Parker Phonics

Author and educator Stephen Parker has written three books on teaching your child to read using his “Synthetic Phonics” system, and has made all three freely available on his website in PDF ebook format. Here’s what he has to say about his background and the techniques he uses to teach children to read:

I’m a life-long teacher of mathematics, computer science, and reading. After teaching my own 3 children to read by their third birthdays, I became interested in reading instruction in general. What I discovered in many schools baffled me: a method called Whole Language (since discredited) and now, in its place, Balanced Literacy.

There is no “balance” in Balanced Literacy. Essentially, it’s Whole Language with some ineffective phonics added in after the child starts “reading” based on memorized sight words. Balanced Literacy will not alter the scandalous fact that 2 out of 3 of our children never become proficient readers. 

A word can become meaningless when people start using it to indicate anything they want. This has happened to the word “phonics” in some educational circles where one hears talk of “analytic” phonics, “analogy” phonics, “embedded” phonics, and “onset-and-rime” phonics. 

None of the above are methods for teaching reading. They all rely heavily upon memorization of sight words and on guessing strategies. Genuine phonics, that is to say, synthetic phonics, is the only type of phonics that functions as a stand-alone method for teaching both reading and spelling.

Synthetic phonics uses neither sight words nor guessing strategies. It is employed right at the start of reading instruction – and the child is not expected to memorize any whole words. Instead, the child is taught, explicitly, to correlate individual sounds with individual letters. 

As soon as 5 – 8 such letter/sound correspondences are mastered, the child can begin authentic reading, that is, taking an unknown word and blending the sounds of its individual letters into a recognizable pronunciation – a process called decoding. 

It’s the only way to teach reading in a manner that respects the reasoning ability of the child. Children, like adults, need to understand what they’re being asked to do, especially if the task requires significant effort over an extended period of time. 

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