5 Super Important Things about Teaching Phonics that I Wish I’d Learned in College

When I found out that I had to take a Spanish linguistics course in college, I was pretty annoyed. Linguistics sounded mind-numbingly boring, and…it kinda was. 😛

But what I didn’t know is that—years later—that course would actually help me become a better reading and phonics teacher!

Let’s back up a little. My undergraduate majors in college were Elementary Education and Spanish. The Spanish major required that I take all kinds of history and literature and language courses—hence the linguistics class that I dreaded so much.

Somehow, I passed the class. 🙂 And I graduated and started teaching Pre-K  and then Kindergarten (in English).

I knew embarrassingly little about teaching phonics in English (sorry, kids!), but I stumbled and fumbled my way through. Somehow those Kinders learned how to read!

After a couple of years, I moved to a new school for a bilingual Kindergarten position, where I was teaching reading in Spanish. And all of a sudden….DING! The lightbulb went on. I felt much more confident teaching phonics in Spanish because I knew the ins and outs of the language. I understood how words were divided up into syllables, where the accent marks should go, what diphthongs were, and all that good stuff. It turns out that the linguistic course wasn’t such a waste after all! 😉

Anyway, you might be thinking, “Okay…so what’s the point of all this?” Here’s what I’m trying to show:

When I had a deeper understanding of the structure of the language, I was a better phonics and reading teacher. When I didn’t have a deep understanding of the structure of the language (even though I’ve spoken English all my life), I wasn’t well equipped to provide strong, clear phonics instructions.

Although my undergraduate reading education program was good (and so was my graduate degree in reading/literacy leadership), in hindsight, I wish that I’d learned more about the structure of the English language and how to teach phonics to my students.

I’ve had to figure out a lot on my own. I’ve also taken 30 hours of Orton-Gillingham training. I wanted to do all this to become a better teacher, but wouldn’t it make more sense if this information was shared with EVERY elementary or early childhood teacher during their degree program?

If you’re in the same boat that I was and would like to learn more about the structure of English and teaching phonics, then you’re in the right place! This is the first post in my new phonics series. In today’s post, I’m going to share 5 essential things about teaching phonics that I wish I’d learned in college!

Do you know these 5 things about teaching phonics? If you're a Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade teacher, these concepts are essential for successfully teaching reading!Photo Credits:  Joaquin Corbalan P, Shutterstock

1. One in five students NEED explicit, systematic phonics instruction (that uses multisensory techniques) in order to become proficient in reading.

Systematic, explicit phonics instruction is important for all students. But at least 20% of our students show signs of dyslexia. Many of those students will not become fully proficient readers unless they have clear, systematic, and explicit phonics instruction. This means that we need to teach sound and spelling patterns in an order that’s developmentally appropriate, incorporate frequent review, and show students how to apply that knowledge to reading and writing. Students with dyslexia also benefit from multisensory phonics instruction (instruction that incorporates multiple senses; for example, tracing a word in the air while simultaneously spelling it aloud).

2. Students are better equipped to decode words when they know syllable division rules.

For a long time, I didn’t know the syllable division rules for English. Nor did I understand that knowing the rules can help readers figure out vowel sounds and decode words! I’ll address the syllable division rules in a future post.

3. There are 6 different types of syllables in the English language.

That’s it—only 6! Students benefit from learning the 6 syllable types and knowing how to use them to decode words. In a future post, I’ll explain more about the syllable types.

4. Multisensory phonics instructional techniques (that are sometimes deemed “for special education”) are fun and useful for ALL students.

In #1, I mentioned that 20% of kids show signs of dyslexia and need multisensory phonics instruction. You may not know (at least not at the beginning of the year) which students fall into this 20%. However, ALL students benefit from learning phonics in a systematic, explicit way, through multisensory techniques. So you can use this “stuff” with everyone!

5. We can predict (some) reading difficulties at a rather early age.

This one’s for you, Kindergarten teacher friends! (And probably first grade teachers too.) If you notice that some of your students are really struggling with phonological awareness skills, this is an indicator that they may struggle with reading in the future. Researchers now believe that people with dyslexia have weaker phonological processing abilities than their non-dyslexic peers. Tasks like rhyming or segmenting words can be more difficult for students with dyslexia. But here’s the good news: when you know this, you can start providing extra support and interventions right away (like more phonological awareness instruction and practice).

What’s Next?

This post is just the tip of the iceberg. I have lots more planned for you! I hope that this series will help you feel more confident in teaching reading and phonics. And I’d love to hear from you in the comments if this is an area in teaching that you feel/felt under-prepared for!

See you next Saturday for the next post!

blog sig
image_printPrinter Friendly Version

37
Leave a Reply

18 Comment threads
19 Thread replies
3 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
19 Comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Melinda

Do you know of a good phonics program?

Emily

Our district has recently adopted the Fountas and Pinnell phonics program. I haven’t done much with it yet, but the lessons are whole group with small group components that could be merged into your guided reading groups.

Karla

LOVE this post!! Literally cannot wait for the next post!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this info!!

Stephanie

I’m excited to read more! I taught middle school math for 5 years, then transitioned into a technology position for a few years. Now I’m back teaching special education resource to 3rd graders and need all the help I can get!

Lauren

Thanks so much for this post! I teach first grade in Queens, NY in an co-teaching classroom. We have a large range of readers in our room. Some students are just now mastering letter sounds and then some can read works with vowel teams and blends. My co teacher is a special ed teacher and does the Orton Gillianham sensory phonics program with our students with IEPs and our low levels readers. I always say the whole entire class could benefit from it. I do Fundations with my group. Can you give me any insight you have on these phonics… Read more »

Margie Rollins

I am looking forward to this series Allison! I also began my teaching career when best practices was teaching Whole Language. I feel so crazy when I think back on how unprepared I was to teach phonics! I have been working as a Reading Specialist for 6 years now and also never received training in the importance of teaching phonics in a systematic way to the students that struggle the most! I knew that guided reading was NOT moving my students forward, and how difficult it was for them to remember the sounds and patterns when reading and writing .… Read more »

Kelly

I am extremely excited about this post! My college education also did not prepare me for teaching phonics at all. My school does have a phonies program (fundations) but that is very rarely enough. Can’t wait for future posts!

Brooke salgado

THANK YOU! I will be starting my student teaching in Aug. Although I have classes under my belt I do not feel one ounce confident in teaching phonics. (I am hoping this comes with experience eventually) Also, I have two older children that have dyslexia and struggle with their phonological awareness hence in reading. I cannot wait for your other posts! PS if you’re in So Cal can I privately train with you.
Best Wishes,
Brooke

Allison

Yes, I’m so ready to read this! I cannot believe everything that I DID NOT learn in college. In my opinion, we weren’t taught the important stuff. I’ve figured out a lot on my own but would love to hear your information and the layout/order in which you teach. I am seriously looking into a phonics/awareness class to take but want to make sure it’s a good one!

Alison S.

Yes! This is super interesting and important to me and my work! I’m a first year teacher and work with elementary ELs, I but studied to pass the test to get my endorsement on my own (no formal linguistics class), so I still have many gaps in my linguistics knowledge. Looking forward to future posts on this subject!

Sasha Rahn

Our school adopted a phonics program this year but I’m failing at teChinf it the correct way. We’ve had little to no help with how is the best way to teach it. I definitely feel under prepared. Thank you I’m looking forward to reading these posts.

Jenn

Could you include some research resources? I am totally on board with you, but have a reading specialist in my building that doesn’t think it is necessary for students to have explicit phonics instruction. She has said many times that if studenats are reading above grade level we do t need to worry about them. I do worry for them and the time the get to a text where background and context clues are not enough.

Desiree

Excited to read the next post! How can I ensure that I don’t miss it?

Molly

I am so excited to read your upcoming posts on teaching phonics. Would love to go through the OG training but do not have the money and our school district will not pay for it. So I hope to get a lot of information from you. I teach 1st grade. I do not feel I was well prepared to teach phonics.

Meagan

Looking forward to this series!!! I was just talking to my colleagues how we need a systematic approach to phonics. This is an area I struggle with in regards to my low babies and helping them decide when a doesn’t just say /a/. I looked into OG and Spalding phonics. I’m curios to hear your input.

Cindy

Hello! I definitely agree with you that systematic, explicit phonics instruction is a very key component of a balanced literacy curriculum. However, what would you say to a colleague who says they don’t think a balanced literacy approach is effective and that that we should abandon it for a phonics-based program instead?

Sara from My Child and School

Thanks Alison. I always find your info very helpful. I love the way you consolidate learning and make it clear. Looking forward to the next posts.

Emily

I cannot wait for the next post. I need some more things for my tool bag to help with my struggling readers.

May Montague

Just found your blog! It’s already a Godsend! I have started my Masters in Urban Education in Memphis, TN– in a Kindergarten classroom. While I don’t have my undergrad degree in Education, I do have one in Chinese language and resonate deeply with what you said above about how helpful a linguistics background has been to teaching English language+literacy. Thanks for what you do!