reading and writing skills

Phonics: The secret weapon that helps your child learn to read and spell.

Reading and writing should be easy to learn

Many children are reluctant readers and poor spellers who struggled to learn to read and don’t like writing. They prefer not to read, or see reading as work rather than fun, and write the minimum, using simple words they can spell. What a great pity this is for them! Children need to read and write to do most things well at school, and in the world. By the time they come to work with me, many students have struggled to learn to read and spell  for some years and have felt ‘dumb’ in comparison to other students.

Why are there so many students in our schools who struggle with learning the crucial skills of reading and spelling? I believe that it is lack of systematic teaching of phonics skills. The goal of phonics is to enable beginning readers and writers to decode unknown words by ‘sounding them out’ as they read or spell them. If your child has trouble reading or spelling – be prepared to coach them phonics until they master both reading and spelling skills.

The latest research on reading and spelling skills emphasises the importance of teaching phonics away from text as well as in text. Wikipedia has an extensive discussion on the importance of synthetic phonics if you want more information. The Australian Government has also concluded phonics training for children is crucial for learning to spell and read well. On 30 November 2004 a National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy recommended the importance of teaching systematic, explicit phonics within an integrated approach. They further state that the direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read, even when they don’t experience reading difficulties.

Wikipedia defines reading as a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols in order to construct or derive meaning (reading comprehension). There is a lot of information on the web about the whole language versus phonics debate when teaching your child reading and spelling, but actually phonics and the whole language approach are complementary.

Is your child a confident or a struggling reader? Watch how they approach an unknown word. A difficulty with the whole language approach is that children are taught, when attempting to read an unknown word, to read the rest of the sentence, then go back and take an educated guess what the word is, using their understanding of the sentence and of phonics or the letter-sound relationships of that word. Struggling readers usually take a guess what the word might be using the sentence meaning, the picture on the page, and the beginning sounds of the word, so often read a word incorrectly. Good readers also scan the whole word and read the middle and end sounds as well.

Is your child a confident speller? With persistence and support children might have mastered enough words to read accurately, but perhaps they still can’t spell well. When I’m assessing a child’s writing skills, I’m looking for their level of keenness and confidence. I ask them to write for five minutes about something. We discuss what that something is, and then I watch how they pick up their pencil; how they sit when they write (are they slumped?); whether they hesitate for a while before they write, or often stop and say that they’re thinking or that they don’t know what to write; whether they write very simple sentences using simple words; whether I can hear their voice in their stories. Usually when a child over the age of seven has a general reluctance to write, and writes simply, they have difficulty with spelling.

Your child needs to know how letters make sounds to read, and how sounds make letters to spell, before they can begin to be competent enough to enjoy reading and writing stories. If you want to help your child learn to read and spell more confidently, check out the phonics resources on the net and check out my phonics-based Weird Word Game I designed many years ago and now have made in New Zealand. It is a fun and competitive reading and spelling game which gives children basic phonics skills to read and spell more easily.

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