Rationale for Phonics for Keeps

Phonics for Keeps will help your student read and write.

Children—and even adults—can struggle with the spelling, meaning, and pronunciation of words. When children have these difficulties, not only can it impact their reading and writing, but also their speaking and listening. In school, they may be held back or sent to “special” classes. As adults, they may drop out of college, fail to get hired and/or promoted, and are often underpaid.

Some ways of teaching phonics keep students from decoding words correctly.

Here are two ways of teaching phonics that don’t work.  One is to say that the sound of the letter “B,” for instance, is “buh.”  Strictly speaking, the letter “B” has no clear-cut “sound.”  To find the “sound” for the letter “B,” you must drop the “uh” sound from the above “buh.” What is left is a formation of the lips, an almost humming sound, and only a suggestion of an “uh.” Each consonant has its own individual characteristics. These include the position of the tongue, degree of opening of the mouth, the guttural sound or spitting, or breath, and so forth.

The second way that doesn’t work is to say that one of a digraph’s letters carries that word’s vowel sound. It is the combination of lettering that carries the sound as a unit. One example is “ea” in the word “teach.” These same two letters “ea”—as a unit—then carry the now short “E” sound in the word “bread.” Therefore, students must learn that the set of letters as a unit carry a particular sound in all digraphs, trigraphs (the “igh” in “light”), and quadrigraphs (the “ough” in “though”).

The Phonics for Keeps approach works. Using it, I transformed a 10th grade nonreader into a chapter-book reader in less than six months. (She had been trying to decode a word like “bat” by saying “buhatuh.”) Is your student struggling with reading or writing? Try testing them with my phonics diagnostic test.