In each human language, there are a finite number of units called phonemes that a language uses to build its words. Phonemes are combined in different ways to produce new meanings. For example, the letters b, t, and a can be constructed as /bat/ or as /tab/. This set of phonemes uses the same three letters, but the different arrangement of phonemes produces altered words with differing meanings. Every word is made up of one or more syllables. Every syllable is made up of one or more phonemes. Every syllable must have a vowel or vowel-like sound.
Just how important is phonetics in today’s American culture? My conviction is that if educators understood the importance of correctly teaching phonetics, the rate of high school graduates would increase and the number of incarcerated adults would decrease. It is a proven fact that the lack of education increases one’s chances of incarceration. One cannot be educationally successful without the complete knowledge and application of phonetic rules. Cunningham and Stanovich (1997) found that first-grade reading achievement strongly predicts eleventh-grade reading achievement.
Other research has shown that students at risk for reading failure can be identified early, using tests of phonological awareness, and treated successfully with intensive, explicit instruction in phonological awareness, followed by systematic phonological instruction. One way to successfully teach students as well as struggling adults the proper rules of phonetics is through simultaneous, multisensory instruction. In other words if a student is learning about the letter “A,” he should see the letter (visual), say its name and sound (auditory), and write it in the air (kinesthetic)—all at the same time.
Teaching phonemic awareness is the first step to growing a great reader. One must be taught how to listen to a single word or syllable and break it into individual phonemes. He must also be able to take individual sounds and blend them into a word, change sounds, delete sounds, and compare sounds—all in his head. Two areas of phonics that confused me as a child were the /shun/ and /J/ sounds. /Shun/ can be spelled tion, sion, or cion. The /J/ sound at the end of a word can be spelled ge or dge. The following is an outline of how I believe that phonics is most effectively and successfully taught to students.
1. )Teach a new skill or rule in color with the use of letter tiles. (Example of new rule—open syllables are syllables that end in a vowel and the vowel says its long name). 2. ) Read and spell real words with the new skill or rule in color with the use of letter tiles. (Example—tree, ba/by). 3. ) Read and spell nonsense words (Example—ti/da, fi/ma). 4. ) Read and spell both real and nonsense words in paper, on black and white. 5. )Read and spell phrases on paper in black and white for fluency as well as accuracy. 6.
) Read and spell sentences on paper in black and white for fluency, accuracy, and phrasing. When learning phonics, students should be taught about blends in the following order: at the end of a word, at the beginning of a word, at both ends of the word, and digraphs and three letter blends. Phonetic instruction also teaches critical thinking skills. Students who learn to read using phonics develop superior critical thinking skills because phonetic instruction automatically teaches many aspects of formal logic. Decoding and encoding words are logical operations.
Two of the most powerful concepts in logic are deduction and inference. Decoding is an exercise on deduction. A phonics student must deduce that the word car might be one, two, or three phonemes (It has two phonemes: c and ar. ) As far as inference is concerned, the student learns that phonetic rules, which apply in a few well-known situations, will likely apply in unfamiliar situations as well. Phonetics trained students should be expected to be very capable of independent, logical thought as opposed to those students who did not learn to read using the phonetic system.