The majority of English speakers today think that phonics means that each consonant letter in the alphabet represents one sound, and that each vowel letter represents two sounds (the vowel’s long and short sounds). These misconceptions hobble the power of teaching with a phonics method. People undertaking the task of teaching others to read would benefit from a more complete definition of phonics, as follows:
Phonics is a method of teaching reading and spelling by explicitly teaching:
- 46 phonemes to cover all the sounds of the English language
- 89 phonograms to cover all the single-letter and multi-letter graphemes that can be used to represent the sounds of English in print
- 30 rules to guide the encoding and decoding of English words (for a complete list of rules, refer to the book titled, “Uncovering the Logic of English”)
For best success, these 165 things should be taught through frequent and enjoyable instruction.
Educator Linda Schrock Taylor explains the impact of this short list in the article here where she writes, “When I first meet a remedial reading class, whether at the elementary, high school, or college level, I begin by offering them a choice. I explain that they can either learn to read using the ‘I Haven’t Had That Word Yet’ method, which means that they will have to be taught, and memorize, around 250,000 words to be an exceptional reader; or… they can learn: 26 ABC’s, 29 Rules, and 70 [Phonogram] Spellings for 44 Sounds. They always choose the second method, especially since they have a head start in that they usually know those ABC’s.”
(You may notice Taylor’s list of “26 ABC’s, 29 Rules, and 70 [Phonogram] Spellings for 44 Sounds” differs from mine. The differences are that my list places the ABC’s within the 89 phonograms, has 1 more rule and 2 more sounds. Variations in phoneme and phonogram counts are common among different reading programs and linguistic experts. However, for those who count phonemes, phonograms and rules to be the cornerstones of literacy, these variations are minimal and of little concern.)