For as long as I can remember, phonics has been a reading strategy taught in Kindergarten through 3rd grade, to teach students how to sound out and decode words in learning to read.

I also taught reading using the Whole Language Approach in the 80s, when it was a mandated part of the public school curriculum. This method’s philosophy was to learn words as a whole, along with the word meaning, which research has shown to not be as effective as originally thought.  “The position that instruction in phonics and word-identification skills is unnecessary… is indefensible.” (Pikulski & Tobin, 1988).

After my 20+ years of experience as a Kindergarten and elementary school teacher, with training in the Wilson Reading System and phonics, I now fully understand the value of  having phonics methods implemented  into the Early Childhood and Lower School curricula at Harrisburg Academy.

The importance of being able to blend the strategies together takes knowledge of the phonics system and finesse of the classroom teacher.  At the Academy, the teaching of phonics begins in Junior Kindergarten and continued each year.  Even those students who come to Kindergarten already reading can benefit from phonics instruction.  They will develop a deeper understanding of how words are formed, which will help them accurately spell words with more sounds and syllables. Studies show the students who begin with a strong phonics instruction and continue with this method are much more confident in reading in the content areas.  Let’s not forget about the advantages of applying phonics in reading to improve the rate of fluency as well as comprehension of the text.

By the time children reach 3rd or 4th grade, they should be able to apply their knowledge of words and sounds in order to decode 2 to 4 syllable words with ease.  They should be fluent in all vowel sounds and have an understanding of basic prefixes and suffixes, such as re-, un-, dis and –ful.   Students in 4th grade should be spending time decoding longer words and defining the meaning of these words.  In Harrisburg Academy’s 4th grade classrooms, Mrs. Bender and I implement building vocabulary from word parts and word families.   Students in our classes learn to read naturally by using sound patterns of familiar print words to make analogies that help them pronounce unfamiliar print words (i.e. Moustafa).  We also focus on sound-spelling patterns using common diphthongs and digraphs (i.e. Greek and Latin roots).  Building on base words taught in the earlier grade levels helps our students develop greater depth and understanding of each word’s complexity.  In return, this begins to develop skills which will help to prepare students for Middle and Upper School and eventually the SAT/ACT, and beyond.

The importance of understanding phonics is priceless and should not be undervalued.   It will and has opened the “World of Reading” to our children on their journey to become lifelong learners.

Learn more about phonics instruction here.