The Importance of Phonics Instruction

October 30, 2020

The Importance of Phonics Instruction

Over the past few weeks, there has been a buzz amongst early childhood educators that Lucy Calkins, founder of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) at Columbia University, has changed her stance on the importance of phonics instruction as a part of a balanced reading program.  In the past, Calkins promoted the use of cueing over explicit phonics (associating letters and sounds) and phonemic awareness (identifying and manipulating sounds in words) instruction.  Cueing refers to the practice of teaching emergent readers to use other sources of information to figure out an unknown word instead of sounding it out.  For example, readers could look at the context or syntax of a sentence or use the pictures in a book to help figure out what word would make sense.  One of the challenges with relying on cueing alone is that it can lead students to resort to guessing.  Now, Calkins is suggesting that cueing should only be used after a reader has tried to sound out the word which means that reading programs need to prioritize phonics and phonemic awareness.  

The change from an emphasis on cueing to a phonics-centric approach has resulted in a reevaluation of the reading programs of many early childhood schools.   However, at Neighborhood Lit, phonics and phonemic awareness instruction has already been a part of our balanced reading instruction program.  For example, some of the ways we help our Pre-K students learn the letter-sound relationship of each letter in the alphabet is by using manipulatives such as magnetic letters and letter sticks to play games like alphabet BINGO, fishing for letters and musical chairs.  In addition, we teach phonemic awareness through hands-on activities such as rhyming, clapping syllables and invented spelling.  While we ensure that the students at Neighborhood Lit have a strong foundation in phonics and phonemic awareness, we also stress the importance of oral and written language as well as the development of and appreciation for the literate world around them.  As children age and develop into better readers, we build upon their reading foundation by exposing them to higher level word attack strategies such as blending and spelling patterns. 

It is refreshing to know that the TCRWP is now confirming what we at Neighborhood Lit have already known:  phonics and phonemic awareness is an essential part of our balanced approach to teaching reading.  For more information on this topic, please visit https://www.apmreports.org/story/2020/10/16/influential-literacy-expert-lucy-calkins-is-changing-her-views or http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teaching_now/2020/10/lucy_calkins_says_balanced_literacy_needs_rebalancing.html.


Any questions?  Please email us at Janice@Neighborhoodlit.com.  Taylor Burke is a teacher and Director of Communications at Neighborhood Lit. and works closely with Janice Migliazza, a Reading Specialist and owner of Neighborhood Lit, Route 34, Colts Neck to bring you this information.