Phonics is not a strategy or a program, as is often thought. It is the means by which children are able to learn to recognise words. Taught systematically, cumulatively and explicitly, phonics and language comprehension together unlock the written code for children learning to read (Gough & Tunmer 1986).
There are several types of phonics but the most common are synthetic phonics (from the Ancient Greek sunthetikós, that relates to synthesising or putting together parts of words to form a whole; and analytic phonics that analyses or breaks down words from whole to part.
Among proponents of phonics, some educators use synthetic phonics, while others use analytic. The evidence falls strongly on the side of explicit, systematic and cumulative synthetic phonics instruction, as discussed here:
Teachers have different views about the 'place of phonics' in teaching reading, but these views are related to their beliefs rather than scientifically verifiable facts. Any teacher might decide to teach phonics as a last resort or incidentally, 'as needed'. But by doing so, they may be placing some children at risk of not learning to read.
This is because we know from multiple scientifically verifiable studies over 40 years of research, that phonics enables word recognition, one of the primary foundations of learning to read.
What phonics is - and isn't - has caused many of the issues we face today in teaching a wide range of students to read.
For some teachers, phonics is related to teaching the initial sound in an unknown word. In this view, phonics is only used as a last resort, once other 'meaning-making' strategies such as picture cues and context cues have been exhausted.
For others, teaching phonics explicitly and systematically would seem to dampen a love of reading by focusing too heavily on sounds and parts of words.
However, if children can't recognise words, they will never have the opportunity to read, or learn to love reading. That is why beliefs that ignore the known science of how children learn to read place too many children at risk of reading failure (Seidenberg 2013; 2017). Gough & Tunmer 's (1986) theory of reading, The Simple View of Reading, has been confirmed in hundreds of studies since it was first published. This consensus of opinion demonstrates that phonics enables early reading, so if teachers fail to provide a comprehensive understanding of how words work in a systematic and cumulative way, they risk alienating many children from learning to read.