Investigating the Status and Perceived Importance of Explicit Phonic Instruction in Elementary Classrooms
Shaffer, Gary L., Campbell, Patricia, Rakes, Sondra, Reading Improvement
Two hundred eight (N=208) inservice, practicing elementary school teachers were surveyed regarding their collective perceptions of integrated phonics instruction at several levels. Specific questions investigated were: (1) how important should phonic instruction be in elementary classrooms in order to produce independent readers, (2) to what extent is phonic instruction integrated into and implemented in current elementary classrooms, (3) how well are children prepared to participate in direct phonic, phonemic awareness, instruction in third- and fourth-grade classrooms, (4) how well prepared are elementary teachers for presenting phonic instruction in their classrooms, and (5) is there a difference in elementary teachers' perceptions toward the importance of phonics, its implementation, their perception of pupil mastery, and their own preparation in the discipline? Analysis of the data gathered revealed most surveyed teachers believe: (1) instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness is a necessary and important element to learning to read; (2) it is moderately present and developed in their instructional curriculum; (3) that while children moving into third- and fourth-grade are moderately prepared in the use of phonics and phonemic awareness, more needs to be done in this area; and (4) they, the teachers, are in need of more preservice and inservice experiences in the delivery of instruction in this area.
As children learn to read, they must learn to "break the code" (Tompkins (1997). Phonemic awareness, the conscious understanding that a word is composed of a series of sounds, is the child's foundation skill in word analysis (Yopp, 1992). After an exhaustive review, Adams (1990) recommends that the initial teaching of phonics should be explicit; i.e., children should be taught to work directly with sounds and corresponding letters. This recommendation for explicit instruction in phonics is substantiated by Heilman, Blair, & Rupley (1998). Further, Mason (1980) concluded that poor readers required direct instruction in phonics if they were to grasp the skills necessary for successful independent reading. This conclusion trumpeting the utility of phonics and phonemic awareness was also supported by Ehri (1991) who concluded that children needed precise instruction in phonics if they were to move sequentially through the alphabetic levels of word learning. Many of these recommendations of the 1980s and 1990s for phonic instruction were lost, or were not implemented, in school level programs as teachers attempted to implement whole language reading instruction. Heilman et al (1998) concluded that many teachers considered phonics to be an "enemy" of effective instruction and reading for meaning. If the conclusions of these writers are accurate and phonics is viewed as an enemy by teachers, to what degree will phonics instruction be incorporated into their curricula? Will phonics and phonemic awareness be viewed as important and stressed in classrooms?
Teachers may have received mixed messages as to the relative importance of direct instruction in phonics as a result of having read various reading texts and their participation in reading education classes. Even though recent texts stress instruction in phonemic awareness (McCormick, 1999), teachers may not be aware of this "re-emphasis" by the profession. Therefore, this study polled teachers' perceptions of integrated phonic instruction at several levels: (1) how important should phonic instruction be in elementary classrooms in order to produce independent readers, (2) to what extent is phonic instruction integrated into or implemented in current elementary classrooms, (3) how well are children prepared to participate in direct phonic, phonemic awareness, instruction in third- and fourth-grade classrooms, and (4) how well prepared are elementary teachers for presenting phonic instruction in their classrooms? Finally, (5) is there a difference in elementary teachers' perceptions toward the importance of phonics, its implementation, their perception of pupil mastery, and their own preparation in the discipline?
This study surveyed a sample of teachers in cooperating public schools in three different areas of the southeastern United States: Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi. Teachers from the researchers' graduate classes agreed to disseminate especially prepared Skill Surveys to peers in their respective schools for completion and collection. In all, a total of 208 teachers voluntarily responded and completed a form of the Skills Survey. Demographic data indicated that a large majority of the teachers were female. Most to the teachers held a Bachelors' degree (N=l16) while 71 held a Masters' degree, and the remaining held other advanced degrees. A large preponderance of the teachers reported having 8 or more years of teaching experience (N=105). Only 42 teachers reported that they were in the first or second year of teaching. The remaining teachers reported teaching longevity ranging from 3 to 7 years. Several teachers did not respond to the request for degrees or teaching tenure.
In order to investigate teachers' perceptions regarding phonemic principles and the instructional role of phonics in the elementary school curriculum, an especially designed questionnaire was prepared by the researchers. Statements of phonic principles, statements of a teacher's curricular responsibilities, or statements regarding phonemic awareness were drawn from three current textbooks (Heilman, Blair, & Rupley, 1998; McCormick, 1999; Tompkins, 1997). In all, 27 statements were selected for inclusion in the instrument (see figure 1 for a complete copy of the inventory). Since the purpose of the instrument was to ascertain generalized perceptions of a discipline area and not responses concerning the utility or agreement with individual rules and applications, the instrument was constructed to contain both broad statements of principle (18. know the high utility phonic generalizations that predict the pronunciation of consonants and vowels) and very direct statements of instructional application (9. know that a word or syllable ending in a vowel (e.g., me) may have the long vowel sound). Therefore, the instrument is redundant in part with overlapping statements sampling fewer than 27 concepts. The authors believed that this procedure would reveal a generalized reaction to this vital word analysis area by requiring thoughtful responses to diversely stated principles or instructional patterns.
Items on the Skills Survey
1. recognize that a word is composed of a series of speech sounds.
2. be able to isolate a sound in a word.
3. be able to blend individual sounds to form a word.
4. be able to substitute sounds in words to produce new words.
5. be able to match sounds to letters.
6. recognize that most consonants typically have a consistent, regular sound.
7. recognize that some consonants have multiple sounds.
8. recognize that a short word or syllable ending in a consonant could have a short vowel sound.
9. know that a word or syllable ending in a vowel (e.g., me) may have the long vowel sound.
10. recognize that in a word ending with a final e (e.g., fate) the e is silent and the other vowel is long.
11. recognize that a vowel followed by the letter r is a new sound that is not long or short.
12. recognize that not all consonants are pronounced in some words.
13. recognize and identify onsets.
14. recognize and identify common rimes.
15. be able to use an analogy strategy to produce "new" words using onsets and rimes.
16. understand the alphabetic principle of the English alphabet.
17. know phoneme/grapheme correspondence.
18. know the high utility phonic generalizations that predict the pronunciation of consonants and vowels.
19. be able to apply the special vowel principles to produce the complex vowel sounds of the diphthongs.
20. recognize words that have the spelling patterns of regular vowel digraphs.
21. be able to use consonant substitution to build words from common phonograms.
22. be taught phonemic awareness.
23. know that when the letter c is followed by e, i, or y, it usually has the sound of the "hissing" s as in sea.
24. know that when the letter g is followed by o, a, or u, it usually has the sound of g as in gun.
25. know that in a word that has the spelling pattern, CVC, the vowel is likely to be short (e.g., hat).
26. know that when two consonant letters commonly appear together and each retains some of its own sound in pronunciation, a blend has been produced e.g., bread, smear).
27. know that in words beginning with kn or wr the first letter is usually silent as in knee and write.
Four different versions of the questionnaire were prepared by the researchers to determine teachers' perceptions as to the extent that phonics should be implemented, how important are the phonic principles in producing independent readers, how successful the curriculum is in preparing pupils to use phonics skills, and how well prepared are teachers for implementing phonics instruction. Each form, using the same identical questions, varied only in the directions presented to the teachers. The four sets of directions, consequently the four groups for study, are as follows:
1. If children are to become independent and proficient readers, how important is it for them to know or understand each of the following language/skill concepts?
2. To what extent are the following skills implemented in the reading curriculum in grades K-3 in your school? Please generalize across all the teachers/rooms in your school. Do not evaluate one specific class.
3. When you receive pupils into your third or fourth grade classrooms, how prepared are they in the following skills? Please generalize across all your children. Do not evaluate specific children.
4. How effectively did your teacher preparation program prepare you for teaching the following skills and principles to your primary aged pupils? Please use your undergraduate program as the baseline for making your decisions.
Teachers were asked to read each item and respond on a Likert scale ranging from 7 to 1. Since each survey differed in intent in the data it was to gather, slightly different verbal markers were used on each form. The verbal guides to the Likert numbers were as follows:
For survey #1 above (To be successful as readers, children should:) very moderately not very important useful important 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 For survey #2 above (In our reading program, children are taught to:) - - well moderately not developed developed developed 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 For survey #3 above (In our reading program, children:) well moderately not prepared prepared prepared 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 For survey #4 above (My preparation recommended that pupils be taught:) well moderately not prepared prepared prepared 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Surveys were distributed in elementary schools by contact teachers who agreed to assist the researchers in gathering data. Forms were randomly assigned to teachers with the exception of survey #3; it was delivered only to third- and fourth-grade teachers. However, third- and fourth-grade teachers could also fill out any other form as well.
The teachers' responses to the surveys were tabulated so that mean scores representing the Likert responses could be investigated. Every surveyed question had a range of 6 and receded scores from 7 through 1. Some interesting observations were revealed when the completed surveys are considered as a group. Every possible response to every question surveyed was marked by at least one respondent. Every question surveyed was completely endorsed by some respondents while some other respondents completely rejected that same question. In other words, every question surveyed received at least some marking of "7" and every question surveyed received at least some markings of "1." Phonic principles, applications, or generalizations are seen as absolutely essential by some teachers and as without merit by other teachers. Teachers are still divided as to the importance of the phonics or phonemic awareness and its contribution to successful independent reading.
Question 1 asked, "how important should phonic instruction be in primary classrooms in order to produce independent readers?" Data from form 1 of the Survey were used to address this question. Fifty-one teachers responded on this form of the Survey. Teachers reported a mean Likert score of 6.0 with standard deviation of 0.8. Surveyed teachers perceived phonic instruction to be "very important" and were consistent in this generalization across the profession as signaled by the restricted standard deviation. Most elementary teachers surveyed perceive the selected phonic principles as having important instructional value for their classrooms.
Question 2 asked, "to what extent is phonic instruction integrated into and implemented in current primary classrooms?" Forty-nine teachers responded to this form of the Survey. Data from form 2 of the Survey were used to answer this question. Analysis revealed a mean Likert score of 5.5 with a standard deviation of 1.2. This mean Likert score translated into the verbal label would be "moderately developed? The range of acceptance would be from "well developed" to "moderately developed." Surveyed teachers report that the chosen principles are present and implemented in the curriculum of their respective elementary schools.
Question 3, "how well are primary children prepared to participate in direct phonic, phonemic awareness, instruction in third- and fourth-grade classrooms?" was investigated by analyzing reposed Likert scores from 59 third- and fourth-grade teachers. This analysis produced the lowest Likert mean score, 4.4 with a standard deviation of 1.2. Surveyed teachers perceived children moving into third- and fourth-grade as being only "moderately prepared" to handle the phonic rules necessary for independent reading. The standard deviation indicated that many teachers perceived the pupils as "not prepared" for this skill usage even after several years of instruction.
Question 4, "how well prepared are elementary teachers for presenting phonic instruction in their classrooms?" was investigated by analysis of the data from form 4 of the Survey.
Teachers self-reported that they were only "moderately prepared" by their undergraduate reading courses to handle the instructional demands of teaching phonics and phonemic awareness. Their mean Likert response was 4.5 with a standard deviation of 1.7. In all, 49 teachers responded to this form of the Survey. The results indicate that teachers may want more pre-service instruction in phonics in order to feel more prepared in this instructional area.
Question 5, "is there a difference in teachers' perceptions toward the importance of phonics, its implementation, their perception of student mastery, and their own preparation in the discipline?" was able to be investigated since four different groups of teachers responded to the variant forms of the Survey.
Mean Likert scores from the four forms of the Survey were compared by a one-way analysis of variance. As can be seen in Table 1, significant differences among the four groups (F = 20.0, df = 3, 204, p = .0001) were recorded. While each of the four Surveys measured reactions to essentially the same phonic principles and generalizations, teachers perceived them differently. The highest mean, 6.0. was recorded by teachers when reacting to the importance of the principles for producing independent readers. The lowest perceived mean, 4.4, was recorded by teachers when evaluating the mastery of the skills and principles by pupils moving into third- and fourth-grade situations. When evaluating their own undergraduate preparation, in regard to learning the phonemic principles and skills, the teachers recorded a Likert mean of 4.5. Teachers perceived the skills as being implemented with a recorded mean of 5.5.
Table 1 Comparisons among teachers' perceptions on the four form of the survey Source DF Sum Sqs Mean Sq F p Between Groups 3 93.9 31.1 20.0 =.0001 Within Groups 204 320.0 1.6 Group count mean sd Important 51 6.0 0.8 Implemented 49 5.5 1.2 Prepared 3rd-4th pupils 59 4.4 1.2 Prepared Undergrad 49 4.5 1.7 Scheffe Comparisons at the .05 level Comparison Mean Diff Scheffe F-test Implemented vs teacher preparedness 1.0 4.8 Implemented vs pupil preparedness 1.1 6.7 Teacher preparedness vs importance -1.5 11.6 Importance vs pupil preparedness 1.6 14.9
Scheffe comparisons, Table 1, indicated there were four simple comparisons that were significant at the .05 level. First, between the Implemented and Prepared at Undergraduate level there was a 1.0 mean difference. Teachers viewed the extent of Implementation as higher than their own competence to deliver such instruction as reflected by their Preparation perceptions.
Second, there was a mean difference of 1.1 between the extent of implementation and third- and fourth-grade pupil Preparedness. The data suggest that the skills are stressed by teachers but not learned by the pupils. The third significant Scheffe comparison was found between the teachers' perceptions of their Undergraduate Preparedness and the perceived importance of the phonic skills for independent reading. A mean difference of -1.5 was found between these two groups. Teachers perceived the phonic skills as very important for producing independent readers, but their own initial teacher training on the skills and principles as less developed than desired. Finally, there was a mean difference of 1.6 between the perceptions of importance in the reading curriculum and the teachers' perceptions of the actual Preparedness of the third- and fourth-grade pupils to use the skills. Teachers rated and perceived the skills and principles higher than they viewed the children's mastery of the skills.
While some few teachers still view phonics as the "enemy" as suggested by Heilman, Blair, & Rupley (1998) they are clearly in the minority; surveyed teachers typically view phonics as a necessary and important element leading to effective independent reading behaviors in primary aged children. Surveyed teachers appear to agree with Adams (1990), Ehri (1991), and Yopp (1992) as to the advisability of including some phonic or phonemic awareness instruction into their elementary class routines. Is this acceptance by teachers a move toward a more balanced, inclusive curriculum in reading? It does appear that teachers are receptive to the inclusion of phonics principles into their more general reading programs.
Teachers tend to be perceptive of their needs. Uniformly, teachers surveyed appeared to demand more attention for the perceived important aspect of phonics. Teachers who participated in this survey seem to want more personal professional instruction in phonics in order to increase their own teaching effectiveness and classroom deliver. Since surveyed teachers seem to view children entering the third- and fourth-grades as underprepared in phonics principles, they appear to be asking for more aggressive, explicit, phonic instructional programs for their classrooms. Should teacher educators and inservice providers respond to the perceived demand and include more phonics in their professional offerings? The authors agree that this demand for more instruction is one of the more important findings of the study. The more options children have, the more independent they can become as readers.
The question remains, however, will teacher educators and inservice providers respond to this demand, or will these service providers remain wedded to other routines which downplay the importance of phonics and phonemic awareness? Will lead teachers, principals, and curriculum coordinators respond and provide the leadership in the area? These school change agents have the power to move their schools toward more inclusive programs that includes explicit, direct instruction in phonic principles as requested by the classroom teachers. Teachers appear to want children to have as many reading tools as possible. Clearly teachers want children to be prepared in phonic or phonemic awareness principles but whether, or not, that will happen is a question which remains open and unanswered at this time.
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Heilman, W. H., Blair, T. R. Rupley, W. H. (1998). Principles and practices of teaching reading (9th ed). Columbus, OH. Merrill.
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GARY L. SHAFFER State University of West Georgia PATRICIA CAMPBELL East Carolina University SONDRA RAKES Delta State University…
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Publication information: Article title: Investigating the Status and Perceived Importance of Explicit Phonic Instruction in Elementary Classrooms. Contributors: Shaffer, Gary L. - Author, Campbell, Patricia - Author, Rakes, Sondra - Author. Journal title: Reading Improvement. Volume: 37. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 2000. Page number: 110. © 2009 Project Innovation (Alabama). COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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