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Tracy Sherwood
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PHONICS: THE RIGHT WAY & THE WRONG WAY

by Tracy Sherwood

When you hear the term "PHONICS", you probably think it's one method of learning to read. The word "phonic" means 'speech sound'. The common denominator between various teaching methods is that they are all based on sounds, but the focus on sounds vary between phonics methods. Some teaching methods zip the phonics student through the sounds of the alphabet and then jump right into some 180 phonics rules to teach the student basic reading. For many students, this method is too quick and it is extremely difficult to remember the rules. (And then there are the exceptions to the rule to remember.) But the most troubling aspect of this method is the inability to teach the smooth blending of sounds. Other phonics programs attempt to teach the student the alphabet and sounds easily.., and then go right on to putting several sounds together to make words. Unlike the Superphonics Home Program for Babies and Toddlers, blending is expected, not taught. The most deficient phonics programs will teach the alphabet and sounds. Then the program will SHOW a printed word (usually on a card), then the tape or tutor will make the sound of the FIRST letter of that word, and then will SAY the word. Many students become lost after the first sounds, or learn to memorize the word, which is merely "sight reading". The problem here is that if a student comes to word that he has not yet learned or cannot remember, he will not make out the word. It was shocking for me to find out that the only phonics video program I was able to find in my main library taught using this deficient method. Other methods theorize about phonetic learning disabilities, such as audio/visio disorders and such, with a common "solution" being some dangerous drug. I won't even give such theories more discussion in this writing. What about Babies and Toddlers? An intriguing question continued to ride me throughout the last 26 years of tutoring phonics. "What about babies and toddlers, can they be taught phonics?" I observed the following facts: 1. Babies are able to mimic sounds as they grow through infancy. 2. These sounds slowly develop into words throughout the toddler stage. 3. The clarity of the words depend upon how well the sounds are known. 4. Toddlers and young children who do not speak clearly in comparison to their peers, most often have not mastered the basic sounds or have not mastered blending sounds together to clearly form words. The above very simple principles were the seeds to Superphonics for Babies and Toddlers. Those principles, coupled with an expert understanding of traditional phonics, brought these very interesting facts to light: 1. Toddlers and older children who can speak clearly are able to learn to read with the right method. 2. Toddlers who are slow in speech and lack clarity will come to speak clearly with the right method and are easily prepared for further phonics training. 3. Yes, phonics begins with babies. Superphonics was the first to recognize this and is the only program to apply this amazing truth in teaching phonics. Because of this, it is the only program to effectively teach babies and toddlers. Traditional phonics is far superior to sight reading (which is memory rather than an understanding of our language as sounds). With traditional phonics, a child would eventually put the puzzle together. But traditional phonics teaching methods still teach backwards, depriving children of real understanding and is very difficult for many children, let alone a baby. So difficult in fact, that others usually wait until a child is six years old before he is taught the first step-the alphabet (symbols that have no meaning to a six year old). We wouldn't dream of expecting this of a toddler. But phonics means "speech sounds"; phonics does not mean letters. Speech sounds begin with babies. Let them master speech sounds with attention to how they make speech sounds and then later, how sounds blend into the words they use, IN THEIR OWN SPEECH! Then they will understand when we say, "That sound is called B. Now I'm going to show you what B looks like on paper." It's that simple.

copyright Tracy Sherwood 1982, 1996, 1999. All rights reserved.

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