The Role of Phonics in Invitaciones

by Margarita Calderón, Alan Crawford, Gilbert Garcia,
John J. Pikulski, and Tina Saldivar


Recent research in both English and Spanish substantiates the importance of well-designed phonics instruction, and has specific implications for the teaching of reading in Spanish. The following research conclusions guided the development of Houghton Mifflin's newly published Spanish reading program, Invitaciones.

Based on the available research, Houghton Mifflin incorporated into Invitaciones the following essential components of an effective program for development of word identification skills and reading fluency:

  1. Phonological/Phonemic Awareness -- In order to learn to read an alphabetical language like Spanish, children must grasp what is called the alphabetic principle--that printed words are not an arbitrary sequence of letters to be memorized, but that letters represent a limited number of speech sounds that combine to form spoken words. Young children do not intuitively grasp this principle nor do they think of spoken words as having any dimension other than meaning. Phonological awareness refers to children's conscious awareness of the fact that spoken words are composed of identifiable units including syllables and sounds (phonemes). It also refers to children's ability to manipulate (segment, blend, substitute) those sound units.

    In the Kindergarten level of Invitaciones children are taught concepts of rhyme, beginning sounds, and syllables, the most fundamental phonological awareness skills in Spanish. They also become proficient in blending and segmenting syllables. The ability to blend and segment syllables orally prepares children to learn to decode and encode syllables as they learn to read. Literature at the Kindergarten level focuses on well-known and culturally appropriate rhymes, poems, and songs, so that children develop phonological awareness using materials that are linguistically familiar.

    In Grade 1, phonological and phonemic skills are extended and refined. In the context of the literature, children are systematically taught the open syllables made by combining each consonant with the five vowels. Children learn to combine , segment, and sustitute syllables as the basic elements of Spanish word structure. As they encounter words they cannot read, they are taught to use their knowledge to blend syllables into meaningful, spoken words. Segmenting the sounds of the spoken words and representing them with letters are taught and practiced frequently as children grow in their spelling abilities

  2. Familiarity with Print -- There are several dimensions of familiarity with print including:

    Letter Names/Shapes -- Knowledge of letter names is highly associated with success in beginning reading. In Invitaciones children learn to recognize letters accurately and quickly. Letter names are, in most cases, good clues to letter sound associations. Being able to form letters quickly is important for writing, which reinforces and extends phonological awareness, knowledge of letter/sound associations, and familiarity with the form of written and spoken words.

    Concepts of Print -- Children become familiar with concepts of letter, word, sentence, and the relationships of printed and spoken words. They develop the understanding that there is a correspondence between the number of words printed and the number of words read, and they are taught to use this concept to track print.

    High Frequency Vocabulary -- To begin reading fluently, young readers must recognize many common words immediately. In Invitaciones, children are taught to recognize accurately and quickly the most common words in Spanish. They have frequent opportunities to practice these words in reading decodable text and in their writing.

  3. Systematic, Explicit Phonics -- Phonics instruction in Invitaciones is systematic in that it introduces children first to the simplest Spanish letter/sound relationships -- vowels and regular consonants. Consonants are introduced in a sequence that follows the natural order of language acquisition, beginning with m. Children learn the open syllables made by combining each consonant with the vowels. Subsequently they are introduced to closed syllables and the more complex and variable phonic elements, such as hard and soft c, silent h, diphthongs, and consonant blends. All essential phonic elements are taught by the end of Grade 1 and reviewed and reinforced in each subsequent grade.

    Phonics instruction is explicit; children are directly and clearly taught about relationships between letters and sounds. They have many opportunities to practice and apply these learnings in a variety of ways, including manipulating letter cards to build words and applying phonics skills to decodable texts and to writing. Through phonics and spelling instruction children develop the ability to segment and substitute syllables and to sound out words by blending letter and syllable sounds from left to right.

  4. Spelling -- In Invitaciones spelling and phonics are integrally related. Phonics elements that are taught in a unit of instruction are reinforced in spelling instruction in the same unit. In spelling lessons, children learn to carefully process the letters and syllables in words from left to right and to segment and blend the sounds they represent.

  5. Vocabulary -- Beyond the initial stages of learning to read, there is a very strong relationship between knowledge of word meanings and reading comprehension. Vocabulary instruction and learning to derive word meanings from context begin in kindergarten and continue throughout Invitaciones.

  6. Fluent Reading -- Decodable text is essential to provide opportunities for children to practice and apply phonic elements in the context of real reading. Invitaciones includes many decodable books for practice with high frequency words and words that use previously taught phonic elements. In addition to a wide variety of reading materials that are part of the program, Invitaciones provides carefully developed reading lists, frequent suggestions to teachers, and extensive communications with the home to encourage the wide independent reading that leads to fluency.

  7. Writing -- Writing offers the opportunity to apply phonics and related spelling knowledge. In shared writing and other writing activities, children learn to think about the sounds in words they want to write and to use phonics skills to represent the sounds. As they proofread their writing, they apply spelling patterns and phonic elements they have been taught.

  • References

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