My junior year of college, I was required to take a course called Emergent Literacy. It was one of the first of my courses that was a prerequisite for student teaching; the premise of the class was to learn how to teach literacy to students in grades 3 and below. During that class, we learned how to deliver a proper “read aloud,” what a diagraph was, how to complete an author study, and the components of the balanced literacy framework. While all of this is important for young teachers to know and can be effective in the appropriate environment, I quickly realized during my first year of teaching that it wasn’t what my students needed. My students needed intensive phonics instruction. How could I expect my students to get excited about reading their first novels if it was a challenge for them to even read the words on the pages?

As an upper elementary teacher, teaching phonics was the last thing that I expected to do. However, after assessing my students, I found the majority of students struggled to decode words. So… why hadn’t my university prepared me for this?

As Emily Hanford mentions in her recent opinion piece in The New York Times, “Why Are We Still Teaching Reading the Wrong Way?,” it has become common practice for teacher preparation programs to ignore the scientific research about how children learn to read. Phonics instruction is masked as word walls, which implies that learning to read depends on visual memorization rather than understanding how letters represent sounds. Hundreds of studies have shown that students need explicit phonics instruction – yet it is still where universities lack.

Now in my second year of teaching, I am grateful to have that opportunity to provide my students with that science-backed phonics instruction. And I promise I will always emphasize the importance of phonics to every student-teacher I get the pleasure of speaking with.

Christine B is one of Ivy Ed’s elementary school teachers/tutors and you can read more about her here.