In pre-school learners, reading development is an essential step in the direction of learning success because of its positive effect on comprehensive progress. However, for English language learners, for whom English is their second language, it can be challenging to advance in reading without the additional attention of teachers. Therefore, it was chosen to focus on the application of phonics to students who were learning English as a second language and experiencing overall challenges in learning. The objective of the study is to find out whether phonics can benefit students with lower levels of language proficiency in decoding words when reading and pronouncing. Conducted from a personal perspective of a teacher with a kindergarten class of students with speech and language difficulties, the research is expected to reveal whether the application of phonics could be a positive contributor to success.
In their practice, English language teachers encounter students with different levels of preparation, learning, and cognitive abilities. When it comes to early learners, the approaches to learning must be multi-dimensional and engaging to maintain their involvement in the process and yield the desired results (Darling-Hammond et al., 2020). Therefore, it is imperative to discover how various student-centered approaches, such as phonics instruction, can contribute to the learning process. The study will be conducted from a personal teacher perspective, and the data collection will take place from the first person, which will offer a more in-depth view of the problem. Specifically, there are twenty early learning students with speech and language difficulties in my pre-school learning setting, of whom six students are English language learners. It is essential for me as a teacher to determine whether the six ELLs in my classroom benefit from phonics instruction.
The main research question for the study is the following: how can phonics instruction be effective in helping English Language Learners (ELLs), even with pretty low levels of language proficiency, learn to decode words. The current research question is concerned with understanding as to whether phonics could be adequate for meeting the needs of students who are not exceptionally proficient in English. Since the research is conducted from a personal standpoint, it is essential to determine how phonics instruction can be used systematically to enhance learners’ proficiency.
The lack of active participation has significantly challenged English language learning (ELL) instruction because the engagement of students creates more engaging and dimensional classroom activities that can lead to more effective language learning processes (Darling-Hammond et al., 2020). Within the student-centered learning approach, teachers are expected to emphasize each student’s abilities, learning styles, and interests, which makes teachers facilitators of learning for individuals instead of a class as a whole (Darling-Hammond et al., 2020). The student-centered approach can integrate phonics instruction, which involves the relationship between sounds and spelling. The goal of phonics instruction is to teach students the most common relationships between sound and spelling so that they can sound out words, with the decoding ability being a crucial element in reading success.
As found by Wahyuni, Fauzadi, and Hikmah (2016), phonics instruction using storybooks, songs, and various other activities had shown to significantly improve student participation in lessons and maintain high levels of engagement. According to the researchers, phonics instruction was easy to follow, and the instructional materials were interactive, which made students more interested in learning overall (Wahyiuni et al., 2016). Besides, when it comes to younger learners, it has become evident that they can be effective foreign language learners, which is why phonics must be taught systematically as a part of a balanced and integrated program of English language (Bowers, 2020). As found by Ren and Ma (2016), phonics instruction has a positive influence on the development of English language learners, which can be reflected and denoted in four areas of language learning. Specifically, such areas include the development of pronunciation, spelling development of learners, vocabulary development, as well as reading development. Thus, phonics has shown to be an essential part of language learning because it enhances language literacy by helping learners understand the letters and their combinations to make up specific sounds and words.
To determine whether my six ELLs benefit from phonics instruction, observational research was chosen. Observational research is a qualitative research method in which the target subjects are observed and analyzed in the context of their natural setting. Importantly, this method of data collection was selected because other data collection procedures, such as questionnaires or surveys, are not adequate as a teacher cannot survey their students on the effectiveness of phonics in ELL because of their young age. Specifically, controlled observational research will take place, which implies that the researcher will identify themselves as a researcher and explain the purpose of their observations. Therefore, I identified myself as a researcher in the current study and was the only individual collecting data for analysis with the help of teacher-student observations. The specific setting in which the observations were conducted in the classroom environment in which the class schedule and plan were already known, and the researcher controlled what was happening during the lesson to note the points for observation.
Data Collection Procedures
The data for the study was collected with the help of observations, with the aid of which I gathered the knowledge of ELL proficiency among students with learning difficulties who receive systematic phonics instruction. The focus of the observations was determining the changes in language proficiency when comparing the initial levels and after the implementation of phonics instruction. Students’ proficiency in the English language was observed initially, with specific difficulties in word recognition (decoding), vocabulary development, and pronunciation being noted. Before implementing phonics instruction regularly, the six students with learning difficulties had issues with decoding words with similar pronunciation, and they often got frustrated with the challenge (Block & Duke, 2015). During reading specifically, the students got stuck on their words when reading, and I had to say the words to them myself. In addition, I had to sound the words to students repeatedly and show how each letter of the word connected to the correct sound. While this was not frustrating to me as a teacher, and I was happy to repeat the words so that the students would understand, the most challenging thing was to see the students struggle, get confused, and be frustrated with their progress. As the initial observation is carried out, I integrated phonics instruction into the classroom plan, making the assignments easy enough for English language learners.
Throughout the implementation of phonics instruction, I was making notes regarding my observations as to how students learning and engagement changes, whether for the better or worse. Important points for observation that were noted included students’ increased or decreased engagement in the learning process, students’ improvement of vocabulary development, their progress in word recognition and decoding, as well as the improvement of pronunciation. The observations became instrumental tools for me as a teacher to see a transformation taking place, which would be noted in the data analysis section and elaborated in the discussion section of the research.
The progression monitoring results pertinent to the observation of students’ word decoding during the implementation of phonics instruction have shown a noticeable improvement. The data collected in the course of observations shows a difference in students’ phonemic awareness and the general degree of confidence in the way in which they engage with lessons. Observational research has shown to offer objective data derived directly from student experiences, with the pre- and post-results illustrated in the data collection form.
Data Collection Form
|Student 1||Had difficulty concentrating when trying to decode words during reading; often refused to participate in reading exercises because they got highly frustrated and angry for failing.||Overall efforts of word decoding improved as a result of phonics instruction implementation. Frustration decreased although did not disappear completely.|
|Student 2||Chinese – native language, found it difficult to pronounce the words that he was reading out loud.||When having to sound unfamiliar words, the student tries different sound combinations first. The student got more confident when pronouncing, and his tries were more successful overall.|
|Student 3||Difficulty decoding more complex words because they had more letters and were combined from other words.||With the help of phonics, the student got better in deciphering multi-syllabic words and recognizing them as single structures rather than disjointed ones.|
|Student 4||Issues decoding words that were spelled similarly but sounded differently and had different meanings.||The student could hear the words being read out loud, accompanied with visual images that showed the meanings of words, she became more confident in reading out loud and choosing one word over the other in a given context.|
|Student 5||Confused letters and sounds with the letters and sounds in his native language, which led to incorrect pronunciation and word decoding.||Got more confident in word decoding after being exposed to phonics instruction; the confusion between English language and native language letters and sounds decreased significantly.|
|Student 6||Got highly frustrated with word decoding and sound recognition due to the pre-existing learning issues. The student got angry with himself for mispronouncing words and reading incorrectly.||Became less frustrated and more confident in his efforts, got angry at himself less and got more engaged in the learning process.|
With the help of controlled observations, it was revealed that phonics instruction had a positive influence on the progress of students with learning and language difficulties in the context of ELL. Specifically, phonics showed to play an integral role in helping students comprehend the text that they were reading. In particular, one student, Student 4, previously struggled with decoding words that were spelled similarly but sounded differently and had different meanings. For example, she was confused between “desert” and “dessert,” “plan” and “plane,” “price” and “prize,” “race,” and “raise,” “lose” and “loose,” and so on. However, with phonics, the student could hear the words being read out loud, accompanied with visual images that showed the meanings of words, she became more confident in reading out loud and choosing one word over the other in a given context.
Another example was Student 2, whose native language was Chinese and who found it especially difficult to pronounce the words that he was reading out loud. After the implementation of the phonetics instruction, when having to sound unfamiliar words, the student tries different sound combinations first, for instance, trying both “shh” or “ch” when saying “chicken.” Gradually, the student got more confident when pronouncing, and his tries were more successful overall. The most important thing for me as a teacher was to instill a sense of confidence in my students so that they were not afraid of making mistakes in their word decoding.
The final example illustrating the benefits of phonetics in word decoding of early learners of the English language was concerned with the improved understanding of spelling patterns, which made it easier for learners to read words with different syllabuses. One of the students, Student 3, had difficulty decoding more complex words because they had more letters and were combined from other words, such as “bedtime,” “baseball,” “balloon,” “broccoli,” “strawberry,” and so on. The student could see a familiar word, such as “berry,” and decode it, while the other part of the word made him confused. With the help of phonics, the student got better in deciphering multi-syllabic words and recognizing them as single structures rather than disjointed ones.
Several important implications of the study can be noted following the research that was carried out. First, teachers must teach phonemic awareness and phonics to begin English language learners despite their levels of literacy or language proficiency. Second, since the majority of second-language students tend to underperform in the areas related to English use, they need a targeted approach that will focus specifically on their challenges and make the process more engaging and thus more effective (Hossain, 2015). Third, phonics should be integrated into all curricula involving early ELLs because children who practice reading through phonics tend to do better. Notably, phonics helps develop reading fluency gradually, which means that over time, children can become fluent readers who can quickly recognize familiar words and can easily sound them out when they encounter them. Fourth, it should be mentioned that phonics instruction helps children become more imaginative, empathetic, and engaged in the learning process. Through phonics, learners developed reading skills that help them discover new ideas and phenomena, stories about different places, events, and people outside their own experiences. This makes them see the world from a new perspective, which is essential for learners’ overall multi-dimensional development.
All learners are individuals with their unique skills, perspectives, and needs. This research has shown that phonics education is a method that can be effectively embedded into a comprehensive reading program for English language learners, which encourages students to recognize words by sight and create opportunities for extensive reading and subsequent writing. Specifically, the study showed that students who experience difficulties in English language learning not only benefited from phonics instruction but also received more confidence and got less frustrated and distracted.
Block, M., & Duke, N. (2015). Letter names can cause confusion and other things to know about letter–sound relationships. NAEYC. Web.
Bowers, J. (2020). Reconsidering the evidence that systematic phonics is more effective than alternative methods of reading instruction. Educational Psychology Review, 32, 681-705. Web.
Darling-Hammond, L., Flook, L., Cook-Harvey, C., Barron, B., & Osher, D. (2020). Implications for educational practice of the science of learning and development. Applied Developmental Science, 24(2), 97-140. Web.
Hossain, M. (2015). Teaching productive skills to the students: A secondary level scenario. Web.
Wahyuni, N. T., Fauziati, E., & Hikmah, M. (2016). The effectiveness of using phonics instruction and storybooks in English reading classes to improve student participation. Journal Penelitian Humaniora, 17(1), 49-64. Web.