How Can You Include Phonics Instruction in High School Classrooms?

As much as you wish every student had a solid understanding of phonology and were able to transfer this understanding to written texts by the time they reach high school – this is not always the case. In fact, as was pointed out in a recent webinar hosted by Reading Horizons, often graduate students struggle with what are supposed to be basic and beginning level reading strategies. Here is an enlightening comment from the webinar:

high school phonics

“You folks are so on target with this. I cannot tell you how many of my graduate students don't make these connections and apply the skills of encoding and decoding to real texts!”

High school students (and apparently graduate students) still need phonics instruction in later grades, but there’s a problem: you aren't given any time for it. High school aged students are expected to already know these skills and you are expected to be focusing on vocabulary and comprehension instruction – not phonics instruction! What to do...  

Here are Reading Horizons Teacher Trainers, Shantell Berrett and Jay Kelly with the answers (taken from the webinar: “Helping Students Transfer & Retain Decoding Skills”):

How can you help high school aged students get the phonics instruction they need and help them transfer these skills when you have no time for it?

SHANTELL: There are two ways you can help older students transfer and retain decoding skills despite the limited classroom time you have to address these issues.

  1. Since you are given time for vocabulary instruction, use the methods discussed in this presentation as you teach vocabulary. Do a quick overview of phonics and decoding strategies at the beginning of the school year, and then have students point them out in their vocabulary terms throughout the school year. The first step when you introduce any new vocabulary word to your class you should have your students address the phonology and orthography structure of that word.
  2. From the beginning of the year (even before you provide students with an overview of phonics and decoding skills), you can use Reading Horizons dictation process to introduce each new vocabulary term. Because this adds a multisensory aspect to your instruction this process helps students transfer and retain decoding skills.

JAY: If you do this, it doesn’t take hardly any additional time – AND – your students will learn those new words faster and better.

What about adapting these strategies for ESL students?

SHANTELL: Our curriculum director and ESL expert, Heidi Hyte, tells me the same thing when I ask her any question about adapting instruction for ESL students: “they need the exact same type of instruction as students with learning disabilities – BECAUSE – they need to handle the framework of the language the exact same way.” Every student regardless of LD’s or if they are an ESL student, or if they have no language difficulties –all do better when the process is simple and clear and one step at a time.


Learn More:

To learn more about reading strategies and phonics instruction in the classroom, check out our amazing teacher resources. These include our Phonics Instruction, What is Decoding?, and our List of Reading Strategies webpages.

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