Spelling – Phonics in context

Some of our teachers recently attended an ALEA workshop on spelling and phonics, lead by esteemed educator, presenter and author, David Hornsby. The actual title of the course was “Morphemes won’t leave phonemes along: the essential role of meaning when teaching phonics” and reinforced our understanding of how critical it is to teaching phonics within the context of the MEANING of words (not just the sounds in a word). What do each of those words mean? Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in a language. Phonemes are the smallest units of sound in a language; they do not carry a meaning. An example of a morpheme: when you see bio in a word, you know that the meaning has something to do with life or living organism. An example of a phoneme: “cat” has 3 phonemes (/k/a/t/).

The English language is full of examples that show clearly you can’t teach phonics without meaning and context.

Look at this list of words; do you know how to pronounce them?

lead                read               tear                live                  wind               bow                dove

If you had a couple of options for each word, you’d be correct. We would need to read the word in the context of a sentence to know which pronunciation was correct.

Eg “I took my dog for a walk today and the lead broke.” OR “I was writing a great story and then the lead in my pencil broke.”

At St John’s, phonics are taught as an important but integrated part of our spelling program within our larger English (or “literacy”) block and are built into the Reading and Writing activities within the class.

You may have read or heard about a plan from the Australian Government to introduce a phonics test in Year 1? We’re hoping it doesn’t. You may be interested in reading David’s thoughts about it here – https://www.davidhornsby.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Aust-Curric-Yr-1-phonics-test.pdf