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Move from Phonemic Awareness to Phonics to Fluency

Updated: Nov 29, 2019

Last week was rough. My youngest was sick twice and it was all I could do to stay on top of life much less blog posts. As a result, the scheduled "What the Research Reveals" post will have to wait. My goal is to publish it this week, but life with little people is interesting. Sometimes schedules are just thrown out the window for any number of reasons. For example, we were on the verge of being late for church yesterday because of a meltdown my four year-old-daughter had over the hair-do I arranged - she hated it. We had to pause and talk about what really matters, then re-do it. But it wasn't five minutes later that she was in tears because it's cold and we made her wear a coat! Parenting is just hard because their little hearts matter and taking care of those little hearts take time, consistency, patience, kindness, and gobs of love. Add in sickness to the existing hullabaloo and my family and clients become all I can focus on, putting those scheduled blog posts on the back burner.

Today, however, was in stark contrast to last week. I feel like super mom. Laundry is almost done, school went well, I rescheduled my tutoring sessions on Thursday so I could spend the evening with my family trick-or-treating, I crafted with my girls, shared some posts on social media, got my girls hot chocolate after they played in the snow... but not all days are like this day, so I'm super thankful for days like today and for God's grace on the days that are not at all like today.

After gaining some insight into my life I am super excited to share with you how I approach setting a strong foundation in reading.

The research has a lot to say about phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency (which I plan to write about soon). Experienced teachers and specialists talk about this process quite frequently as well. One of my favorite authors in the field of reading is Timothy Rasinski. His ideas are research-based, practical, and easy to implement. I've been to his amazing workshops and trust his research alongside his yearS of experience. A book I'll forever have on my professional development shelf is titled, From Phonics to Fluency: Effective Teaching of Decoding and Reading Fluency in the Elementary School. His work has influenced my approach, but I also take seriously the classical approach to education and experts like Richard Allington and Kylene Beers (among many others). When it comes to helping readers read well, I learn as much as I can from people like this who have spent a lifetime changing lives. How do they do that? By following a time-tested approach that I believe in implementing with my own children and during my tutoring sessions with little people, or readers with a gap in reading education.

Phonemic awareness is the precursor to reading success, because in most homes phonemic awareness is nurtured with time in rich text, visiting the library's story hour, having an easy to access bookshelf full of engaging literature, parents who read and who read to/with their child. Phonemic awareness is a readers ability to recognize sounds represented by letters - it is the nature of language that children learn by following along to a book being read to them. With this kind of "broughtupsee" it is easy for children to see that phonics is associated with reading books.

That doesn't mean that intentional phonemic awareness stops once systematic phonics lessons begin, it simply means that it is a solid beginning to understanding that letters make sounds! So as you're learning onsets such as /b/ bat, or /c/ cat find literature that will reinforce that sound. I've used tongue twisters, songs, rhymes, any book I could get my hands on so that readers could see that this sound they're hearing is in the books they enjoy. For every phonics lesson I have a set of books listed to read over and over again as this sound is learned. I don't want phonics to be simply reading a list of mindless words. Instead, I want every lesson to be immediately applicable to literature. (If you want more on this, I encourage you to read my phonemic awareness/phonics post from October 14.)

Once a solid phonics foundation is established, I begin intentionally teaching what it means to be a fluent reader. I focus on three parts, but I say intentionally teaching because during the entirety of phonics I am modeling what it means to be a fluent reader without teaching those key elements of fluency. It always amazes me how a readers reading will begin to mimic my intonation, rate, and approach to fixing errors. In my opinion we want to move too quickly from the phonics portion and jump into making a reader fluent before they fully understand all the sounds letters and blends make. I do not focus on fluency until this is accomplished, but that doesn't mean I don't talk about intonation, accuracy and rate as I read books aloud. It's impossible to remove fluency lessons, comprehension lessons, or vocabulary lessons as one or the other is taught, but I do not strive for perfection from my reader in any of those areas as I'm focused on their mastering phonics. I hope that brief explanation of my approach to establishing a solid reading foundation is clear. If at any point you have a question, I'd love to hear from you.

How I approached fluency was through a Psalm Fluency Notebook, where my first grader learned what it meant to be a fluent reader by reading a Psalm a week. She blew me away with this daily schedule that taught her to focus on accuracy, intonation, and appropriate rate. Watching her grow through this process was my greatest pleasure because it also meant spending time in God's Word, learning who He was according to what He said. If you're interested in this product visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store by following this link:

As a reader progresses I focus more on comprehension and vocabulary skills with the final step being an analyzer who is ready and able to read and study literature with a critical eye and then effectively write about it, reflect on it, and learn from it. Here are examples of those type of lessons:


Ask me about my tutoring services.

If you find any of this overwhelming or are struggling to know where to start with an older student I'd love to chat with you. I've come alongside parents in all walks of life as they work to get their child through school and that has honestly been my greatest pleasure. Being a mom is my highest calling and I love working with parents who feel the same. Contact me! Whatever woes your learner is facing with reading and writing - I can help.

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