Considerable research has been done to study the effects of kindergarten instruction in alphabet, particularly phonemic concepts, on first grade reading achievement. Researchers for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development have found that explicit and systematic instruction is significantly more effective than non-systematic or no phonics instruction. More importantly, this type of instruction provides considerable benefits to a child's reading development as he moves into first grade.
Systematic Phonics Instruction
Phonics instruction teaches the relationships that exist between letters or graphemes and sounds or phonemes. Systematic phonics instruction is organized in a logical sequence, depending on the grapheme-phoneme relationships that are being studied. For such a program to be considered explicit, it must use direct teaching as the method of delivery. Many non-systematic programs teach these relationships only as necessary or as they happen to appear in the child's upcoming text. Systematic phonics instruction is taught deliberately, rather than embedded within a literature program.
Approaches to Phonics Instruction
Synthetic phonics is the conversion of letters or letter combinations into sounds, blending the sounds together to form words. Analytic phonics teaches the student to analyze the letter sound relationships within previously learned words; sounds are not pronounced in isolation. Analogy-based phonics uses known word families to identify unknown words. Phonics through spelling teaches segmenting words into phonemes and writing unknown words using the knowledge of phonemes. Embedded phonics teaches letter-sound relationships while reading an assigned text; this approach is not considered systematic. Onset-rime phonics instruction teaches students to identify the sound before the vowel (onset) in a single syllable and then the sound after the vowel (rime).
Effective and Systematic Programs
Systematic, effective programs offer instruction that helps teachers teach explicitly, through direct teaching methods; students are taught how to break apart words and how to relate letters and sounds. The program helps students understand and apply the knowledge they gain, so that they can more easily decode unknown words and understand sentences and text more readily. Effective programs help students apply their knowledge to their writing, so they understand the relationship between words read and words written. This type of instruction is easily adaptable to fit the needs of individual students and includes alphabet knowledge, vocabulary development, text reading and phonemic awareness.
Long-Term Benefits of Phonics Instruction
NICH research makes it clear that students who receive early systematic, explicit instruction are better readers and spellers than students who do not receive this type of instruction. This instruction also significantly improves a student's ability to comprehend text. Early explicit, systematic phonics instruction has been proven effective with students from various socio-economic levels and is extremely beneficial for at-risk students or those who have difficulty learning to read. However, direct phonics instruction should not be the only reading instruction a student receives. Students should listen and respond to stories and nonfiction texts, read both types of texts on their level, and write stories, messages and letters daily.
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