With the introduction of phonics into the National Curriculum children are being taught to read by using their phonics knowledge as a decoding tool to work out what words are. First they have to recognise the letters and combinations, then attach associated sounds (phonemes) to them and finally blend the sounds together to form the word.
Children are not encouraged to focus on anything else, such as pictures or context, just the phonics element of the text. For phonics teaching schemes that haven’t taught a comprehensive range of letter to sound associations, phonics at an early stage is not sufficient and children also need to learn to recognise whole words which are not spelt phonetically, the tricky words (sight words) such as: was, want, because, like.
To emphasis this point; The National Curriculum for Year 1 Reading, as part of the statutory requirements, states that children should be taught to:
“read aloud accurately books that are consistent with their developing phonic knowledge and that do not require them to use other strategies to work out words” (DfE Sept 2014).
It is generally accepted that using phonics for spelling develops at a slower rate than that for reading; due to the child having to learn how to form the letters (handwriting) rather than just recognising the visual association between the sounds and corresponding letters.
Children are taught to use their phonics knowledge as an encoding tool for spelling, first identifying the individual sounds (phonemes) in the word, then attaching associated letters for those phonemes and finally writing the letters and self-checking the spelling using their phonetic reading skills.
It is important that children understand, and can easily use, the letter names of the alphabet and not just make a certain sound associated to the letter. Using the letter name is the only way to distinguish between alternative spellings of the same sound. For example ‘ph’ in the word ‘photo’ cannot be spelt out phonetically, you have to use the letter names otherwise children will spell it ‘foto’. A similar, more common, tricky spelling is the word ‘what’; you have to use the letter names to explain this spelling otherwise a child will spell it ‘wot’.
Because many phonics schemes do not teach the letter associations required for children to decode / encode high frequency words phonetically, such as was, they, my, are etc..they teach these words by rote.