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Understanding the Instruction of Reading Standards: Phonics

Instructor: Nancy Breding

Nancy has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction and has taught elementary and homeschool students.

The goal of phonics is to help children learn the alphabetic principle. This lesson will discuss developmentally appropriate, research- and evidence-based assessment and instructional practices that promote students' development of grade level skills for phonics according to the Science of Teaching Reading (STR) standards. Updated: 02/25/2021

What is Phonics?

Say you are visiting an early childhood classroom. You will notice straight away an atmosphere that promotes a love of reading. There are books, books, and more books! There are also word walls, labels for objects, and a classroom rug for children for a read aloud time. While most of these tools for reading are necessary, the actual process of learning to read involves a very systematic and explicit type of instruction called phonics instruction.

Phonics is reading instruction that is focused on letter-sound relationships and how these are used in spelling and reading. One of the most important aspects of reading instruction is the idea that letters can make different sounds depending on their placement and patterns can be learned to build fluency. This type of reading instruction is both systematic and explicit. The letter-sound relationship is taught in an organized, logical sequence. The material is taught with precise directions by the teacher for teaching letter-sound relationships.

The effect of phonics reinforces children's word recognition, spelling, and comprehension. It should be a part of every grade level but is especially critical during the pre-k through first grade levels.

The Science of Teaching Reading

The Science of Teaching Reading (STR) (aka 'the science of reading') is the data from research of how children learn how to read. Phonics is one of the 'big five' components for effective evidence-based reading instruction. The five components are

  1. phonics
  2. systematic phonemic awareness
  3. fluency
  4. vocabulary
  5. reading comprehension

Studies show that reading performance is improved through the use of an organized and more systematic approach to phonics instruction. Many states understand the need for phonics-based programs to teach students as well as professional development courses to help train teachers. Seek out opportunities to incorporate this type of instruction into early childhood classrooms.

Phonics Implementation Strategies

So, how can you make learning phonics engaging and fun? One strategy is to provide hands-on experience or tactile practice. Teachers can use a variety of teaching resources like word building mats with word cards and letter tiles to help build on earlier instruction in letter-sound correspondence.

Materials can vary depending on the activity, including clay to see-through magnet tiles, to dry erase picture flip boards. Teachers can have students select a word card and read the word to the child while they sound out each letter. In this way, they can model the sound-letter relationship. Then the teacher can build other words using the same ending sounds to create word families. This will help students practice CVC words through building and sounding out sounds.

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