Bringing back phonics when it works: Florence Barnes’ Learn to Read from Sounds

Florence Barnes’ Learn to Read from Sounds

Retired classroom teacher Florence Barnes taught primary and elementary grade students until her retirement. She is now working to help bring back the teaching of phonics to all beginning readers as she has seen from experience that phonics works.

Please let us know more about your background, and why you wrote your book. Why do you think that children should learn phonics?

My background is a lifetime of teaching, except for a few years when my four children were small.

I wrote the book because phonics was going out of style as a way of teaching children to read. Phonics tells children what sounds the letters stand for. This helps them to read. Combining methods of teaching reading is fine as long as children learn letters and sounds well enough. I’ve found from experience that children really need the phonics background to learn to read.

How has your book helped children learn? Do you have stories to share?

My book has helped children learn by providing lists of words for learning certain letters and sounds. There are a few sentences containing the words being practiced.

The stories that I have to share are success stories because all the children whom I tutored learned to read. Many of them have jobs in trades or in businesses. One is a university graduate. Another has a top job in a hospital pharmacy.

Most of the children were in the second grade when I tutored them. They were at the stage when memorizing whole words without phonics got to be too much for them. One boy had given up learning to read in grade four when his mother began tutoring him using my book. She said that it was a struggle but he is now successful in his work and in his life.

Why was phonics controversial? What would you say to the idea that teachers should combine different methods of teaching reading?

The reason was that people were promoting other ideas such as memorizing words by how they look without the benefit of phonics or guessing words by fitting them in the context.

What would you say to the idea that teachers should combine different methods of teaching reading?

That is fine as long as phonics is taught completely.

Do you remember learning to read?

I learned to read during the age of phonics so I remember seeing younger children practicing letters and sounds.

What can parents do to help children learn to read?

Parents can read to children and give them plenty of practice with letters and sounds. They can give them practice sounding short words. They can teach them to hear and say the separate sounds in words. In my book Learn To Read From Sounds the letters and words are organized for teaching.

Does your method work well for adults learning English as a second language? Do you think that we can best learn foreign languages as adults the way we learn to read as children?

For people learning English as a second language the phonics learning is the same as that shown in the book. Learners of English have the need to learn meaning as well as phonics. Learning other languages would depend on what kind of writing system they have.

Florence Barnes’ Learn to Read from Sounds is available here from Westwood Publishing (came out fall 2019).

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