Investigating the Status and Perceived Importance of Explicit Phonic Instruction in Elementary Classrooms

By Shaffer, Gary L.; Campbell, Patricia et al. | Reading Improvement, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

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?

Questions

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? …

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