Phonics is a system of teaching children to read by sounding out individual letters. For example, a child might read the word book by sounding out the b, the oo, and the k: "buh," "oo," "kuh" -- "book." The role of phonics in reading programs has become a subject of highly charged debate. Proponents of phonics argue that it is the key to reading; others suggest that it bears little important relationship to reading and wastes children's time. I do not view phonics as an either-or proposition. Many children -- but not all of them -- are likely to benefit from some attention to phonics. It will be useful to them to know how to use sounds as a way to deal with unfamiliar words, although they should also be encouraged to try other methods of approaching new words, such as the context in which the word appears or its similarity to other words. Regardless of the method they use to teach reading, the most effective teachers will introduce phonics quite naturally within the context of their work with language, even as they understand that turning phonics into a separate activity is not a particularly constructive use of time. Attention to phonics will cease by the end of third grade.
Reprinted from the series 101 Educational Conversations by Vito Perrone, published by Chelsea House Publishers.
Copyright 1994 by Chelsea House Publishers, a division of Main Line Book Co. All rights reserved.