+ What is a “Systematic” Phonics Program?

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Another book I acquired at the COBIDA Conference is Elaine K. McEwan’sTeach Them All to Read: Catching Kids Before They Fall Through the Cracks.”

In Chapter Two, “Phonics,” she  writes

There are more instructional programs, workbooks, software, and videos on the market for teaching phonics than for any other aspect of reading.  There are programs for parents, teachers, and even for adult nonreaders to teach themselves to read.  If you had not noticed, phonics is popular.  But what kind of phonics to teach is the big question for educators.

 She compares the characteristics of explicit, systematic phonics instruction which is research-based, with so-called phonics instruction that probably won’t achieve the results you want. 

  • Systematic Phonics Programs help teachers explicitly and systematically instruct students in how to relate letters and sounds, how to break spoken words into sounds, and how to blend sounds to form words.   Non-systematic Phonics Programs embed phonics in reading and writing activities.
  • Sytematic Programs help students understand why they are learning the relationships between letters and sounds.  Non-systematic Programs teach letter-sound relationships incidentally.
  • Systematic Phonics Programs help students apply their knowledge of phonics as they read words, sentences and text.  Non-systematic Programs focus on whole-word or meaning-based activities.
  • Systematic Programs can be adapted to the needs of individual students, based on assessments.  Non-systematic Programs pay limited attention to letter-sound relationships.
  • Systematic Programs include alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, and the reading of text, as well as phonics instruction.  Non-systematic Programs begin by teaching students a sight-word vocabulary of from 50 to 100 words, delaying instruction in the alphabetic principle until these have been mastered.

Non-systematic phonics programs have been dubbed by one group of writers as “Faux Fonics.” McEwan quotes Heward, Wood and Damer (2004), who describe these false phonics programs as 

any activity presumed to be phonics in which students are not expected to match letters to sounds or sounds to corresponding letters.

“Teach Them All to Read: Catching Kids Before They Fall Through the Cracks,” by Elaine K. McEwan, is published by Corwin, a SAGE Company (http://www.corwinpress.com) .  ISBN 978-1-4129-6498-2 (paper).   The information above is found on pages 39-40.

“Teach Them All to Read” offers a detailed table of contents.  Sections include

  1. Phonemic Awareness
  2. Phonics
  3. Spelling
  4. Fluency
  5. Word and World Knowledge
  6. Comprehension
  7. Reading a Lot
  8. Writing, 
  9. A Reading Culture

There are 22 (!)  pages of references and an index. 

McEwan says her goals are to update educators on the most current reading research, to focus attention on variables at work in classrooms and schools, and to motivate educators to accept the challenges of leadership. 

The work of Heward, W.L., Wood, C.L. and Damer, M. referred to above is Faux fonics: A behavioral and instructional analysis of phonics activities that aren’t ,  presentation to the 30th Annual Convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis, Boston MA, 2004.

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com .


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