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What's So Great about Phonics?

Firstly, what is Phonics?

A method of teaching people to read by correlating sounds with symbols in an alphabetic writing system.

from Greek phōnē "sound, voice"

Phonics teaches the code that connects written and spoken language, so words can become decodable.

When it is explicitly taught, students can read infinite words rather than just those words that they have learned. This takes some time to teach all the letters and all the letter combinations BUT after they know the code they can read (decode) any word they see. Phonics serves as a foundational skill that empowers students to become independent readers, allowing them to tackle a broad range of materials with greater confidence.

Phonics instruction focuses on teaching students the relationship between letters and their corresponding sounds. By learning the sounds of individual letters and letter combinations (phonemes), students develop decoding skills. This allows them to sound out and recognize unfamiliar words, improving their ability to read new words independently. Phonics provides a systematic and logical way for students to understand the alphabetic principle, the idea that letters represent sounds.

Interestingly in most schools a mixture of phonics and sight words is taught and any students that have trouble (which is a growing number) are put into remedial phonics lessons!

So why don’t they just teach phonics from the start?

Many teachers were not taught themselves through phonics, so they understand parts of it and they teach those parts but not a complete systematic phonics program like we do at Athena. Having the bit and piece approach can be ok for some students… BUT in reality, with complete systematic phonics instruction, all students thrive!

From a *Study Technology perspective, Phonics, when taught correctly, is applying the correct gradient to learning how to read, as well as actually defining the letters and groups of letters and sounds they make.

Personally, I have taught hundreds how to read using phonics. They have been adults who failed school, people learning English as a second or third language, Kindergarten kids, kids who are older and have transferred to our school or teenagers who have dropped out of school because they “couldn’t learn”. Their problem was that they didn’t understand the letters and what they signify.

Phonics is a key part of reading literacy. It makes the difference in the success rate. At Athena, students who start our Reading Program from Kindy or Prep constantly read above their grade level. However, phonics is not the only part of reading that is important. Reading literacy includes vocabulary, fluency and comprehension taught alongside explicit phonics instruction.

Phonics helps students build a strong foundation in spelling. Understanding the phonetic structure of words enables students to break down and spell words by applying the rules of phonics. This knowledge also aids in developing phonemic awareness, which is the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. Improved spelling and decoding skills contribute to overall reading fluency and comprehension.

There is also the benefit of students who natively speak other languages that are also considered phonetic, such as Spanish, Italian, Finnish or even French. Students learn to read English through phonetic instruction and then they naturally apply this to the texts in other languages.

Sarah Matara


The Athena School

22 November 2023

The Athena School Alphabet Chart uses the phonics approach to teaching reading.

*Study Technology: It is an applied understanding of the learning process itself. By understanding how to learn, and what specific barriers prevent understanding, students discover that any lack of success in learning can be traced back to causes they can control.

Reference: Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation. (2017). Effective Reading Instruction in the Early Years of School. NSW Department of Education.

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