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Drawbacks of Phonics

Hi everybody, and welcome back to Koodle's Blog. I'm Kat, a teacher and a mum of 4. We have talked about great things with learning phonics and other the benefits that comes with it. You can check out that post here. However not everything is hunky dory, if that was the case then the educational system wouldn't be so...complex. We have talked about a little bit before about the issues with transitioning and slow progression, we will definitely talk about it more here. Yes, learning phonics is just superb but there are drawbacks to this method of teaching. If so, there are a few things we can do to fix them. Let's get in to!

Transitioning from whole word learning to systematic phonics

Before we get into the issue, we must first understand the difference between to the two methods. Whole word learning, also known as rote learning, is a method of learning through memorizing words. This is a standard method of learning with new vocabularies, for instance the children is given 5 to 10 spelling words to copy, cover, write and check. A lot of us and many generations before us did this exercise in schools, I definitely remembered doing this when I was in primary school.

For children who has learned with this method and are transitioning into systematic phonics will definitely think it is tedious to read sound by sound to say the words. But it is important because when you teach the children decoding and encoding new words they will not be able to read compare to children who study phonics. You see, rote learning works well when the children has already memorized the words but if they haven't seen it before then obviously they won't be able to read the word independently. As for children who used phonics will be able to read any words on their own by recognizing the sounds and blending them into words. Whole word learning might be fast but it's not as accurate nor does it promote reading skills.

Phonics is a slow progression

Talking about speed... phonics is a slow process because it takes years of progression as there are thousands of different sounds to cover (more on it below). Of course you can do intensive phonics for your children to catch up but to set a steady foundation you would want to utilize the new sound as much as you can. Practice makes perfect, which means if you want to be 99% accurate with correct sounds with young children it is going to take time. There are many approach into teaching phonics, the common way is to introduce new sound per day with activities within the lessons. By the end of each set of sounds (let's say 6 to 8 sounds), there will be a quick mini assessment for the children to review the sounds.

Personally, the approach I like to use is to spend 2 to 3 days per sound, where on the first day they are introduce to the new sound. On the second day the kids will utilize the sound through recognition only and on the third day is recall only. The fourth day they get use the new sound with other sounds that they have learnt and finally the fifth day the children will review all the sounds again. With this method, the children will be more confident in using the sound. In my experience, this method works very well for my toddler classes because there are more time to absorb in the new sound. And with the longer repetition time it can boost recognition and recall.

Children get left behind

Let's have a look at the 1 sound a day method phonics, there will be children who falls through the gap because different teachers had different phonics systematic order. Phonics must be taught in an organised systematic order throughout the children's learning process. It cannot be taught willy nilly, "Oh we'll just do that sounds or maybe this sound"; Phonics does have its own sets of sounds. If you start teaching the kids in whatever order it may be too difficult for them, couldn't recognize the sounds, hard to pronounce, or forgotten the previous sounds they will definitely get left behind and show slow learning progression.

Multiple Alternatives

Another reason why phonics is a slow learning process is because of the numerous alternatives sounds for a particular sound. For example, the sounds /s/ usually correlates with the letter s but there are many other graphemes (letters) that makes the sounds /s/ like s, ss, ce ,ci , cy ,sc and more. Because of this, it can get really confusing for younger children hence teaching in sets, levels, or phases. If you force feed phonics down the children's throat all at once it will be very overwhelming that is why we take time longer time to learn each sound.

Ohhh the irony of the Tricky words!

It is quite hypocritical of me to say children should not to learn whole word learning and focus on learning phonics. But in reality we do learn them along side phonics and it comes in many names such as tricky words, sight words, high frequency words or fry words. It is a silly thing to do, I know. But we all know that when children do learn, it is not possible to stick to just one pure method. A lot of textbooks or reading books that the younger children will encounter has these undecodable words such as "the", "a", "to", "I", "know", "go", and "into". Don't be discourage! Once the children learn all of the multiple alternatives and completed the levels, these sight words will be decodable...basically by Year 2 (8 years old) they will know everything.

How do we solve these issues?


Getting used to the daily routine of learning and recognizing the sounds before they can do decoding and encoding.

Children left behind

It is up to the teachers or parents to choose and commit to one phonics system. Not start a system and found something else trendy and switch. It is a no no people! If you are homeschooling, research on synthetic phonics system available. If you're unsure about something please do contact us with your questions, we can give you more information of step by step process.

Multiple Alternatives

At your own pace, work through the alternatives with your children systematically and stick to it. They might not be able to recognize all of it now but they will as they get older and a become a stronger and independent reader and speller out of it. Don't compare your child to other children who could read words. I mean, how do you know for sure that they could actually read the words or just remembers them?

Sight words

There are about 100 sights words to learn from for the younger age group. The best way to learn these are to use memory games and activities. I know, I'm contradicting everything I've said. I know it is not decoding the words. But these sights words are a very important part of learning how to read. If you're getting all heating up about not being PURE... calm down. Because if learning these sights words are going help the kids to learn how to read sentences, so be it.

So with all these issues with phonics, I one hundred percent still recommend learning phonics and the reason is because it is the best method out there (currently) that works well with the highest results. Of course, it might not be for some people, but the majority are the kids with phonics as their foundation can read and spell independently. Thanks for reading this long post, and we'll see you in the next one!

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