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Heidi Mesmer is challenging educators to think big when it comes to reading comprehension. Mesmer, a professor of literacy at the Virginia Tech School of Education, says there are many foundational reading skills. Such as print concepts, fluency, and phonological awareness. In a recently published article in EDWeek, Mesmer questioned why we only talk about phonics?

Mesmer says, “the foundational skills are an integrated whole, and they have to be taught together.” She wants to be clear, phonics is important, but the focus in classrooms is so heavy on phonics, she believes it’s isolated from the other important reading skills.

“Phonological awareness is not phonics,” says Mesmer. “Phonological awareness is actually the ability to orally identify and manipulate units of sounds or to hear those differences. So it’s just the sound part.”

Mesmer says that the skill to hear words and break them apart is crucial to learning phonics.

She points out that phonics is putting a sound with a symbol or letter. “But if you don’t first have an insight or recognition that words actually have these smaller constituent parts, the whole system makes no sense to you.”

If you’re not sure how phonics fits within your daily instruction, or crave a more effective process for teaching phonics, Messmer recently wrote a book on the topic. “Letter Lessons and First Words” provides a research-based vision of what lively, engaging phonics instruction can look like, along with practical, classroom-tested tools to make it happen in your classroom.

To hear our full interview with Mesmer, listen to Episode 147 of the Class Dismissed Podcast.

You can find the latest episode of the Class Dismissed Podcast on your favorite podcast app or iTunes.

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