Research highlights the importance of systematic, explicit phonics instruction to the development of solid reading and spelling skills. But how can you be sure that your beginning reader is getting the phonics foundation she needs?
- Read class newsletters. Teachers of beginning readers typically include information about their approach to teaching reading and specifically to teaching phonics. If your child’s teacher teaches phonics systematically, he may list the specific phonics skills he is teaching.
- Read curriculum materials. Most schools provide detailed information about their beginning reading curriculum. In addition to informing parents that a particular published program is being used, most schools will list specific skills taught in each grade. Look for evidence that phonics skills are being introduced in a specific sequence as part of a comprehensive reading program.
- Look around your child’s classroom. If phonics is being taught in an explicit and systematic way, you are likely to see wall charts, word lists, and children’s work that reflects this focus. For instance, you may see a wall chart with picture clues for the short vowel sounds (short “e” paired with a picture of an elephant, for example), and your child’s Reading Journal may contain lists of words containing “ai” that she is practicing writing.
- Talk with your child’s teacher. Ask her not only if she is teaching phonics, but also ask her to describe how she is teaching phonics. If she approaches phonics instruction systematically, she should be able to describe a specific sequence of phonics instruction as well as techniques and activities she uses.
- Listen to your child read and look at his writing. If you are concerned that he is not making steady progress in phonics, talk with his teacher. Difficulty with phonics is the most common reading problem among beginning readers, and some children benefit from individualized phonics instruction that is more intensive and in-depth than that provided in even the most exemplary classroom.