinking is doing the learning. It’s essential to take a step back and ensure that the students are also doing some heavy lifting. Also, the three phases of the gradual release model are not written in stone. There will be a lot of times when you will need to go back between the different stages.

Phonics Instruction Should Build

When it comes to phonics instruction, having a clear plan is super important. Think of it like a roadmap for learning – starting with the basics and moving towards more complex skills. According to the Science of Reading and what works best in teaching, phonics instruction should be like climbing a ladder, step by step. This is what we call systematic phonics instruction.

So, instead of throwing all the rules in at once, we follow a sequence of skills, starting with the simple ones, like matching letters to sounds. Then, we gradually move to more complex things, like learning about digraphs, blends, diphthongs, words, and more advanced patterns. Within this approach, we continue to release responsibility gradually through explicit instruction.

No scope and sequence is perfect because a variety of them are available. It is vital that whatever scope and sequence is used, it must begin with very simple phonics skills and progress to more complex skills. Also, you must teach high-frequency spellings before teaching low-frequency spellings. 

Having a plan also means that students build on their knowledge. It’s adding new layers to their understanding of how letters and sounds work together. This makes learning more manageable and boosts confidence as students tackle more challenging reading tasks. During this time, the teacher allows students to respond to instruction and practice what they have learned.

An important point is that a scope and sequence can be used, but that does not mean your instruction is systematic. Not only should the sequence of skills progress from simple to complex, but there should also be review and repetition built into the scope and sequence.

Make Review Abundant

Ensuring that review is abundant in phonics instruction is a key strategy supported by educational research and practical teaching experience. It has become painfully clear that there is an underestimation of how long it takes for budding readers to master phonics skills. Making room for consistent and varied review activities contributes significantly to reinforcing phonics concepts and fostering lasting comprehension.

One effective way to incorporate abundant review is through small group activities. These focused sessions allow educators to tailor instruction to the specific needs of their students, providing targeted reinforcement of phonics rules. Small group settings also encourage peer interaction, creating a supportive environment for collaborative learning.

A great activity is one that can move from small groups to literacy centers. As you introduce and review the activity in small groups, that is the I Do & We Do part of explicit instruction. Once it is moved to literacy centers for students to independently practice, that is the You Do part of explicit instruction.

Phonics Sound Mazes are perfect for whatever skill you’re working on. Whether it’s letter sounds, blends, digraphs, r-controlled vowels, whatever you’re teaching in class, you can do a sound maze on it.

This resource is more focused on phonemes, rather then the grapheme. It does connect the sound to the symbol by placing the grapheme at the top. So students look at the letter, and have to find the pictures that begin with the sound that the letter represents.

If you’re unsure where to start in fostering your students’ orthographic mapping skills, the ideal starting point is at your small group table. Keep in mind that orthographic mapping is the cognitive process we use to transform an unfamiliar printed word into a sight word that we can readily recognize.

By engaging our students in activities designed to practice their word mapping abilities, we are aiding them in developing a mental habit. Following explicit instruction (I do, we do), students require a chance to independently practice this skill (you do). Our Short Vowel Word Mapping Mats offer that opportunity, and your students will thoroughly enjoy constructing essential foundations for reading.

This is also an activity that is perfect for introducing in small groups the I Do, We Do phase of explicit instruction, then moving to centers for the You Do phase.

Centers offer another dynamic avenue for abundant phonics review. Students engage in hands-on activities that reinforce letter-sound relationships, decoding skills, and word recognition by integrating phonics-focused stations within a classroom. This approach makes learning enjoyable and allows for differentiated instruction, accommodating various learning styles and paces.

Consider incorporating phonics review into morning work routines. Quick, targeted exercises at the beginning of the day serve as a daily reinforcement of previously learned phonics concepts. This consistent review builds a strong foundation for students, setting a positive tone for the rest of their literacy experiences.

Pattern block mat activities are ones that I love to move from centers to morning work or early finisher activities after morning work is completed. This is something that students already have experience with, and can easily be rotated out for review and repetition as you teach additional skills.

Abundant phonics review is not just about repetition; it’s the key to mastery and confidence in the world of reading. By incorporating activities like games and interactive online resources, educators can cater to the varied learning preferences of their students. This approach ensures the review remains engaging and effective, contributing to a solid and enduring grasp of phonics principles.

Today, we discussed the science-backed principles of phonics, the power of explicit instruction, the strategic planning needed for a solid foundation, and the importance of abundant review. We’ve unlocked the doors to a realm where each word becomes a stepping stone toward comprehensive literacy.

The Science of Reading guides us with evidence-based practices, ensuring that every step leads to effective teaching strategies and positive literacy experiences for educators and students. When implementing explicit instruction and strategic planning, know that you’re shaping the future of young minds. By making phonics review abundant in various engaging ways – through small groups, centers, or morning activities – you’re reinforcing skills in diverse ways.

Every lesson, every review, and every strategic move is a meaningful contribution to the comprehensive literacy journey. Let’s continue to make each word a stepping stone, building a foundation that lasts a lifetime.

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Unlock the secrets of effective phonics instruction! Explore science-backed insights, explicit strategies, and the art of abundant review. Boost literacy with evidence-based practices.
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