Facts about phonics!June 16, 2016
African Revival recently organised a 3- day phonics training for Koch Goma Primary School with phonics trainers Jody Spencer and Akello Catherine. Jody and Catherine used the Fun of Phonics curriculum, which has been adapted by Jody from international phonics programmes to fit the local teaching environment in Uganda. Teachers were trained in a multisensory synthetics phonics approach using actions and song, and practiced using teaching methods such as pair reading.
But what is phonics? How is it different from teaching children to read using the rote memorization technique? And why is it so effective? Find out all you ever wanted to know about phonics here!
What is phonics?
Phonics is a method of teaching reading and writing that focuses on sounds. In the English language there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, however there are 44 sounds and 120 main ways of writing these sounds. Phonics teaches children to recognise and write these sounds by training them to correlate these different sounds (phonemes) with letters (graphemes).
Phonemes are the smallest units of sound that make up a word.
Take the word ‘star’. While it consists of only one syllable, it contains four different phonemes: /s/ /t/ /a/ /r/. When teaching phonics, children will be taught the sound each phoneme makes, then how to put these sounds together to sound out the whole word.
Some sounds have one letter, while others have two or three. For example, the word ‘fish’ has four letters but only three sounds – the letters ‘sh’ make one sound but are two letters.
Why is phonics an effective teaching method?
A written language is basically a kind of a code. Teaching phonics is just teaching children to crack that code by learning to recognize the sounds of letters and different letter combinations. Children learn the simple bits first and then easily progress to get the hang of the trickier bits. Phonics gives children the skills to decode new words that they have not been taught by sounding them out, therefore equipping them with the skills to read and write independently.
Yes. A study in the UK led by Educational Psychologist Marlynne Grant has shown the effectiveness of phonics instruction at nursery and primary level. The study followed a group of 30 children who were taught using phonics for the first time in nursery, and tracked their progress for three years, to the end of year two in primary school. Grant’s research found that in 2013, members of the year two class of seven-year-olds were on average 28 months ahead of their chronological age for reading and 21 months above their age for spelling.
Why is rote learning not effective?
Rote learning is a memorisation technique centred on repetition and cramming. It is based on the idea that the more a child repeats a piece of information, the quicker they will be able to recall it. However, this quick recall often comes at the expense of a deeper understanding because rote learning does not focus on comprehension.
In Uganda, pupils are often taught English using this rote learning method. Children are taught to repeat and memorize particular sentences and words, but are not taught how to decipher specific sounds in words. This means that some children can read words they have already been taught, but cannot tackle new words on their own. Other children, however, find it difficult to memorize words and can progress through primary school with a limited reading ability. Many children leave primary school without being able to read independently when taught using rote memorization.
Across Uganda, one third of youth are illiterate and pass rates for English amongst children aged 10-16 are only 47% (Uwezo). In many schools, especially those in poorer rural areas, quality of education remains poor and teachers lack practical skills and educational resources. Many children leave school without the ability to read simple sentences that they have not already been taught.
Why does literacy matter?
Children’s poor skills in reading and writing have a direct result on their results in other academic subjects such as mathematics and science because the main academic language for exams in primary school is English. Children who cannot read and understand questions for these subjects often perform poorly in exams and do not develop literacy skills vital for success in the workplace and beyond.
The root cause of illiteracy is the way teachers are trained in Uganda. In general, they are taught to use rote memorisation to train pupils to read and write, often graduating from Primary Teaching College without being confident in teaching English. In some rural schools, some teachers struggle with the English language themselves following years of poor instruction, so struggle to teach the language in the classroom. Moreover, they lack skills in effective, research-based teaching methods which engage learners. By training teachers in phonics methodology, they will be equipped with the skills to teach children how to decode new words and give them the framework to independently develop their literacy level. Strong literacy skills will help students to improve their performance in other subject areas, with general comprehension across subjects enhanced by the ability to read and write well.