Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Phonological awareness and phonics -Part 2


Teachers are struggling to teach kids to read. Around 20% of kids in many countries where English is taught can barely read in English.

In the US in January 2001, President George W. Bush announced his plan called “No Child Left Behind”.

Now, in 2015 after 15 years the percentage of children who can barely read in English remains the same as it was in 2001 which again was the same as it was in the 70’s.

The main thing kids do in school is learn to read, and when they don't, they feel stupid. So how can we prevent reading failure?

In Malaysia, children go to school in the year they turn 7. Most of us who went to school in the 1950s could hardly speak a word of English as we all spoke our mother tongue in our homes and our National Language (Malay)when we played with our neighbours. Yet, by the end of primary 1 we were all able to read at grade level. As such I wonder why children who come from English-speaking countries have a problem in reading in the English language. There has to be something wrong with the teaching method.

A child at 6 can differentiate the sounds of the words mad and sad. The child will be able to differentiate such sounds just by listening. If this child who can differentiate the sounds of such words is unable to read at the end of primary one, then something other than ‘phonological awareness deficit’ is the cause. If this child can read in Malay at the end of primary one and yet cannot read in English then we should ask ourselves as to why this is so. This is the question educators should be asking themselves.

What does it take to learn to read? Among others, kids have to know letter names and letter sounds. All the kids who have come to me have good phonemic awareness but are unable to read fluently in English whilst they can read in Malay.

Written language is different from spoken language. English has 44 distinct sounds, represented by only 26 letters. To make things even more complex, English uses over 70 different combinations of the 26 letters to produce those 44 sounds. Currently, there is a lot of debate going on in LinkedIn about how to teach phonics. At the end of the debate, everyone will go their separate ways with nothing changed. This is because change is not easy. Like Einstein said, “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity.”

Phonics and phonemic awareness are not the same.  Phonics has to do with printed words. It is about letters and the sounds made by the letters.

Phonics involves how speech sounds correspond to the written letter or letter combinations. 

Therefore, phonics instruction focuses on teaching sound-spelling relationships and is associated with print. Phonemic awareness tasks, on the other hand, are oral.

A majority of kids (about 80%) can learn to read whichever way you teach them. It is the remaining 20% that this blog hopes to help. 80% of the kids can rely on clues about the sound-spelling relationship but poor students are unlikely to do so. They need explicit phonics instruction.

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