In practice, phonics refers to several different but generally overlapping methods of instruction. Four of those methods are summarized in Examples and Observations, below.
Phonics-based methods of teaching reading are commonly contrasted with whole language approaches, which emphasize learning whole words in meaningful contexts.
Etymology:During the 19th century, phonics was commonly used as a synonym for phonetics. In the 20th century, phonics acquired its present meaning as a method of teaching reading.
Examples and Observations:
- Analytic(al) Phonics
"During the 1960s, numerous basal reading series included a manual outlining how to teach each story. The manual included a program for analytical phonics instruction that recommended that the teacher use known words and ask children to analyze the phonetic elements in these words. . . .
"Analytic phonics relies on readers knowing a large number of words at sight. Drawing from known sight words, teachers directed students to make inferences about the phonic relationships within words containing the same letter combinations. In other words, the student matched the sounds in a known word with the sounds in the new word (Walker, 2008). . . .
"However, in the 1960s, some reading programs differed from the mainstream basal readers that used analytic phonics. A few basal readers included instruction using linguistic units that had recurring patterns. The linguistic-phonics system used the idea that the English language had recurring written patterns that were systematic to develop their program."
(Barbara J. Walker, "History of Phonics Instruction." An Essential History of Current Reading Practices, ed. by Mary Jo Fresch. International Reading Association, 2008)
- Linguistic Phonics
"In linguistic phonics, beginning instruction usually focuses on the word patterns found in words like cat, rat, mat, and bat. These selected words are presented to the students. Children need to make generalizations about the short a sound by learning these words in print. Consequently, linguistic phonics lessons are based on decodable books that present repetitions of a single pattern ("Mat saw a cat and a rat'). . . . Linguistic phonics . . . is like analytic phonics in that it emphasizes word patterns rather than individual letter sounds. However, linguistic phonics is not typically espoused by top-down advocates, because it does not emphasize naturally occurring text."
(Ann Maria Pazos Rago, "The Alphabetic Principle, Phonics, and Spelling: Teaching Students the Code." Reading Assessment and Instruction for All Learners, ed. by Jeanne Shay Schumm. Guilford Press, 2006)
- Synthetic Phonics
"The sounding-out-and-blending approach to decoding is known as synthetic phonics. In a synthetic phonics program, students are taught to decode new words by retrieving from memory the sound that each letter, or combination of letters, in a word represents and blending the sounds into a recognizable word (National Reading Panel, 2000). It is a parts-to-whole approach (Strickland, 1998)."
(Irene W. Gaskins, "Interventions to Develop Decoding Proficiencies." Handbook of Reading Disability Research, ed. by Richa Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen. Routledge, 2011)
- Embedded Phonics
"Embedded approaches to teaching phonics involve students in learning phonics skills by reading authentic texts. This approach may be compared to whole language; however, embedded phonics involves planned skills taught within the context of authentic literature. Embedded phonics formed in response to the intense criticism experienced by the whole language movement, and highlights the role of phonics instructions within the context of authentic literature."
(Mark-Kate Sableski, "Phonics." Encyclopedia of Educational Reform and Dissent, ed. by Thomas C. Hunt, James Carper, Thomas J. Lasley, and C. Daniel Raisch. Sage, 2010)
"In summary, deep and thorough knowledge of letters, spelling patterns, and words, and of the phonological translations of all three, are of inescapable importance to both skillful reading and its acquisition. By extension, instruction designed to develop children's sensitivity to spellings and their reactions to pronunciations should be of paramount importance in the development of reading skills. This is, of course, precisely what is intended of good phonic instruction."
(Marilyn Jager Adams, Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. MIT Press, 1994)