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During the late 1990s the whole language approach gained popularity in Portugal, but in a non-explicit form. Emphasis was placed on meaning, reading for pleasure, and developing a critical approach to the texts. Explicit phonemic awareness and explicit training for reading fluency were considered outdated by some teachers' organizations. Poor results in international comparisons led parents and schools to react to this approach and to insist on direct instruction methods. Later, during minister Nuno Crato’s tenure (2011-2015), who is known to be a vocal critic of constructivist approaches and a supporter of cognitive psychology findings, new standards ("metas") were put in place. The ministry convened a team led by a well-known specialist in reading, José Morais. This team introduced an explicit phonics teaching approach, put emphasis on decoding and reading fluency.
Vowel digraphs are those spelling patterns wherein two letters are used to represent a vowel sound. The ai in sail is a vowel digraph. Because the first letter in a vowel digraph sometimes says its long vowel sound, as in sail, some phonics programmes once taught that "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." This convention has been almost universally discarded, owing to the many non-examples. The au spelling of the /ɔː/ sound and the oo spelling of the /uː/ and /ʊ/ sounds do not follow this pattern.
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Although the patterns are inconsistent, when English spelling rules take into account syllable structure, phonetics, etymology and accents, there are dozens of rules that are 75% or more reliable. It should be noted, however, that this level of reliability can only be achieved by extending the rules far outside the domain of phonics, which deals with letter-sound correspondences, and into the morphophonemic and morphological domains. For an estimate of the reliability of strictly phonic rules, we still cannot do much better than the 1963 study by Theodore Clymer.
In 2018 The Association for Psychological Science published an article entitled Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert. The purpose of the article is to fill the gap between the current research knowledge and the public understanding about how we learn to read, and to explain "why phonics instruction is so central to learning in a writing system such as English". 
The programme continues throughout the school years, by extending the earlier phonics teaching with further spelling, grammar and punctuation concepts. Each year of teaching provides continuous revision and consolidation of topics taught in previous years. Children are also taught the core concepts of grammar and punctuation, starting with simple age-appropriate definitions, which are gradually built on with each year of teaching. The teaching continues to be multi-sensory with actions and colour coding (fitting with Montessori) for parts of speech to help children develop their understanding of how language works. The systematic programme means children are given the tools that they need to independently write what they want clearly and with expression.
Ask lots of questions while reading. Questions help keep your child actively engaged, and can help support learning phonics as well. For instance, while reading, point to the word “dog.” Ask “Do you know what word this is?” If they need a bit of help, say “Well, let’s start reading the sentence — “Joe walked his …” — Now what do you think the word might be?”
Phonics is one of the primary building blocks of reading. Without an understanding of the relationship between letters and sounds, reading cannot occur. This multifaceted connection between print and pronunciation is an important component of any instructional program in reading because it provides readers with tools for discovering new written words.
After they’ve gained phonemic awareness and early phonics skills, students move even closer to learning to read. With Time4Learning, 1st graders begin learning phonics online by translating syllables into words and focusing on phonetic spelling strategies. In 2nd grade, students advance their phonics knowledge by decoding multisyllabic words and recognizing word roots, prefixes and suffixes.
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To understand the big picture, children must understand other concepts of print as well. Concepts of print are the many understandings about how print works, including that print serves specific purposes (e.g., to help us remember or to entertain us); that print is language written down; and that, in English, we read from left to right and from the top of the page to the bottom. All of these and other “mechanics” about how print works are important to learn alongside letters and sounds.
In addition, it is not clear how many months or years a phonics program should continue. If phonics has been systematically taught in kindergarten and 1st grade, should it continue to be emphasized in 2nd grade and beyond? How long should single instruction sessions last? How much ground should be covered in a program? Specifically, how many letter-sound relations should be taught, and how many different ways of using these relations to read and write words should be practiced for the benefits of phonics to be maximized? These questions remain for future research.