Teaching English phonics to struggling readers can be a delicate balancing act, requiring a sensitive understanding of the challenges faced by these learners along with a structured and tailored approach that meets their unique learning needs. Whether the learner is a Primary English student or older, the journey of overcoming reading difficulties should be seen as a process of progressive discovery and consolidation, rather than a linear path.
In Primary 1, it’s critical to build a strong foundation. For struggling readers, the Synthetic Phonics approach works well. This method emphasizes the learning of individual letter sounds first, followed by blending to form words. A multi-sensory teaching approach incorporating visual aids, auditory cues, and tactile experiences can further assist learners in understanding the relationship between letters and sounds.
By Primary 2, students should ideally be able to identify and blend simple sounds into words. However, for those who are struggling, breaking down words into smaller parts, also known as chunking, can be an effective strategy. Repeated practice and reinforcement of phonetic patterns can also bolster understanding and fluency.
By Primary 3, students usually encounter more complex phonetic patterns, including digraphs and blends. For struggling students, the use of phonics-based reading materials designed at the right reading level can ensure they are not overwhelmed, while still providing enough challenge to stimulate growth.
In Primary 4, students are introduced to silent letters and varied vowel sounds. One strategy for struggling students is to leverage mnemonic devices to help them remember these more complicated rules. Additionally, explicit teaching of phonics rules and offering abundant practice opportunities can significantly aid in their understanding.
Come Primary 5, it’s crucial to expose struggling readers to more complex phonetic and phonological constructs, such as diphthongs and multisyllabic words. Using decodable texts – those written with a high percentage of phonetically regular words – can provide much-needed practice and confidence.
In Primary 6, as students prepare for PSLE, they encounter more nuanced sound variations and complex phonics concepts. Struggling readers can benefit from intensive and systematic phonics instruction, perhaps through a program that uses a structured, sequential, and multisensory approach to phonics instruction, like the Orton-Gillingham method.
It’s important to remember that each struggling reader is unique. It is the combination of well-structured and flexible phonics instruction that considers the individual learner’s needs, along with a positive and supportive learning environment, that is key to helping struggling readers improve their phonics skills and reading abilities.