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What is Intensive Phonics?

January 21, 2018

A few people may wonder why I made the move from teaching high school English and Theatre Arts to teaching reading recovery in the elementary grades. Here is why.

When a child says, “I don’t know that word” he has obviously not been properly taught to read using phonics. Further, if there is not automaticity in decoding a word, how can one really think about the content that is being read? As a high school, English and theatre arts teacher I heard “I don’t know that word” so many times, and it always made me cringe.

If direct instruction in phonics has taken place early in the school years, reading any word should be nearly subconscious because all of the sounds of each phonogram are taught early and simultaneously. For example, the phonogram “A” has three sounds: as in “cat,” “bake” and “wasp.” All of these are taught from the beginning; the brain can easily store these in the same location for easy retrieval.

Strategies to guess at the word would not be needed. Not only does this speed up the decoding, but as a bonus, it frees up the brain to think about the meaning of the text. We need more thinkers, don’t we?

The English language has more than 500,000 words! Learning to read word by word is really impossible in that context. But English has only forty-five sounds written in seventy basic letter groups or phonograms. The one thousand most frequently used words can be sounded out with these seventy basic phonograms.

Further, combined with twenty-eight spelling rules and a few additional advanced phonograms the logic of English can be directly taught over time to preschool and early elementary-age students. This method, which focuses on simultaneous multi-sensory learning of the phonograms without pictures or gimmicks, has been used in the past successfully but is no longer in fashion in public education. Too often, only if a child has been failing in reading for years and tested to be dyslexic can he or she be taught using this proven method. I believe all children are deserving of the best we have to offer in reading instruction. What could be more important?

The most recently published versions of this method are known as Orton-Gillingham, Spalding, Spell to Write and Read, The Logic of English, and All About Reading/Spelling.

If all early elementary children were taught this way, almost no child would be in high school looking at a word on the page and saying, “I don’t know that word.”


May 20, 2023

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