ERIC Identifier: ED372375
Publication Date: 1994-00-00
Author: Weaver, Constance
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Phonics in Whole Language Classrooms. ERIC Digest.
This digest discusses some of the ways children develop functional phonics
knowledge in the context of authentic reading and writing, as well as some of
the ways teachers can foster such development.
CHILDREN DEVELOP PHONICS KNOWLEDGE:
* "By having familiar
and favorite stories (poems, rhymes, etc.) read to them again and again, during
a shared reading experience wherein they can see the text and see the teacher
point to words as they are spoken. (Holdaway, 1979)." This process facilitates
the learning of words and of letter/sound patterns, as well as an understanding
of print and how it is read in English.
* "By discussing letter/sound relationships in the context of authentic
reading selections." Teachers can facilitate such discussion within the shared
reading experience, using big books or charts that all the children can see.
Alphabet books also invite the discussion of letter/sound relationships.
* "By engaging in a limited number of activities reinforcing letter/sound
relationships, as an outgrowth of the shared reading experience." For example,
children might make charts of words exhibiting letter/sound patterns of
particular interest to them. After two or more charts have been compiled,
children could make related graphs comparing appropriate data (Whitin et al,
* "By learning to use letter/sound cues along with prior knowledge and
context." For example, proficient readers seem unconsciously to use initial
letters plus prior knowledge and context to predict what a word might be, before
focusing on more of the word or the following context to confirm or correct.
This strategy seems to come naturally for many children, but others may need
instructional assistance in first using the strategy consciously.
* "By rereading favorite stories, songs, and poems, independently or with a
peer." This independent practice contributes greatly to solidifying children's
growing understanding of print. The rereading is facilitated if children have
individual copies of the text, and if they can listen to a tape recording of the
text as they read. It's especially helpful if the tape recording is
appropriately paced (Carbo, 1989).
* "By observing and participating as the teacher demonstrates letter/sound
relationships while writing." For example, the teacher may model his/her writing
process, lead the children in guided writing, and/or write something from the
* "By writing independently, constructing their own spellings as best they
are able." Of course, primary grade children should be writing in whatever way
they can, whether it be scribble writing, random letters and symbols, or letters
that at least begin to be decipherable as words. But when they can use letters
to represent sounds, they begin to promote their own phonics development through
writing (Temple et al, 1993).
* "By developing their own strategies for learning letter/sound patterns."
The story of Jevon in "Jevon Doesn't Sit at the Back Anymore" (White, 1990)
beautifully illustrates how children may develop their own strategies that
teachers are not always aware of. During Jevon's second year in her
kindergarten, White noticed that Jevon was learning letter/sound relationships
by observing the spellings of his classmates' names, which were written on the
message board and sign-up sheets, as well as on the papers they wrote. White
reports that "Long before Jevon connected sounds and symbols in inventive
spelling, names made their way into his written communication" (1990, 18-19).
WAYS TEACHERS CAN HELP CHILDREN DEVELOP PHONICS
1. "First, have faith in children as learners." They can and
usually will develop a grasp of letter/sound relationships with little direct
instruction, just as they learned to talk without direct instruction in the
rules of the English language. Also, don't assume that because children cannot
do worksheets on particular phonics elements that they cannot read words with
those same patterns (e.g. the example from Watson and Crowley, 1988, 263-265).
2. "Discuss interesting patterns of onsets and rimes, in the context of
shared reading experiences." Among the stories, poems, rhymes, and songs chosen
to share with children should be some that emphasize alliteration and rhyme. One
of the best ways to generate children's interest in the sound elements of a
selection may be to ask simply "What do you notice about this poem?" or, more
specifically, "What do you notice about the sound in this poem?" (Mills et al,
1992). Though children may notice different sound elements than the teacher
anticipated, this procedure gives children ownership over their own learning. Of
course much of the poetry that rhymes is humorous poetry--one thinks, for
example, of Shel Silverstein's poetry or Jack Prelutsky's, though humorous
poetry should comprise only a modest proportion of the poetry to which children
are introduced. One book particularly rich in poems with alliteration, rhyme,
and onomatopoeia is "Noisy Poems," collected by Jill Bennett (Oxford University
Press, 1987). A cumulative book with wonderfully alliterative and onomatompoetic
verbs is "Deep Down Underground," by Olivier Dunrea (Macmillan, 1989).
3. "As an outgrowth of the shared reading experience, engage children in,
and/or allow for, a limited number of activities that reinforce their natural
learning of letter/sound relationships and patterns." Mathematically-related
ideas can involve the making of charts that list words with particular sound
patterns, and graphs based upon the charts (for example, you might chart all the
"sl-" and "sp-" and "st-" words in several poems, then make a class graph
showing the relative frequency of the words in each list (see Whitin et al,
1990). Children may especially enjoy collaborating in such activities--and in
creating their own alphabet books, too. In "Looking Closely: Exploring the Role
of Phonics in One Whole Language Classroom (Mills et al, 1992)," we see various
phonics-enhancing activities that can stem from and enhance enjoyment of
literature, as well as activities involving children's names.
4. "Emphasize the use of letter/sound cues along with prior knowledge and
context." Teachers can do this, such as: (1) by modeling how they themselves use
meaning (and grammar) along with initial letters to predict what a word might
be; (2) by repeatedly encouraging children to think "what would make sense here"
before trying to sound out a word, (3) by engaging together in oral cloze
activities based on their shared readings ("What would fit in this sentence, 'I
put c------ in the soup?'") and (4) by discussing, in literature discussion
groups, how various children dealt with problem words. It is critical to help
children develop and use letter/sound knowledge in the context of constructing
meaning from texts.
5. "Foster the acquisition of phonics knowledge indirectly, through various
pointing to words during shared reading experiences with big books, charts, etc.
providing small, multiple copies of many selections, so that children can easily
reread favorite stories, songs, and poems
providing tapes of many selections for children to listen to, as they follow
along with the written text
attending to letter/sound patterns while modeling the writing process, engaging
children in guided writing, and writing down what children have dictated
encouraging children to write as best they can, and by helping them to develop
phonemic awareness and phonics knowledge through invented spelling (see Freppon
& Dahl, 1991)
encouraging children to experiment with print and solidify their understanding
of letter/sound patterns in a variety of self-chosen ways.
6. "Be alert for children's idiosyncratic ways of developing phonics
knowledge, and support those." Jevon's learning of letter/sound relationships
through his classmates' names is but one example (White, 1990).
7. "By providing additional materials and help for individual children, as
appropriate." For instance, children who seem readily to grasp the concept of
letter/sound relationships might especially benefit from Dr. Seuss books that
reinforce letter/sound patterns--and other children would enjoy and benefit from
such books too. Children who are exceptionally slow in grasping letter/sound
relationships may benefit from tutorial assistance, such as that offered in
Marie Clay's Reading Recovery Program.
Carbo, M. (1989). How to Record Books for
Maximum Reading Gains. National Reading Styles Institute, P.O. Box 39, Roslyn
Heights, NY 11577.
Freppon, P.A. & Dahl, K.L. (1991). "Learning about Phonics in a Whole
Language Classroom." Language Arts, 68(3), 190-97. [EJ 422 590]
Holdaway, D. (1979). The Foundations of Literacy. Sydney: Ashton Scholastic
(available from Heinemann in the U.S.). [ED 263 540]
Mills, H. et al (1992). Looking Closely: Exploring the Role of Phonics in One
Whole Language Classroom. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
[ED 341 955]
Temple, C. et al (1993). The Beginnings of Writing. Third Edition. Boston:
Allyn & Bacon.
Watson, D. & Crowley, P. (1988) "How Can We Implement a Whole-Language
Approach?" In C. Weaver, Reading Process and Practice: From
Socio-Psycholinguistics to Whole Language (232-79). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
[ED 286 157]
White, C. (1990). Jevon Doesn't Sit at the Back Anymore. Richmond Hill,
Whitin, D.J. et al (1990). Living and Learning Mathematics: Stories and
Strategies for Supporting Mathematical Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.