Let’s start with the definitions:
Phonics: this is the direct relationship between sound and symbol. This involves the printed word and requires the use of the eyes and the ears to decipher words.
Phonemic Awareness: is hearing the relationship between sounds and symbols and involves the spoken word. It requires the ears only and the process does not involve print. The terms ‘phonics’ and ‘phonemic awareness’ are not interchangeable.
What do we believe?
Here at UWCSEA, we believe that both phonics and phonemic awareness are just one element of the the reading journey. Other areas of reading instruction include fluency, comprehension, vocabulary and oral communication. In order to learn to read, our children need many opportunities to see, hear and speak language. There are a number of elements which work together to build the knowledge, skills and understanding needed in order to make sense of the written word. These include:
- general knowledge about the world
- visual information about the text
- information about sounds (phonemic awareness) from oral language
- understanding about how writing and reading are related
- understanding about language structure
- understanding about how texts are structured
- understanding that text makes sense
In the Infant School, teachers give students many opportunities to see, hear and apply all these elements of reading, writing and oral language during their play. We teach phonics in authentic (real-life) contexts, meaning it is closely connected to the speaking, listening, reading and writing that children experience in their daily lives. Children’s experiences of language are aligned with the UWCSEA Learning Principles (see link below).
Some common questions about phonics and reading
If I teach my child the letter names/sounds, does that mean they will be able to read?
Teaching the letter names and sounds to your child is one essential piece of knowledge that readers need in order to comprehend text. However, it is not the only one. Children need plenty of authentic opportunities to experience these sounds in real-life contexts, so being exposed to as many texts as possible is equally as important as knowing sounds and recognising letters. When taught in isolation, children may not transfer their letter/sound knowledge to reading texts and, therefore, they will not be able to make sense of the written word. This is why it is important to remember that phonics/phonemic awareness is one aspect of learning to read and write.
My child knows the letter names and sounds, so why aren’t they reading?
Once letters are recognised and sounds are related, children begin to build upon their knowledge and place the sounds together to begin to decode words. This is a process of discovery for our children and teachers guide them by carefully planning provocations which will build the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to develop their conceptual understanding of reading. If a child is only exposed to the know
ledge of letter sounds and/or names, they will not have the opportunity to apply other essential elements of reading and vital connections between the concepts of reading may not be made.
When will my child be a reader?
Each child is different and the reading journey is unique to the individual. Just as each child learns to walk at different times, they will learn to read the text at different stages too. Children are learning to read from their earliest interactions with text and illustration and this developmental stage is a key to their reading journey.
My child’s preschool taught Jolly Phonics/Letterland… why don’t you?
At UWCSEA, we believe in a responsive approach to learning, where teachers consider the needs and interests of the individual. One of the key elements of a packaged phonics scheme is the ‘whole class,’ linear approach. Whilst this may be appropriate at times in an early years classroom, our teachers understand the need to personalise the learning experiences for our children in order for them to be appropriately challenged and make connections to their prior knowledge. We also understand that play is an important vehicle for learning and therefore we offer as many play based learning opportunities as we can. Teachers may well incorporate aspects of different phonics schemes into teaching and learning but, again, this will be in response to respective learning needs.
How can I help at home?
Read for love and the enjoyment of reading. These times at home should be seen as an opportunity to bond and be presented as a gift to your child whilst avoiding too much ‘teaching.’
- Encourage your child to pay attention to the pictures and the words on the page.
- You may like to point out some common words that you know your child already knows.
- Ensure your children see you read. Be a role model for reading.
- A parent’s role in the reading process is to help develop a love of reading that allows students to develop a lifelong reading habit. Children need role models in reading who live literature rich lives.
By Olivia White (Literacy Coach, K-5, East Campus)
Other reading related to UWCSEA and learning:
Literacy and Mathematics: Learning through play in the Infant School by Nicole Tripp and Olivia White