Benefits of Systematic Approach to Phonics Instruction for learners with reading deficiencies

To understand what systematic phonics instruction constitutes, one first requires an understanding of what phonics is. In this respect, Mesmer and Griffith (2005) present two scenarios for which the term phonics is employed. The first of these is the use of phonics in reference to letters or symbols used in encoding the spoken components of a language (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005). Secondly, phonics could mean “teaching learners the relationships between letters and sounds, and how to use this system to recognize words” (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p. 367). Both these meanings are relevant to the current study. The second meaning reflects on helping learners understand how letters and sounds are related (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005), since by generating such an understanding students with reading deficiencies could better their word-recognition skills. The first refers to a “system for encoding speech sounds into written symbols” (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p. 366), and such could be important in helping students with reading deficiencies, to focus their attention to an individual-word’s letter composition, which in turn helps them to store information about that words’ spellings for future reference (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005).

English, by being principally an alphabetic code, has more use for phonics than other languages such as Japanese, whose words are encoded using a pictographic base at the syllable level; thus devoid of an alphabetic script (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005). For English, letters are used to express the spoken word in a written form. Therefore, when children are learning English, phonics instruction is critical in unlocking a high percentage of the language’s orthography; a situation that is enhanced by incorporation of various morphological units such as prefixes and suffixes, and Greek or Latin roots of words (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005).

The importance of phonics in facilitating reading is that phonics is a core strategy that readers use to recognize words (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005). Since reading encompasses the recognition of words that leads one to make sense of individual and collective implication of words, hence derive the meaning of a text (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005); phonics plays a critical role in such a process. Ehri and McCormick (1998), and Ehri and Sweet (1991) for instance suggested four strategies readers use for word recognition (as cited in Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p. 367). Firstly, readers may recognize words by predicting i.e. making a likely guess based on the context and linguistic knowledge (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p. 367). Secondly, word-recognition may be through decoding where the reader converts individual letters and patterns thereof, into sounds that one subsequently blends (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p. 367). Thirdly, one could recognize words by making an analogy, via analyzing the word structure according to its composite parts such as morphemes (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p. 367). Finally, readers may recognize words through a recall strategy; a process that involves the retrieval of a word previously encountered from ones memory (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p. 367). Phonics in this respect is suggested to be a critical requirement for the decoding and analogy strategies (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p. 367).

According to Mesmer and Griffith (2005), three main points explain the link between phonics and word recognition. First, phonics principal role in word recognition, just as any other word-recognition tool, is to help the reader acquire the likely pronunciation for a written word (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005). When such likely pronunciation is compared with the words one has in ones store of known spoken words in a particular context, it leads to the reader getting closer to the meaning of the word under consideration (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005). In such a way, and the second point of note, is that phonics is in itself not an end but rather a means that facilitates one to recognize and comprehend the meaning of a word, with reference to the store of known spoken words and the context (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005). Thirdly, as readers become more skilled, sight strategy predominates, thus making phonics more of a transitional strategy (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005). This last point is in accordance with Ehri (1980; 1994) suggestion that readers use prediction, analogy and decoding transitionally, while fusing words’ spellings into memory, which when it occurs, the recognition of words proceeds by sight (as cited in Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p.368).

Phonics thus may serve two purposes in helping readers recognize words. It does not only act as a temporally strategy that readers use for word recognition, but also presents a strategy for beginning readers to focus their attention to an individual-word’s letter composition, which then helps them to store information about that words’ spellings (Mesmer & Griffith, 2005). It is with such a notion that proposals of the stage and the approach that betters results of phonics instruction have arisen. Stahl et al. (1998), for instance propose that “early and systematic emphasis on teaching children to decode words leads to better achievement than a later and more haphazard approach” (as cited in Mesmer & Griffith, 2005, p.368). Go to part 2 here.

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