Blending Bliss and Blunders
There are so many DO's and DON'Ts when it comes to blending sounds together to read. The Do's bring a world of Blending Bliss while the DON'Ts bring frustration and Blunders. As educators there is so much research that we need not struggle through the blunders in order to enjoy the bliss of reading instruction. There are many different approaches to phonics instruction 1. synthetic (explicit) phonics 2. Analytic (implicit) phonics 3. Analogy-based phonics. However research has shown that systematic and explicit phonics instruction is more effective than a non-systematic or no phonics approach. Systematic and explicit instruction improves a child's word recognition, spelling, and comprehension.
First, to experience Blending Bliss your instruction must start with phonemic awareness. Phonemic Awareness is a means to an end not an end itself. Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear sounds in words. This is done all auditory without symbols or letters. A child begins his road to reading with using his ears. As a teacher the most important skill of phonemic awareness that we will teach is blending and segmenting sounds in words. This is because these two skills are linked almost directly to reading and writing success. Once a child is able to blend isolated sounds into words with complete accuracy he or she is ready to begin using phonics to decode words.
Keep your Motor Running
As students begin to decode words using their knowledge of letter-sound relationship. It is important to keep the motor running. Imagine for a moment that you are going on a road trip. You have a starting point and a final destination but along the way you stop at every house and stay for a moment. Your trip in lengthened and if you are lucky enough to reach your final destination you may not remember all the stops along the way. This analogy can be used when trying to decode a word. When a child says each sound with long pauses between sounds it is like stopping in the parking lot and waiting with each letter. When the child finally reaches the end of the word there is so much for the small brain to hold he or she does not remember what the first sound was.
Now let's try something different. This time imagine the car driving slowly down the street. The car never really stops and parks but continues to move down the street slowly carefully looking at the homes on the street. This is the analogy I like to have my kids think of when they are reading. "Keep your motor running" I will tell my students as they blend the sounds together. As the child makes each sound he or she holds the sound until they are ready to move onto the next one. This continous sound makes blending the sounds together to decode the word so much easier for the child.
Blend Sounds as you Go
For some children it is difficult to keep their motor running to smoothly read each word. For these students reading becomes more difficult. That brings me to another strategy for blending bliss- blend sounds as you go. If it is too hard to remember all the sounds, or to keep your motor running; try blending the first two sounds, then add the third, and if there is a fourth blend the 3 sounds before adding the last sound. This "blend as you go" will later become chunking when we look at multi-syllabic words. However, this earlier version of the strategy will help students maintain more brain space to focus on decoding the next sound and adding to the chunk they already know.
Check for Understanding
The last strategy for blending bliss is to check for understanding. Even as children begin reading we want to instill in them that reading becomes pointless without comprehension. As a student finishes decoding a word we should ask, "Does that word make sense with the sentence? picture? story? etc." This simple comprehension check is so important for students to self-regulate their own reading. If a child makes a mistake when blending the sounds together a simple checking for understanding can fix the mistake without the teacher having to point it out.
As we teach students to read there are blunders we want to avoid. First, avoid teaching phonics in isolation. Our brains are wired to recognize and use patterns so why not teach children using the most reliable phonics patterns. Teaching students to read CVC, CCVC, CVCC, CVCe, and so forth are important not only to build a systematic and explicit phonics program but also to use the patterns found in our language system. Phonics is one piece of the reading puzzle teachers should also focus on phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.
The second blunder to avoid is treating every word as a sight word. Many of the words we begin sounding out will become sight words because they are seen so frequently (i.e. CAT). However, as teachers we cannot teach every word that every student may see throughout their entire lives. This notion is ridiculous. This is where phonics comes in. We can teach the rules to blending phonics pieces together to read unknown words. As we teach these reading skills students will be able to apply them on their own when they come across any unknow word. Students will then understand the bliss that comes from blending sounds to make words.