Is Structured Literacy Just Phonics?
Has anyone ever asked you, “Isn’t Structured Literacy just phonics?”
Phonics is a critical element of Structured Literacy, but it isn’t the only element.
Structured Literacy addresses:
Orthography including Phonics and Syllable Instruction
It is important to capture the entirety of Structured Literacy carefully considering each essential ingredient. While some of these elements are critical for word recognition, such as phonological awareness, phonics, and syllable instruction, others greatly impact language comprehension.
Syntax encompasses the order of words to shape context; therefore, understanding the use of a word within context is critical to deepening understanding.
Semantics captures the meaning of a word based on its use within the sentence and, because words may possess multiple meanings, semantics provides the precise meaning of a word in the specific context.
Morphology, understanding the meaningful parts of words such as roots and affixes, is helpful in expanding vocabulary because a single morpheme may be a building block in multiple words. When students recognize a familiar morpheme within an unfamiliar word, they can begin to deduce the meaning of the unknown word. Morphology plays an important role not only in language comprehension, but also in word recognition.
So then, does vocabulary have a place in Structured Literacy? The answer is an emphatic YES. Vocabulary instruction is addressed both intentionally and incidentally, both explicitly or implicitly.
How should intentional and explicit vocabulary instruction be addressed within a structured literacy approach? To answer this question, look to the layers of language and the elements of Structured Literacy listed above.
Phonology - Start by saying the word and having students repeat the word. Draw attention to the number of syllables and which syllable is stressed. If needed, provide scaffolds such as felt squares to help students conceptualize the number of syllables. Be sure to provide extensive opportunities for students to hear and say the target word.
Orthography - Write the word for students and have students write the word as well. Use the syllable breaks to scaffold spelling and discuss the morphology as it may impact the spelling. For example, in the word century, the first syllable is /sen/, but the first morpheme is cent. Build students’ awareness that cent means one hundred, and ure is a suffix forming a noun as in picture and nature. When we transition from the /t/ to /y/ sound, we often create a /ch/ sound due to coarticulation. Students will also need to know that the suffix y represents a long e sound and forms an adjective.
According to etymonline.com, although a century originally referred to 100 of anything, over time it came to represent 100 years.
Syntax - Explain the function (part of speech) of the word and where students are likely to encounter it in relation to other words within a sentence.
Semantics - Provide multiple meanings of the word and discuss how context can shape meaning. Use the word in multiple contexts. Ask yes or no questions of students using the word. Such as, “If I live to be a century old, will I likely play football every day?” or “Does it take a century to do your homework?”
Morphology - Again, morphology will help extend students' understanding of the building blocks that develop the meaning of the word and often morphology may impact spelling.
Throughout the introduction of a new term, help draw students’ attention to the layers of language within vocabulary and encourage their frequent use of the word. The more students understand about a word, what it looks like, what it sounds like, and the depth of its meaning, the better equipped they will be to fluently recognize and understand the word within text and to incorporate it into their own lexicon.