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Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Basic Phonics

By Stephen Krashen

..It is helpful to teach some rules of phonics, but just the basics, just the straight-forward rules. (I introduce the term Basic Phonics here, attempting to provide a label for a position that already exists, but has not, in my view, been made explicit.)

According to Basic Phonics, we learn to read by actually reading, by understanding what is on the page. Most of our knowledge of phonics is the result of reading; the more complex rules of phonics are subconsciously acquired through reading (Smith, 1994).

A conscious knowledge of some basic rules can help children learn to read by making texts more comprehensible. Smith (1994) demonstrates how this can happen: The child is reading the sentence "The man was riding on the h____." and cannot read the final word. Given the context and knowledge of ‘h’ the child can make a good guess as to what the final word is. This won’t work every time (some readers might think the missing word was "Harley"), but some knowledge of phonics can restrict the possibilities of what the unknown words are. (One could subdivide Basic Phonics into sub-positions, into those who claim that learning the basics is essential and those who claim it is helpful.)

Basic Phonics appears to be the position of authors of Becoming a Nation of Readers:

"…phonics instruction should aim to teach only the most important and regular of letter-to-sound relationships … once the basic relationships have been taught, the best way to get children to refine and extend their knowledge of letter- sound correspondences is through repeated opportunities to read.

[So] which rules are teachable and useful? Most likely, experienced professionals will agree that most initial consonants can be taught and learned and applied to text by small children...

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