Forgotten Phonics: Basic Building Blocks For Structured Reading Programs

One of the things I (Christina at Glimmercat Education) love about the website "TeachersPayTeachers", is the opportunity to meet and mingle with other professionals in my field.  One of these professionals is the owner of "Speech 2 Teach", who had such interesting insights on phonics in reading instruction (which she finds a need for in her speech therapy practice), that I asked her to share more here on my blog.  Although "Speech 2 Teach" is sharing about Phonics across a broad scale, with links to many phonics program options, you will notice shameless plugs for Glimmercat Education's phonics packets and phonics based Letter of the Week Packets, throughout. 
Please join me in welcoming, "Speech 2 Teach":

       Thank you, Christina!  I am so glad I came across your blog.  I think what drew me to it (Besides that cute cat and your beautiful children) is that you are teaching phonics in a way many of my students would benefit from.  The concept that structure and creativity can coexist is unique in the public school system where I work.  When I think of the public school students I work with, especially those in special education classrooms, I know the combination of creative ideas in a structured reading program would really help them thrive.  In the past few years I have seen more students struggle to acquire phonics than ever before.  I have seen more administrators scramble to create safety nets such as reading recovery programs, RTI, resource room groups, even referring students for speech therapy.  Why is that?  And what can we do about it?  The answer, I believe, partially involves adding more phonics into our curricula. Here are my thoughts: 

Using supplemental phonics sheets for the Distar Reading Program, "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons".
    If you've worked in an elementary school for as long as I have (hint: I started way before Google existed, but after my big 80's hair phase), you've probably witnessed change - lots of change. Change in policy, change in curriculum, change in administrative expectations, and change in teaching methodologies.  You've experienced roll outs of new initiatives and, if you've hung around long enough, you've seen old initiatives rolled out again as new. It's safe to say that in the education business the only constant is change.  

    My role as a speech therapist has certainly changed. Those of us who had seen these changes (and who probably had big 80s hair), will recall speech therapists were there to help students pronounce "s" or "r".  There was a time when, as therapists in a school, our toughest challenge was to help a student with a lisp.  That is no longer the case.  Speech therapists in most school districts are expected to align their practice with student academic needs.  Most speech therapists look more at receptive and expressive language than at speech production.  We work to build learning foundations rather than correct speech impediments.  This shift in focus has forced me to examine how my students learn and what elements of the curriculum are most difficult for them to access.  For the students on my caseload, that element is reading (and as a consequence writing).  At times it seems, the curriculum has all but forgotten to teach basic phonics. 

Available in Glimmercat Education's "After Five" Phonics Packet

       Here's the sad fact:  most students who qualify for speech therapy in school struggle to read. In my speech room I am witnessing students wrestle with reading deficits from decoding and letter-sound recognition, to reading comprehension.  And as academic standards increase so does the number of students who are referred for support services.  For our students to become better readers, it may be time for yet another change.

This Little Book is available in Glimmercat Education's "After 25" Phonics Packet
     Now here's where my waters get murky.  I am not a reading specialist.  Although I have been attending more workshops on dyslexia and literacy, I am not a certified expert.  Yet, I cannot ignore an obstacle so many of my students are struggling to overcome.  How can I help them? The first step is to realize I cannot do it alone.  Neither can the classroom teacher nor any other single person within the school building.  A student who has not naturally "cracked the code" needs an army of supporters.  It truly takes a village to empower a struggling reader.  

Children ages 3 to 5 can begin learning phonetic instruction when presented in creative ways.
 And no, I do not have all the answers but I certainly have plenty of questions. And here they are: 

    1. How many of our early elementary school students would benefit from phonics instruction?  In the classrooms I visit today, the concept of phonics isn't a focus unless a student is identified as struggling. This is reactive and far from proactive.

    2. What if we spent more time utilizing structured phonics programs? While there are many, very few programs incorporate fun and multi-sensory learning. Is there a program that wouldn't just instruct our students how to read but would motivate and excite them as well? 
Available in Glimmercat Education's "After 20" Phonics packet

 Here are a few that students may find highly engaging.  Please note, I am not endorsing any particular company or author, but the programs listed below have evidence-based success and more importantly feature elements that keep children engaged. 

    3. What if we dedicated more time to phonemic awareness in early childhood? In this domain, I can apply my experience as a speech pathologist.  Pre-literacy skills such as rhyming, segmenting, blending, identifying syllables, even singing, are all vital to a child's ability to read and write.  And yet, if they are addressed in the classroom it is only for fleeting moments.  Phonemic awareness isn't an integral part of the school day. This is curious to me since there is vast neurological and educational research proving phonemic awareness is a precursor to reading development.  Adding phonemic awareness activities to our early elementary grades is a change that is simple (and may even be fun) to make. 

Using a Story and Song to Introduce Letter A

    4. Is having one professional work with a small group of students really the most effective way of reaching all who are in need?  Or are there changes we could make to our methods of instruction that would allow students to improve reading skills without being pulled out from the classroom?  Since so many students are being pulled out for "specials" such as resource room or RTI, perhaps we need to examine what and how we are teaching while the students are in the room. 

5.  What if we spent more time allowing students to enjoy multi-sensory experiences with letters and sounds?  That is the concept that drew me to Glimmercat's blog because she so effectively hones in on this idea.  In my experience, teaching through various modalities has always yielded better results.  And while many teachers already understand the value in it, I find that they incorporate mult-modalities at their own intiative and often as means to support a student who is falling behind.   

Another modality:  Making the Capital "A" with our bodies which is both fun and physical.
But perhaps it isn't enough and perhaps we could find a way to formally include multi-sensory, individualized experiences within the structure of a reading curriculum.  We would reach more children, increase experiences within the structure of a reading curriculum.  We would reach more children, increase engagement, and watch our students become stronger readers. 

   6.  How much time do we truly spend on self-advocacy?  Not only teaching students various strategies, but teaching in a way that ensures they utilize the strategies when they need them most.  As a speech therapist, that is probably what I focus on the most.  Since my time with each student is limited (typically 30 minutes twice per week), I find the most effective way to utilize that time is to teach various strategies that the student will be able to use anywhere outside my room.  I have been blessed with colleagues who collaborate with me and ensure follow-through.  You can find some of my favorite strategies in my store where these are some of the options available: 

I am certain the answers to my questions vary from school to school and from classroom to classroom.  But if we carefully consider our honest responses, perhaps we could all see a welcomed change.  

Thank you, Glimmercat Education, for inspiring me to ask all these questions, and thank you for providing the forum for me to ask them.  And most importantly, thank you for remembering those forgotten phonics.


Chris Edwards said...

Wow! Nice post. My daughter is only 2 but it won't be long before she is in school. Hopefully these practices will be implemented so she can be a successful reader and speaker. Thanks for this great post!

LearningWithMrsKirk said...

Love your ideas for integrating multi-sensory experiences into reading and speaking! I especially like the idea of getting kids moving to act out the letters!

Christina Morrison said...

Thanks, Chris! Hopefully, we *can* get more phonics back into our reading programs. I think it helps to make every structured reading program more balanced. Thanks for the comment and I will relay it to "Speech2Teach" as well. :)

Christina Morrison said...

Yes! I agree with you -- any of those additional experiences/practices are so helpful for learning and development in small children. When I was a kid, I learned especially through *doing* : I don't think I'm unique in this. Thanks for this comment. I will relay it to "Speech2Teach" as well! :)

Bernadette said...

This is a fantastic layout you have here. I like the content, photos, and video you've added. Lots of hard work. Thank you for sharing it with us!

Christina Morrison said...

Ah, thank you! Video always helps me. I figure it helps others, too. :)

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