1.800.221.5175
Mathematics
Sadlier Math Grades K–6
Core Program
Full Access
Progress in Mathematics Grades K–6
Core Program
Full Access
Progress in Mathematics
Grades 7–8+
Progress Mathematics Grades K–8
National Program
Full Access
Common Core
New York
New Jersey
Critical Thinking for Active Math Minds
Grades 3–6
Preparing for Standards Based Assessments
Grades 7–8
Vocabulary
Vocabulary Workshop, Tools for Comprehension Grades 1–5
Print Program
Interactive Edition
Vocabulary Workshop Achieve Grades 6–12+
Print Program
Interactive Edition
Vocabulary Workshop, Tools for Excellence Grades 6–12+
Print Program
Interactive Edition
Vocabulary for Success
Grades 6–10
Building an Enriched Vocabulary
Grades 9–12
English Language Arts
Progress English Language Arts Grades K–8
National Program
New York
Grammar & Writing
Grammar Workshop, Tools for Writing
Grades 3–5
Grammar for Writing
Grades 6–12
Writing a Research Paper
Grades 6–12
Writing Workshop
Grades 6–12
Grammar & Writing for Standardized Tests
Grades 9–12
Reading
Close Reading of Complex Texts Grades 3–8
Print Program
Interactive Edition
Sadlier Phonics
Grades K–3
From Phonics to Reading
Grades K–3

Sadlier's
English Language Arts Blog

The home of Vocab Gal and other educational experts K–12 resources

April 8, 2021 ELA PD - Literacy, ELA Focus - Reading, ELA PD - Leadership

Phonics and the Science of Reading

Recently, a national conversation in schools and the media has emerged around how we best teach our young learners to read. This conversation has been couched under the umbrella of the Science of Reading. We certainly have a large body of ever-evolving information about how to teach children to read. This information comes from educational researchers, cognitive scientists who do brain research, linguists, school practitioners like yourself, and so on. Unfortunately, some of this knowledge—especially that from outside of education (e.g., brain researchers)—is largely unknown by classroom teachers and not applied to many of our most commonly used reading programs. As a result, districts around the country have begun reexamining the materials they use to teach children to read to ensure these materials are aligned to this body of knowledge.

phonics-and-the-science-of-reading-wiley-blevins

Established Models of Reading

Two older established models of reading have emerged during this national examination of our early reading curriculum: the Simple View of Reading and Scarborough’s Reading Rope. The Simple View of Reading (Gough and Tunmer, 1986) states that reading comprehension is a product of decoding (e.g., phonics) and language comprehension (e.g., vocabulary and content knowledge).

phonics-and-the-science-of-reading-simple-view-of-reading

Scarborough’s Reading Rope (2001) fine-tuned this model to specify aspects of each area of reading instruction and how they intersect. As a student’s decoding skills become more automatic and they become more strategic in using their growing language comprehension skills, these skills intertwine. The result: students develop into skilled, fluent readers.

phonics-and-the-science-of-reading-scarborough-reading-rope

In these models, the decoding piece includes foundational skills like phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, concepts of print, and phonics. So how do we align our phonics instruction to the Science of Reading? There are four important guideposts to consider.

How to Align Phonics Instruction to the Science of Reading

Guidepost 1: Scope and Sequence

In order to effectively teach phonics, we need a clearly defined scope and sequence. This is a scope and sequence that goes from easier to more complex skills. Confusing letters and sounds are separated, and so on. This scope and sequence provides the spine on which all of the instruction rests. It is a roadmap for teachers. What to teach. When to teach. And how much focus to give each of these skills.

But having a scope and sequence isn't enough. A scope and sequence must be more than a list of skills that you march through in an exposure-focused way. In order for a scope and sequence to be impactful, it must also have a built-in review and repetition cycle. Once we introduce a new skill, for most of our students, it takes a significant amount of time to get to mastery. Students have to get to mastery so that they can transfer those skills to all reading and writing situations. So, after a skill is introduced, it should be reviewed, applied, and assessed for at least the next 4–6 weeks.

Guidepost 2: Systematic and Explicit Instruction

Phonics instruction needs to be systematic and explicit. Systematic is related to having a scope and sequence and teaching those skills as a system. But teaching phonics as a system means that we go beyond skill-and-drill practice. We must also have robust conversations with our students about how that system works. So great phonics instruction is active, engaging, and thought provoking, whereby children are observing and talking about how words work. Activities such as word building and word sorts (with follow-up question prompts like “what did you learn about these spelling patterns?”) aid in these conversations.

Explicit refers to the initial introduction of a phonics skill. Teachers need to explicitly state the sound-spelling connection (e.g., the /s/ sound is represented by the letter s). In an explicit introduction to the skill, the teacher models how to sound out words with the new skill and then gives children guided practice opportunities to apply the skill in isolated words and in connected text. This avoids the pitfalls of discovery learning, which require students to possess prerequisite skills that some may not have.

Great phonics instruction is active, engaging, and thought provoking, whereby children are observing and talking about how words work.

Guidepost 3: Daily Application to Reading and Writing

Daily application to reading and writing during the phonics lesson is critical. It is in the application where the learning sticks. This requires students to read, reread, talk about, and write about decodable (accountable) texts in which they can apply their newly acquired phonics skills to get to mastery faster. These texts have a high percentage of words that can be sounded out based on the phonics skills children have learned, as well as some irregular high-frequency words and the occasional story word to make more engaging reads.

The most impactful instruction has students not only read and discuss these stories but write about them as follow up. If it’s a fiction story, students can write a retelling. If it’s an informational piece, students can create a list of facts learned. This requires students to apply their growing reading skills to writing immediately. The book can serve as a useful and supportive scaffold.

Guidepost 4: Assessment

Assessment needs to inform instruction. When it comes to phonics, assessments must be viewed through two lenses: accuracy and automaticity. This tells us if students have knowledge about what has been taught (accuracy) and if they have acquired fluency with those skills (automaticity).

Phonics instruction requires two critical types of assessments: comprehensive and cumulative. A comprehensive phonics assessment is a survey of all the skills a student would learn in a phonics continuum (from identifying letter-sounds to reading words with short vowels, long vowels, complex vowels, and finally multisyllabic words). This assessment is essential at the beginning of a school year to identify which students have not mastered previous grade-level skills, which are meeting grade-level expectations, and which are beyond the scope of skills covered in a grade.

Assessment needs to inform instruction... Phonics instruction requires two critical types of assessments: comprehensive and cumulative.

A cumulative assessment is what’s missing from most instruction and is critical for phonics success. A cumulative assessment assesses the new target skill and previously taught skills (generally looking back 4–6 weeks). This assessment monitors skill growth over time—a more accurate assessment since it takes weeks for most students to get to mastery on a taught skill. It can also alert a teacher to decayed learning (skills in which not enough review and application has been provided and the skill has “slipped away”) so that course corrections can be made to avoid potential and serious learning issues as students move from grade to grade. In addition to these assessments, teachers need to regularly listen to students read aloud and evaluate their writing for evidence of transfer.

These four guideposts alert us to key aspects of phonics instruction that need to be in place, how to teach them (download the 7 Characteristics of Strong Phonics Instruction eBook now), and how to assess them. Evaluating our phonics curriculum against these guideposts can strengthen our instruction and maximize student learning.

From Phonics to Reading

From Phonics to Reading has received the highest rating: ALL GREEN, “Meets Expectations,” from EdReports, an independent, nonprofit, educator-led, curriculum reviewer of K–12 instructional materials, reviewed From Phonics to Reading for the Foundational Skills Instruction Alignment to Gateways 1 and 2 which focus on Standards and Research-Based Practices and Implementation, Support Materials & Assessment.

05J_21_email_FPR_EdReport_Annc_1200px_@2X

“My goal in creating this program with the Sadlier team was to provide a compact, efficient, affordable phonics resource that reflected the most current research on phonics but addressed issues not commonly covered in available resources—including addressing the top ten reasons why phonics instruction sometimes fails (Ten Common Causes of Phonics Instruction Failure), reflecting some of my most important work with school districts across the United States, South America, and Asia.”

 

 

 

Resources

Selected References

Blevins, W. (2021). Choosing and using decodable texts. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Blevins, W. (2020). Meaningful phonics and word study: Lesson fix ups for impactful teaching. New Rochelle, NY: Benchmark Education.

Blevins, W. (2019). Meeting the challenges of early literacy phonics instruction. Literacy Leadership Brief No. 9452. International Literacy Association.

Blevins, W. (2016). A fresh look at phonics: Common causes of failure and 7 ingredients for success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Blevins, W. (2017). Phonics from A to Z: A practical guide. 3rd Edition. New York, NY: Scholastic.