Monday, 6 June 2016

Phonics helps us spell correctly? Really?

Debbie Hepplewhite wrote the quote below in this summer's 'Primary Matters, A Teaching English Magazine' that goes out to members of NATE. Could someone who is an enthusiast for phonics explain how phonics can be applied to help with spelling? So this is quite specific. It's not about what phonics can do (or not do) in relation to teaching the alphabetic code. Here's the quote:

"The job of teaching and applying the English alphabetic code* for spelling is NOT done by the end of the infants - it is just the beginning of a long-term need to be attentive, and to get to grips with, English spelling as an ongoing part of reading and writing."

*I assume she means 'applying phonics'. 

So, as I sit and wonder how to spell the words in this sentence, phonics might help me to spell 'so' 'I' 'sit', 'and', 'spell' 'how', 'in', 'sentence', 'phonics', 'help' but it wobbles when it comes to 'yes', 'as', 'the', 'wonder','to', 'words','might', 'comes'. 

To clarify: I know that these words can be sounded out and/or learned by sight (ie not totally and solely phonically) but if I come up with alternatives e.g. 'yess', 'azz', 'ther', 'wunder', 'werds', 'mite' or 'cumz' how will phonics, and phonics alone help me choose the right one?

It's especially not helpful with 'to' because learning my 'tricky' words or 'red' words (depending on which particular approved scheme I have been using), I know that there is 'to', 'too' and 'two' but neither pure phonics or 'tricky words' tells me which one to choose and it's making me very nervous.

I have heard the justification that says it's phonics that tells me that each of the three forms (to, too and two) begin with 't' but the demands of the writing tests say that I can't be a bit right, or a bit wrong. I am either completely right or completely wrong. If I choose the wrong 'to'/'too'/'two', I'm stuffed. It will show that I am not working at the expected level.

If no one can back up Debbie Hepplewhite on this can someone at least offer me a suggestion for what it is she actually meant?

By the way, does Debbie really mean that we have to go on doing phonics forever? I mean how long-term is 'long-term'?

(I don't have a comments facility on this blog because it'll become a troll-magnet, so can you answer on twitter, Facebook or by email?)

ps I'm also thinking about all those English suffixes like '-ent' vs '-ant' or '-ible' vs '-able' or '-ince' vs '-ence' vs '-ance' that we all get wrong at least sometimes. How do phonics help us with those? And all those wrong spellings where we double up a letter where we 'shouldn't' but the sound stays the same: e.g. 'dissappear'. Phonics doesn't tell me that's 'wrong'.