3 Ed Leader Recommendations for Building Phonics Instruction

The process of learning to read is like climbing a ladder with incremental rungs to conquer, or scaling a mountain with several peaks and a summit. It’s best described through metaphorical examples. In the new Curriculum Associates publication What Really Matters in Teaching Phonics Today: Laying a Foundation for Reading, researcher, author and Professor Emeritus of Literacy Studies at UNC Chapel Hill Dr. Jim Cunningham explores the foundational reading skills that must be solidly developed in order for the “building” of reading and writing to be strong. He highlights why it is important to see phonics as a foundation and what really matters in phonics instruction: best practices, engagement and time management.

While supporting phonics in the classroom of today, Cunningham acknowledges the lessons learned since the early 2000s and the importance of balancing phonics instruction as part of a broader reading and writing program. He also highlights the opportunity to incorporate phonics into blended learning lessons.

Educators can have confidence in knowing research supports phonics as a critical component of elementary literacy instruction, but here are three recommendations for how to approach phonics instruction right now in classrooms:

1) Prepare teachers and school leaders to improve the phonics instruction As with anything, improvement takes innovation and dedication. It is critical that teachers and school leaders become actively involved in learning best practices in phonics instruction and assessment. Instructionally, the best phonics approaches are both engaging to students and take anywhere from 20-35 minutes per day, depending on the integration of handwriting, spelling and word recognition into the phonics instruction. Dr. Cunningham references online adaptive diagnostic assessments as great tools to assist in targeting instruction to areas of highest need of the student population.

2) Provide teachers and schools with reality therapy – The reality is that the status quo in literacy instruction has to be challenged, and time is more critical than ever in early education. Time must be allotted for phonics, reading, writing and meaning vocabulary. While phonics is necessary, it is not sufficient on its own and must be taught in a way that allows proper time for other language arts components.

3) Conduct an evaluative inventory of the texts available in K-2 – Supplemental text materials help students apply the skills and abilities they are working to acquire. By having school leadership create an inventory of books and instructional materials in the school, educators can be informed of what texts they have access to, and what the need may be for new or updated materials. It is important that the school has materials in alignment with the instruction given.

Today, phonics is being embraced as perhaps the most important of the reading literacy foundations, and Dr. Cunningham’s recommendations support the forward momentum that must be created in strategically managing phonics instruction and its role in K-2 education. School leaders will need to challenge the status quo and strive for instructional improvement, time management and material evaluation, because ultimately, phonics instruction goes hand in hand with “building” successful readers and writers.

Get a copy of Dr. Cunnignham’s most recent whitepaper, What Really Matters in Teaching Phonics Today: Laying a Foundation for Reading.

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Jessica Slusser

Jessica is the Senior Director of Impact at Getting Smart. She leads business development and growth of advocacy campaigns, advisory services, product development, marketing, and Getting Smart's blog. As part of her role, Jessica also oversees team events, conferences, and speaking engagements.

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