The term “Synthetic Phonics” gained popularity with the publication of a study done by Rhona Johnston and Joyce Watson of St. Andrew’s University in Clackmannanshire, Scotland in 1998. Johnston and Watson demonstrated that students who were taught to read using Phonemic methods resulted in better life long readers. The outcomes of this particular study has been replicated in numerous other studies world-wide. In fact, in 2000 the National Reading Panel concluded that “systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read.”
Other methods used to teach reading include the context support method, the language experience method, and the whole language method. Unfortunately, each of these reading strategies depend heavily upon rote memorization. The children memorize words or sentences by use of flashcards, personalized books, or published books of interest. Although these programs give the appearance of reading, the child is simply reciting. When introduced to a new word or sentence, the child is unable to read the material. As a result many of the older students, who have learned to read by these methods, are found to be struggling with reading in later years.
In contrast, Phonics teaches reading and writing by creating and growing a child's ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds in the words he hears spoken everyday. Phonics helps children decode the written language so they can read and not just memorize and recite. Couple phonics instruction with a multisensory approach that appeals to the visual, auditory, and tactile senses and you have a dynamite reading program.
Multisensory phonics builds strong readers by...
1. Creating a strong reading foundation
The Phonemic method, or Phonics, teaches reading and writing by creating and growing a child’s phonemic awareness, his ability to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes. There are 44 phonemes, which are the sounds that we hear in the spoken word, in the English language. These sounds are comprised of the twenty-six individual letters of our alphabet and 18 blends. Students need to learn to recognize that sentences are made up of words; some of which rhyme and some of which start or finish with the same sound and that some words are made of speech sounds that blend together.
In order determine if your student has a good phonemic awareness or has simply been memorizing and reciting, you can give them a ‘nonsense’ spelling test. Ask them to spell words that are made-up, such as ZAM. If your student has a good grasp of their letter sounds, they will be able to sound out each piece. However, if you find that your student is having a difficult time, it may be an indicator that they have been memorizing and not decoding.
2. Helping all students learn to read faster
According to The Dyslexia-SPLED Foundation of West Australia (DSF) phonics is particularly beneficial for students who have or may have a learning disability. However, they go on to explain that all students benefit from learning to read using phonics, stating that students “learn to read and write at a faster rate than they would without phonics”
3. Connecting reading to the senses
Phonics taught with a multisensory approach has become well renowned and widely used because of its proven effectiveness and lasting results. Multisensory teaching, also known as the Orton-Gillingham method, was born out of Dr. Samuel Orton and Dr. Anna Gillingham’s work with special needs students in the 1930s. This teaching style incorporates an appeal to the visual, auditory, and tactile senses. For example, a phonics lesson that utilizes a multisensory approach may have the children writing their letters in sand or whipped cream so that they can ‘feel’ the letters. It may use whole body movements or tapping to create a physical memory to what the students are saying and hearing.
If a teacher can make connections between what the student is seeing (visual), hearing (auditory) and feeling/doing (kinesthetic-tactile), pathways are created that allow for quick and easy retrieval of information for future use.
Although multisensory phonics is extremely beneficial for students with learning disabilities, the whole class will benefit. After all, when we have more senses to connect information, we tend to be able to recall and utilize that information more accurately. By teaching students how to decode the written language, an unknown word will never be a mystery to them. Thus building strong readers for life.