by Michelle Tefertiller
Teaching a child to read is an intimidating endeavor. Even a tenured educator can become unsure of proper technique, questioning which program is the most effective or getting distracted by the newest methods or fads.
Another stumbling block is the fact that educators fail to agree that there is one method that works above all others. I would venture to say there is one key ingredient that insures success and always works. When it is taught and mastered anyone can learn to read with it. You may have already guessed the tool is phonics.
Phonics is the key. Every child can be taught phonics, that is, sounds associated with letters and letter teams. Practice with phonics leads to proficiency in decoding unknown words. Stringing together these decoded words to glean meaning leads to reading. While a few children have the linguistic base necessary to learn to read by memorizing whole words, this only works well on a very few children and only enables them to read some words.
Eventually, when the words become multisyllabic or contextually confusing, this whole word reader finds he lacks the skills necessary to decode an unfamiliar word and unlock meaning, which is the essence of reading. However, if children are taught how to break a word into syllables or phonetic chunks and decode the sounds from the letter combinations, they can then use their context clues to gain meaning. Once they understand meaning they are reading, but it starts with phonics, particularly when teachers use a classical approach.
In the next post, I’ll explain the best way to teach phonics.