Phonics (Fonix) Can Cause Reading Problems for Kids
January 20th, 2012 by Tony Barlow
I have to say a few words about the current approach being taken by most specialists and school systems i.e. the emphasis on phonics when teaching reading, spelling or attempts to correct reading problems by drilling students in ‘Phonics Rules’ which in my opinion is causing a lot of damage in our educational system.
How do I know this?. Having used a technology called NLP, specifically to help struggling students for over 10 years now, I have noticed the same problems with spelling and reading coming up over and over again.
THE EXISTING PHONICS MODEL
According to the phonological model this is how we read the word ‘CAT’.
1) The reader looks at the word ‘cat’
2) The readers brain parses or segments the word into its underlying phonological elements (known as phonemes). In plain English this means that your brain splits the word into individual sounds for ‘cat’ it would be kuh – aah – tuh
3) Once the word is in its phonological form it can be identified and understood.
In my opinion this model of reading is not only non useful but severely flawed.
Rather than looking at the scientific research on what reading is supposed to be. I have taken a different approach and looked at what good readers actually do INSIDE their mind where no one else seems to have been looking.
WHY THE PHONICS MODEL IS FLAWED
A lot of English words don’t look like they sound so you can’t read them by breaking down the sounds of the letters.
Read the following words – one, two, three, four, five, six.
What did you do?
How did you recognize the word ‘one’ ?
Which actually sounds like ‘wun’, ‘two’ sounds like ‘tu’, ‘three’ pretty much sounds like it looks.
How about ‘four’ sounds like ‘for’ to me.
How did you recognize those words? You saw the word and the sound of the word popped into your head like magic right? That’s what good readers do !. GOOD READERS RECOGNIZE WORDS AS A WHOLE AND YOUR BRAIN DOES NOT BREAK DOWN AND RE ASSEMBLE THE SOUNDS.
AND HERE IS THE PROOF. Read the following at your normal reading speed. Your brain only requires a hint to the general shape of the word, and that’s enough.
I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg: the phaonmneel pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rseearch taem at Nottngiham Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
To become a fluent reader and build up the number of words you can recognize in the fastest way possible, I suggest the following method:
-Find some reading material where you do not recognize around 10 words per paragraph.
-When you come to a word you don’t recognize and you can’t guess from the context or the letters just ask someone what the word is. Someone sitting with you is far faster obviously.
-Then look at the word on the page as a whole, not the individual letters just the general shape of the word.
Method 1) -**If the word is already in your speaking vocabulary. At the same time you are looking at the whole word on the page, say the word inside your mind 3-4 times then carry on. (5 seconds total)
Method 2) -**If the word is not yet in your speaking vocabulary and is totally new to you: Look away from the paper and visualize the word in your mind and at the same time say the word to yourself. (5 seconds total)
BOTH OF THESE METHODS WILL CREATE A NEURAL CONNECTION (ASSOCIATION) BETWEEN THE SIGHT OF THE WORD AND THE SOUND OF THE WORD INSIDE YOU BRAIN.
If the words are already in your speaking vocabulary by using this method you can learn a 50-100 new words per hour depending on age, motivation and other factors. For totally new words it will take a little longer.
Trying to recall the spellings of words by sounding them out is a common strategy of poor spellers. You can’t even spell ‘Phonics’ by sounding it out it comes out ‘Fonics’ or ‘Fonix’.
When I speak to someone who believes in the phonics model they tell me that the reason why the student is having trouble spelling ‘Phonics’ is that they have not yet learned the ‘Rules’ of phonics yet. This is totally contrary to what I have found.
Good spellers record words in their mind as visual images and don’t guess by sound, this was discovered by NLP practitioners more than 25 years ago but the ‘Scientific Research’ holds more weight with the schools and the specialists so they continue to believe in it.
‘PHONICS’ IS NOT THAT BAD, IT’S JUST SLOWER
I must admit that the title to this page is a little dramatic (More people will read it that way : ) In defense of the phonics method. Some students have learned to read very well with it. You can still learn to read well with pretty much any method that exposes you to words and reading. I believe that the phonics approach to reading only becomes a problem when the student takes it to literally and and even after they can recognize words they still try to sound them out. For example I had a student trying to read the word fragile and she came up with 8 different ways to sound it out.
fragilly, frajilly, fragill etc. I asked her “What do you think that word says ?” “Well I think it says fragile” !!
In further defense of phonics, at the very start of learning to read it is important / essential to familiarize students with the sounds of the letters and some letter combinations. But sticking on this method to long just slows kids down. Move on to whole word learning as soon as possible. The end game is to get the student to associate sight of a word with the sound of that word, period.
The one benefit of phonics
When you are on the way to being a fluent reader there is nothing wrong with having a go at sounding out a word that you don’t immediately recognize, it might help you to guess the word if it actually looks like it sounds.
Especially if that word is already in your speaking vocabulary you can guess what it is from the other words around it in the sentence and the letter sounds.
Variations and Exceptions
Phonics advocates will tell you that for words (about 40% of English words) that don’t look like they sound, you need to learn all the exceptions to the sounding out rules like the sound ‘or’ could be ‘aw’ in fawn or ‘our’ in four (There are 13 combinations for the sound ‘or’ !!) To me this is just a waste of time and creates a lot of frustration in some students. You’d be better spending all that time learning hundreds of whole words. Good readers never even think about these kind of phonics rules.
What we need to be concerned with here is not necessarily what the research tells us but what is it that good readers do inside their internal thought process when reading and then compare it to what a poor reader or a dyslexic reader does and the reasons for the issues become clear and solvable.
Using NLP in education provides us with a wonderful opportunity to teach students what works as opposed to what the scientific theories currently are. The scientific theories will change and be updated, they always are !
If you are interested in knowing more please leave a comment or question below and I’ll write a reply giving more specific steps to take. I always reply the same day !