Do parents or administrators ever ask you if you teach phonics? If you are like most teachers you say, "Of course." But phonics means different things to different people. There are essentially two types of phonics instruction, with some variations: analytic phonics and synthetic phonics.
Synthetic phonics is breaking each word down into individual phonemes, as in cuh -ah-tuh, or cat. In synthetic phonics, individual sounds are blended -- synthesized -- together to produce words. Synthetic phonics is often called explicit phonics.
Analytic phonics examines letter and sound patterns across words, such as dad to sad. Analytics phonics is based on the learning principle of moving from the known to the new, and is often taught in the context of reading and writing. Teachers who use analytic phonics often believe reading is a processing system and using the letters and sounds is a part of the process. Readers need to use all sources of information, such as language structure and the meaning of a story. This month's tip focuses on using analytic phonics to help your students become better readers.
As you observe your students reading, consider: What are they doing at difficulty? How are they solving new words? Compare the proficient readers with the struggling readers. Are their approaches similar or different? Proficient readers use the largest known part of a word to quickly figure out the new word. To do this, the student must notice the visual features, call up the sound, and link the parts of the word together. As students build up both a reading and writing vocabulary, they are able to call upon this knowledge to analyze new words. For example, if you know the word dad, it can help you read or spell the word sad. Proficient readers seem to gain these understandings almost effortlessly. For the less competent reader, teachers must be careful observers. Look for opportunities to help the student learn more about how to take words apart.
The Scale of Help
Pioneer Valley Books has begun offering a tool called The Scale of Help, which is available with our Prompting Guide Card Set. On it you will find suggestions for teaching moves you can make. Move from the bottom of the chart up to find the most supported to least supported teaching moves. One very supportive move you could demonstrate would be to build a word with magnetic letters and then break it apart to show the student the part the student knows. You will probably need to make more than one move to help each student. Remember, it is more helpful to start with what the student knows and go from there.
Programs such as Reading Recovery®, Phonics Lessons (Fountas and Pinnell), and Literacy Wings™ (a Pioneer Valley Books Early Literacy intervention program) are great resources for implementing analytic phonics in your classroom.
Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.
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