3. Synthetic phonics (from the word synthesis meaning 'to blend') / Linguistic
phonics* / 'High Quality Phonics' (Rose Report 2006) / The English Alphabet Code taught ''within a broad and language-rich curriculum'' (Rose Report 2006 p16)
Recommended links for student teachers = X
Modern synthetic phonics is no fad or fleeting fashion and is now a key element in the new (statutory) National Curriculum for state primary schools in England.
National Curriculum in England, English programmes of study: see Key stage 1.
All the available scientific research (see links marked #)
indicates that systematic synthetic phonics is the most effective method to teach the majority of students of all ages how to read and spell.
Programmes which accurately follow the synthetic/linguistic phonics principles teach students all the common grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) of the Alphabet Code directly, systematically and discretely. An alphabet code is the reversible relationship between the phonemes (the smallest discernible sounds in spoken words) and the graphemes (spellings). The code is taught from sound to print. ''The 40 English phonemes are the basis for the code and never change. These 40 sounds provide a pivot point around which the code can reverse...The 40 sounds will always play fair even if our spelling system does not.'' (D. McGuinness. Sound Steps to Reading. p5)
Why modern synthetic phonics programmes are organised from
sound -> spellings
John Walker explains the important differences between
programmes which teach from spellings -> sound
and from sound -> spellings
The English alphabet code consists of the *40-44 phonemes that we use when we are speaking English and the ways these sounds
are represented in our writing using spellings consisting of 1 to 4 letters consecutively or 2 vowel letters 'split' around a consonant spelling e.g.him, photo, catch, dough, late, *The number of sounds varies between languages; for example,
25 whilst the South African !Xu language has 141 sounds.
X English Alphabet Spelling Code
An introduction to the English Alphabet Code.
Because the English alphabet has only 26 letters, many
of the 44 sounds (phonemes) of spoken English have to be represented by two or more letters in written English. Furthermore, the alphabet has just 6 vowel letters to represent 18+ vowel sounds. Most of the 44 sounds correspond with multiple spellings (for example,
common /ee/ spellings include tree, leaf, me, sunny) and some spellings represent more than one sound, called 'code overlap' in linguistic phonics programmes (for example, plastic, paper, watch,
water / touch, sound, soup). Whilst linguists estimate that there are 350-400 English spellings in total, there are fewer than 180 common spellings in the alphabet code.
X Teach 100 first spellings, not 100 first words.
X English Spelling explained: for kids, but a clear and concise guide for puzzled adults too.
With synthetic phonics teaching, no assumption is made that children can discover the alphabet code for themselves whilst working their way, book-by-book, through the levels of a patterned-text reading scheme. As Sir Jim Rose put it in his report, ''It cannot be left to chance, or for children to ferret out, on their own, how the alphabetic code works'' (Rose 2006.p19)
X English Alphabet Code chart - designed for student teachers but suitable for anyone wanting a visual resource to learn about the Code and an outline of synthetic phonics teaching (see chart's side bar).
A 'transparent' Initial / Simple alphabetic code, which is generally the most common spelling for each sound,
is taught first directly and discretely. This clever device of having, temporarily, an artificially transparent alphabet code (but unmodified orthography, unlike the 1960's initial teaching alphabet: i.t.a),
helps to level the playing field between those who are
learning to read and write in English and the majority of
their counterparts on the European continent.
As soon as the first 3-4 GPCs of a simple/basic code have been taught, children are shown how to sound out and blend the individual GPCs from left to right all-through-the-written-word for reading and to fetch the
letter/s-sound correspondences from memory for spelling, encoding all-through-the-spoken-word. Spelling is integral to all UK-style synthetic phonics programmes from the beginning to make clear the reversibility of the code. Letter names are usually taught early on, often through an alphabet song. 'Common exception words'(DfE NC) (high frequency words containing an unusual correspondence) are drip-fed into lessons systematically and taught using a phonic approach, not as whole shapes
to be memorised. Lessons are cumulative with each lesson building on the one before it.
are used, initially,
to help young children remember the letter-sound correspondences of the basic code. At each step, children are provided with plenty of decodable reading material to practise sounding out and blending; first single words, then captions and short sentences, moving rapidly on to decodable books. Phonically decodable books only contain words that can be sounded out based on what the
student has already been taught so no guessing or whole word memorising is necessary.
Once children are secure and confident reading and
spelling words using a programme's initial code GPCs then the common spellings of the Complex/Advanced alphabet code are carefully introduced.
Exemplar commercial synthetic phonics programmes include Phonics International
and Read Write Inc..
Linguistic phonics* programmes are based on the research and prototype of cognitive-developmental psychologist, Professor Diane McGuinness. She analysed the probability structure of the English spelling code: ''A probability structure is the calculation of the number of spellings used the most to those used the least. This calculation must be based on frequency in print (how often these spellings appear in print)'' (D.McGuinness), Her analysis revealed that, ''Of the 350-400 spellings only 176 are common, and these spellings account for around 90% of the words in print'' (D.McGuinness.Allographs1 p2) These are the spellings that need to be taught directly and systematically in every early reading programme.
Diane McGuinness also uncovered and set out the 4 'characteristics' of the English alphabet code. These levels of increasing complexity determine the most effective teaching progression through a phonics programme. (D.McGuinness.2011 RRF conference)
1. A phoneme can be spelled using one letter: p-e-t / d-o-g / s-w-i-m / s-p-l-a-t
2. A phoneme can be spelled using 2 to 4 letters: h-i-ll / sh-i-p / l-ear-n / d-augh-t-er
3. A phoneme can be spelled in multiple ways: d-ay / t-r-ai-n / l-a-k-e / b-r-ea-k / s-t-r-aigh-t
4. A spelling can represent more than one phoneme: g-r-ea-t / c-l-ea-n / b-r-ea-d (code overlap)
X A Prototype for Teaching the English Alphabet Code
Linguistic phonics programmes are closely related to modern synthetic phonics programmes as they also teach the GPCs of the alphabet code directly and explicitly, work from simple to complex, and spelling is integral from the start. They also shun all whole language elements (sight words, multi-cueing..) and work with phonemes only, not larger units of sound such as onsets and rimes. There are some differences though: letter names aren't taught until application of sounds is secure, they don't use mnemonics or special terms such as
'curly C and kicking K', *silent letter, *short/long vowels, *magic 'e' or any spelling / syllable rules .
In linguistic phonics instruction, GPCs are always taught in the context of real words so flash cards showing isolated graphemes such as
<ch>, <ea> and <ow> are not used. ''Comparing the spellings in context [of real words] increases the brain's ability to analyse and therefore remember'' (Fiona Nevola) -see Spelling
for further explanation of the contextual and
statistical nature of English spelling.
Why linguistic phonics teachers don't use flash cards with isolated graphemes.
In linguistic phonics programmes, when the complex code is taught, several of the most common spellings for a sound are introduced at the same time, rather than individually, with the less common spellings introduced together at a later stage.
Multiple spellings in the context of real words are introduced simultaneously to enable the learner to internalise them and ''create a mental 'filing cabinet of sound' (Nevola.SRS Handbook)
One sound, different spellings
A hundred or so high frequency words with unusual GPCs (common exception words DfE) are introduced systematically during the appropriate lesson/s ensuring a phonics all-through-the word approach; for example, <many> and <friend> would be taught alongside high frequency words with the common spellings for /e/ such as
<egg> and <head>. Students are explicitly and directly taught how to manage the important, but often neglected, 4th level of the code's complexity, that a spelling can represent more than one phoneme (for example, chip, school, chef) - see
X 'One spelling, different sounds'
Bomb, Comb, Tomb – why strugglers need to know how English works
Albrow, a university lecturer in linguistics, also rejected 'silent letters', describing <kn> and <gn>as ''complex initial consonant symbols''. He added that, ''(T)he concept of silent letter is avoided in this description; since all letters are clearly silent, silence cannot therefore be a distinction. This has already been implied by the treatment of <ie>,<oa> etc. as single symbols'' (Albrow p.19)
*Children have no idea what the teacher means when she says vowels are 'long' and 'short'. They think she is talking about physical size, a long A and a short A' (D.McGuinness. WCCR. p97)
*Avoid the confusing language of 'short' and 'long' vowels.
*''To them, long and short describe visual length – so the
<ou> in double is long and the <a> in table is short, but
they’re not and that’s confusing''
C and Kicking K?
*Explaining split vowel spellings.
Exemplar linguistic phonics programmes include Sounds~Write
and the Sound Reading System
See this page for details of synthetic / linguistic phonic programmes available
in the UK and abroad.
The word 'alphabet' comes from the names of the first two
letters in the Greek alphabet, alpha beta. The Greeks created
the first 'sound' alphabet when they added vowel sounds to
the Phoenicians' consonants-only alphabet. For the next 2,500
years reading was taught by first teaching the alphabet and
then the syllables: ba be bi bo bu, da
de di do du, fa fe fi fo fu(m!) ...etc. It wasn't until the
8th century that conventions in writing that we take for granted
such as spaces between words and the use of lowercase letters
appeared, set in place by the English scholar Alcuin. In 1654
the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal discovered
that it was possible to split syllables into smaller sound units
- phonemes, and in doing so created synthetic phonics (Rodgers p32) The
use of the word 'synthetic' to describe a reading programme is not new; Pollard's Manual of Synthetic Reading and
Spelling was published in 1889. Nellie Dale, a teacher
at Wimbledon High School for Girls, created a programme in
1898 that was similar to today's modern synthetic phonics
Nellie Dale’s Book ‘On the Teaching of English Reading’
Rebecca Pollard's Manual of Synthetic Reading and Spelling
N.B. Pollard's method used diacritic markings, unlike modern synthetic phonics.
Phoneme awareness (PA: to be consciously aware that
words are composed of discrete sounds (phonemes) that are comparable
and manipulable) is the subject of much controversy and confusion.
who enter pre-school with low PA and then fail to acquire sufficient
PA 'naturally' alongside conventional (mixed methods) literacy teaching, are deemed to
have a constitutional brain weakness; the hallmark of dyslexia. Many 'experts'
advocate phonological awareness training (no letter symbols) for all children prior to any teaching
of reading, to help overcome this brain 'glitch' that
appears to be present in so many. This erroneous thinking resulted in the insertion of a harmless (but pointless if it was expected to impact on the teach of reading) 'sounds only' stage (Phase One) in the now archived government programme, Letters & Sounds. ''(T)he research conclusively proves there is no benefit to phoneme-only training programmes as opposed to instruction using a good synthetic phonics programme from the outset, one which teaches segmenting and blending using letter symbols and lots of writing practice. Phoneme analysis sufficient to be able to decode is acquired much more rapidly in the context of print than in isolation'' (D.McGuinness. Response to Hulme).
‘'People are attracted to PA for several reasons. Researchers believe it because tests show a correlation between PA performance and later reading performance, But a quick test of vocabulary has equal predictability, and the researchers pay little attention to the nuts and bolts of the later reading instruction. Teachers and other adults are attracted because PA activities are fun and games that give the adult all kinds of latitude and that don't require "books" or any formal instructional materials. Publishers are attracted because PA provides "busy work" for kids until they're old enough for when the adults involved believe the kids are "ready" for the mis-instruction the publishers peddle’' (Prof.Schutz.3RsPlus)
Should we teach phonemic awareness?
Researchers Johnston and Watson found that synthetic phonics develops phonemic awareness very well without any prior PA training: The phonemic segmentation of the synthetic phonics group improved far more in 16 weeks than either of the other two groups. At the start of their research in Clackmannanshire, the synthetic phonics group got 4.1% right, while the other two groups got 2.7% and 4.5%. After 16 weeks, the figures (in the same order) were 64.9%, 17.2% and 34.7%. (Accelerating the development of reading, spelling and phonemic awareness. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 2004)
''Scores of developmental studies show that phonemic processing is one of the most “buffered” language skills humans possess, and is least susceptible to disruption and malfunction. Chaney showed that by age three, children are highly sensitive to the phoneme level of speech. Nearly all of the 87 three-year-olds in her study could listen to isolated phonemes (/b/ -- /a/ -- /t/), blend them into a word, and point to a picture representing that word – with nearly 90% scoring well above chance'' (D.McGuinness. RRF messageboard)
Part and parcel of the 'brain glitch' theory is the unsubstantiated belief that children are biologically programmed to recognise written words as whole shapes at first (a so-called logographic stage) and then, purely as a result of a biologically-driven developmental progression, are able to break words into smaller and smaller units of sound: whole words ->syllables ->onset and rime ->phonemes: ''Children usually become able to break words down into their syllables at about 4 years of age, but phoneme-recognition does not emerge until later at about 5-6 years'' (italics added.Poole. p4). Early Years academics who hold this belief in a 'biologically determined progression' insist that children need to receive reading instruction following this order too; going directly to the phoneme level is, they suggest, 'developmentally inappropriate', especially if the children are younger than six or seven, and could be 'dangerous'. There is no scientific evidence to back this theory. Many parents teach their pre-schoolers to read using synthetic phonics with no ill effects reported. Research in Germany (Wimmer/ Hummer) has shown that children do not go through a logographic stage when they are taught with the synthetic phonics method from the very start of reading instruction (RRF newsletter 45.p6 / D.McGuinness ERI p339-347) As Jenny Chew points out, ''If you teach letter-sound correspondences from the start without assuming an initial logographic stage, children's perception of the sub-units of sound in the spoken words will be determined by the letters they see on the page - they will see the printed word 'cat' as 3 letters and will think of it as having 3 sounds (/c/ - /a/ - /t/) not as having 2 sounds (/c/ -- /at/)''.
Speech sound awareness training is not a necessary prerequisite
to learning to read and spell. Phoneme sensitivity is innate as all babies need it in order
to acquire spoken language, but they are not consciously aware
of this ability. ''In fact, no one needs to be explicitly aware
of phonemes unless they have to learn an alphabetic writing
system'' (D McGuinness LDLR p36) . People who have learnt to read using
script such as Chinese, which is based on the syllable unit of sound, lack phonemic awareness; studies ''show the strong impact of the type of writing system and type of instruction on the development of phonemic awareness -an environmental effect, and restates the point that you do not acquire this aptitude unless you need it'' (D.McGuinness WCCR p135)
The ease with which a child can be taught how to consciously unravel speech in order to hear the individual phonemes appears to be heritable. ''Good/bad
phoneme-awareness runs in families, just as musical talent
does'' (D.McGuinness WCCR p151) This
unraveling is necessary because speech consists of co-articulated
sounds blended into a rapidly produced sound stream. Young children who find it difficult to hear the individual phonemes within syllables (due to hearing problems (Peer. Linking glue ear and dyslexia) or normal genetic variation, NOT an incurable brain defect) need high quality, whole-class synthetic phonics teaching along with short, daily, one-to-one 'keep-up' sessions, to enable them to learn
the knowledge and skills necessary to become good readers.
Phoneme awareness and manipulation ability occurs as a direct result of the teaching
methods found in synthetic phonics programmes; it is the process
of learning the letter-sound correspondences, translating
the letters into sounds in words and vice-versa, which makes
the phonemes explicit. ''(T)he ability to manipulate speech
sounds is a taught skill, not an outcome of cognitive maturation
or exposure to language'' (Rice/Brooks
p54) ''(A)s their literacy improves it should again
become an automatic process for literacy purposes and drop
below consciousness unless it is actually needed to deal with
an unfamiliar written word.''(Philpot.
''The NLS Searchlight [multi-cueing] was a political compromise to get whole
language supporters on board when the original framework was
drawn up. It seems so reasonable on the surface, a bit of
phonics, a bit of look and say, a bit of whole word guessing,
who could argue with that? Well, if you go on doing what you’ve
always done, you’ll go on getting what you’ve
always got, in this case 25 to 30 per cent of the children
in your school unable to read properly. The long tail of underachievement
in England is recognised in international studies. It was
there before the NLS. The NLS was supposed to get rid of it.
It’s still there, complete with gender gap and underachieving
boys spawning a whole new cottage industry for advisors and
publishers. In synthetic phonics schools there is no long
tail of underachievement. There is no gender gap. Boys do
not underachieve. Same kids — different teaching methodology.'' (Shadwell)
March 2006: The Rose Review recommended that
the NLS 'searchlight' multi-cueing strategies for decoding should be dropped and replaced
by the 'simple view of reading' and that all children should
be taught to read using 'high quality phonics' [systematic synthetic phonics] taught discretely, not contextually. (Rose Review 2006 p70). Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary at the time, agreed and said, ''I accept all your recommendations and will ensure that they are implemented (Kelly response to interim report 30/11/05)
''I am clear that synthetic phonics should be the first strategy in teaching all children to read'' (Kelly. Times 21/03/06)
''(S)ynthetic' phonics is the form of systematic phonic work
that offers the vast majority of beginners the best route
to becoming skilled readers. Among other strengths, this is
because it teaches children directly what they need to know...whereas
other approaches, such as 'analytic' phonics, expect children
to deduce them'' (Rose
Review. 2006 para 47) ‘'Having considered a wide range of evidence the review concluded that the case for systematic phonic work is overwhelming and much strengthened by a synthetic approach’' (Rose Review 2006. para 51)
''Synthetic phonics gives all children the greatest chance of becoming literate and loving books'' Dr. Marlynne Grant EP.
Both the 2006 Rose report and the government's own generic framework for teaching synthetic phonics, Letters and Sounds, state clearly that the NLS multi-cueing strategies should no longer be used: ''(A)ttention should be focused on decoding rather than on the use of unreliable strategies such as looking at the illustrations, rereading the sentence, saying the first sounds and guessing what might fit ... Children who routinely adopt alternative cues for reading unknown words, instead of learning to decode them, find themselves stranded when texts become more demanding and meanings less predictable'' (L&S Guidance notes p.12)
Clear evidence that the majority (90%) of teachers are still using multi-cueing strategies for decoding came in NFER's 2014 report on the phonics screening check http://goo.gl/MpNsl1 p28 ''However, 90 per cent also ‘agreed’ or ‘agreed somewhat’ with the statement that a variety of different methods should be used to teach children to decode words. These percentages mirror almost exactly last year’s findings, and indicate that most teachers do not see a commitment to systematic synthetic phonics as incompatible with the teaching of other decoding strategies''
The gender gap disappears when a high quality synthetic phonics programme is used and taught well. In the Clackmannanshire study, boys and girls in the synthetic phonics programme read well above expected levels, but the boys were ahead of the girls. (Johnston and Watson. 2005) When Sir Jim Rose closely examined synthetic phonics teaching, he found that, ''A common feature of the best work was that boys' progress
and achievement did not lag behind girls: an important outcome
given the generally weaker performance of boys, especially
in writing.'' (Rose Review.2006 para 57)
Gough and Tunmer first proposed the Simple Model of Reading in 1986. In their paper the authors wrote, ''To clarify the role of decoding in reading and reading disability, a simple model of reading is proposed, which holds that reading equals the product of decoding and comprehension.... we are reluctant to equate decoding with word recognition, for the term decoding surely connotes, if not denotes, the use of letter-sound correspondence rules'' (italics added. 1986, Remedial & Special Education, Vol 7, No.1, 6-10).
"The ability to decode is at the core of reading
ability, such that learning to decode is tantamount to learning
to read." (Gough and Tunmer '86)
Morag Stuart and Rhona Stainthorp re-presented Gough and Tunmer's simple
model of reading in an annex to the 2006 Rose report, re-titled it the Simple View of Reading and described it as ''a useful conceptual framework''. They explained that, ''When trying to understand something as complex and multifaceted as reading, it is helpful first to simplify –in this case, by delineating two major, essential, interacting but different components of reading''.
Reading ability is based on two major, essential, interacting but different components: phonics decoding ability x language comprehension (vocabulary and backgound knowledge).
Listening comprehension & word decoding explains 96% of
variation in early reading comprehension
Synthetic phonics is not taught in isolation. The need to ''develop pleasure in reading, motivation to read, vocabulary and understanding'' is specifically mentioned in the statutory requirements of the new National Curriculum - see for example p11.
X The importance of
storytelling: ''Research has shown that the vocabulary of
general conversation is surprisingly impoverished, compared to
the vocabulary we find in written material''
''More rare words are used when reading a children's book than
in a conversation between college graduates: reading to kids
matters'' (Nick Gibb. MoS at the DfE)
Leaping the Lexical Bar
Does phonics help or hinder
X This flowchart is based on The Simple View of Reading. It will help you identify whether a child is struggling with decoding, comprehension - or with both.
Stuart and Stainthorp substituted the phrase ''word recognition processes'' for the word 'decoding' in the Rose report diagram illustrating the simple view of reading. This phrase was reduced to 'word recognition' in the following text. Unfortunately, this change of wording gave out the misleading and potentially damaging message that reading can be taught by giving children lists of sight words to memorise as whole shapes. It also fed the commonly held myth that all words are eventually read as holistic sight words, going straight to meaning without any intervening
subconscious phonics decoding taking place.
Rose Report 2006 -see pages 75-85 for coverage of the 'simple view of reading' https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFES-0201-2006
The Simple Model of Reading: R = DxC: Reading = Decoding grapheme-phoneme correspondence by GPC all-through-the-word (either consciously or sub-consciously sounding out) x language Comprehension. This sounds 'simple' and straightforward (it is), but the academics who oppose synthetic phonics, and continue to lobby for a range of strategies, have taken the model and put forward an interpretation that fits with their view of reading. They insist that decoding English words must involve using different sizes of sound units, not just GPCs, along with the use of 'careful guessing from context' (Dombey. Guardian Comment 30/04/08): "Decoding must be seen to denote the identification of words typical of English texts, including irregular words such as ‘said’ and ‘island’. It should not be equated with synthetic phonics, which is inadequate as a decoding system for English. So it should be taken to involve ‘flexible unit size strategies’ (Brown and Deavers, 1999), and also morphology and semantics" (Dombey. p9)
The Committee on Science & Technology examined the evidence base of the Rose Report 2006.
X Six activities that make no difference whatsoever to reading
and spelling success, and two activities that are actually
related to worse reading and spelling achievement.
The basic principles for teaching reading and spelling using synthetic / linguistic phonics:
NO whole word memorisation, NO letter names, NO guessing, NO spelling or syllable rules.
- Do provide routine phonics lessons with core
activities for at least half an hour a day in KS1 plus
additional 'seat-work' practice time, either directly following the phonics lesson or at another time.
- Do introduce the simple alphabet
code GPCs at a pace of 3 - 5 a week, preferably in the context
of real words.
- Do integrate writing (spelling) into every lesson.
- Do ensure that all the children can sit on a chair at a
table for the writing part of the phonics lesson, so that they
can sit comfortably, holding a pen or pencil correctly with a proper tripod grip.
- Do focus on the skills of sounding out and
blending all-through-the-written-word for reading and segmenting
all-through-the-spoken word for spelling immediately after teaching the first 2-3 consonants
plus a couple of vowels.
- Do introduce frequently used words which contain unusual spellings directly and systematically, emphasising the blending of the regular
parts whilst pointing out the unusual spelling.
- Do provide plenty of handwriting
practice using pencils and paper, not mini-wipeboards.
- Do develop language comprehension with at least half an hour daily dedicated specifically to spoken language, as well as across the curriculum (listening to stories, talk for writing, reciting rhymes, discussion, etc.)
- Do encourage children to use pictures and context to help with the meaning of new words once they have been successfully decoded.
- Do ensure that all text for independent early reading practice is decodable, based on the phonics teaching progression in the school's chosen programme, both in the discrete phonics lesson and beyond, for individual and home reading.
- Do guarantee daily phonics instruction after KS1 for the 'slower to learn', to ensure that no child leaves primary school unable to read.
- Do continue to use phonics alongside morphology and etymology for teaching spelling throughout KS2 and beyond.
- Don't waste phonics lesson time on extraneous activities; 'instructional time is a scarce and non–renewable resource, to be treasured and used wisely and with maximum possible effectiveness'.
- Don't ask children to memorise a whole-word
sight vocabulary consisting of high frequency words.
- Don't ask children at any stage or time, in school or out, to use 'a range of strategies' to decode words.
- Don't teach letter names until children are fluent in applying sounds.
- Don't ask children at any age to sound out all-through-words using letter names when spelling for themselves.
- Don't teach consonant initial
and end clusters, word families or rhyming endings as these
are sound units larger than the phoneme.
There are three main ways of organising classes to provide differentiation in phonics instruction:
1. The Read Write Inc. way with fluid ability groupings+ a few children receive 10 mins.of 1-1 practice before each lesson.
2. Whole class teaching with slower children receiving extra help (1-1) at some other time during the day.
3. Whole class teaching followed by whole class practice
materials with the children accessing the practice materials at their own level. This is the form of differentiation used by the Phonics International programme.
Teacher and phonics trainer Elizabeth Nonweiler says that follow up time to the daily synthetic phonics lesson should include:
It has been established that knowledge of the alphabet letter names is one of the best predictors of later reading attainment, but those who, as a consequence of this information, advocate the early teaching of the names, are confusing correlation with causation. Researchers Treiman&Tincoff found that letter name learning focused children's attention on the syllable rather than the phoneme, blocking their understanding of the alphabetic principle. In Dr.Solity's opinion, ''Teaching both [letter sounds and names] potentially confuses children and doubles the amount of information they are required to learn. Letter names are best introduced after children have gained fluency in their application of letter sounds and can distinguish between letter names and sounds with fluency. Teaching names is a redundant skill in both early reading and spelling and takes instructional time which could more usefully be devoted to other activities (Solity p20)
- activities to reinforce what was in the lesson
- handwriting practice
- reading texts (school readers or other texts they can be expected to decode)
- catch-up for those who are falling behind
- extension activities for those who are learning easily, e.g. independent writing activities
Experienced remedial tutors find that struggling readers, in particular, tend to use a strategy of mixing sounds and letter names when they try to decode. Do not teach the alphabet letter names
(ay, bee, see, dee etc.) in the first stages of teaching reading to avoid any confusion between the names and sounds
and adding unnecessarily to your child's memory load.
The Fragility of the Alphabetic Principle
X Let's not sing our ABCs
Letter names or sounds?
a study of 3000 Australian students..[30%] of children entering
high school continue to display confusion between names and
When and how to use letter names.
The Letters and Sounds programme recommends
“around 20 minutes” of daily discrete teaching of phonics
(L&S Notes of Guidance p10).
Synthetic phonics experts recommend at least half-an-hour of
daily discrete phonics teaching. Children
should then apply (practise) that knowledge in all their
reading and writing throughout the day.
UK-style synthetic phonics programmes recommend that the basic code GPCs should be introduced at the rate
of about 3-5 a week. The initial sound-letter correspondences taught are those
(commonly, s, a, t, i, p and n) that make up plenty
of two or three letter words for early reading and spelling practice and most easily avoid the 'schwa'. This
is the extra 'uh' sound that it is difficult to avoid adding
when saying the consonant sounds individually (consonant means
'together with') e.g. 'b'uh, 'j'uh (Macmillan p29). Do try to make individual sounds as
'pure' as possible when teaching them to your child. Note, that 'the sounds we model for the children are stylised versions of phonemes and not the phonemes as they actually occur in normally-spoken words' (Chew.RRF message board 12/11/09)
There will always be a few children who, from the commencement of reading instruction, for a variety of reasons and for varying periods of time, will need very careful synthetic phonics one-to-one tutoring (in addition to whole class instruction) to enable them to learn how to read; prevention rather than intervention being the aim. If your child is slow to learn the skill of consciously hearing
and manipulating phonemes (due to normal brain
variation -see D.McGuinness WCCR p151 or hearing difficulties), finds blending difficult, or has problems remembering which sounds and
graphemes go together (paired-associate learning), then a slower pace than usual and plenty of practice and revision
will be needed.
Synthetic phonics is not a simple panacea Ruth Miskin
''It is important that pressure is not put on children too early to stop sounding and blending. Many Y1 pupils who sound and blend words still need to do this in order to read accurately. If they are encouraged to say words quickly, they may resort to guessing from pictures and context'', warns Elizabeth Nonweiler.
If your child has difficulties with blending then follow John Walker's (Sounds-Write) practical advice:
Children need to practise reading and spelling newly taught graphemes in different positions in words, not just in the 'initial letter' position. This is to teach them transitivity- the understanding that there is a consistent relationship between a phoneme and a grapheme across all positions in a word and across all words e.g. the letter t stands for the phoneme /t/ in the words ' top', ‘bit', 'strap', 'tent'...
All children need to crack the English Alphabet Code in order to read and spell fluently. Synthetic Phonics provides 'The Key to the Code'.
The alphabet is used as a letter code for the individual sounds
in our speech and, like all codes, it is difficult to decipher without
the correct and complete 'key'. The English alphabet spelling code
is particularly difficult to learn. It is the most 'opaque' in the world, due to
the Norman-French, Danish, Latin and Greek spelling systems which,
over time, were mixed in with the original (635 A.D) transparent,
Anglo-Saxon system. 'For example, ch is used to spell /ch/
in Anglo-Saxon words such as chair; is used to spell /k/ in
Greek derived words such as chorus; and spells /sh/ in French-derived
words such as charade and Charlotte (Moats).
The English Alphabet Code 'Key': a limited overview -includes examples of words with unusual spellings to show how they fit into the code.
|/a/ mat, salmon, plait
||/g/ gate, egg, ghost, guest
|/ae/ ape, baby, rain,
||/h/ hat, whole
square, bear, prayer
||/j/ jet, giant,
|/ar/ jar, fast, aunt,
||/l/schwa+l/ lip, bell, sample,
|/e/ peg, bread,
said, friend, any
||/m/ man, hammer, comb, some
|/ee/ sweet, me, beach,
||/n/ nut, dinner, knee, gnat, gone
|/i/ pig, wanted, gym,
||/ng/ ring, sink, tongue
|/ie/ kite, wild, light,
fly, height, island
||/p/ pan, happy
|/o/ log, want, cough, because
|/oe/ bone, soul,
boat, snow, dough
||/r/ rat, cherry, write, rhyme
|/oi/ coin, toy
||/s/ sun, science, city, castle, pseudo
|/oo/ book, should, put, wolf
||/sh/ ship, mission,
station, chef, sure
do, shoe, through
||/t/ tap, letter, debt, waste, pterosaur
|/or/ fork, ball,
sauce, law, door, bought
|/u/ plug, thoroughly, tough,
||/v/ vet, have, of
|/ur/ turn, her, work,
first, ogre, earth
||/w/ wet, wheel, penguin
|/ue/ (y-oo) unit,
due, you, cube,
||/k-s/g-z/ box, exist
|/b/ bat, rabbit, build
|/k/ cat /key, quick,
||/z/ zip, fizz,
is, cheese, xylophone
watch, question, tube
||/zh/ treasure, television,
|/d/ dog, ladder, rubbed
||/uh/ (*schwa) button, about, picture, doctor
|/f/ fish, coffee, photo,
||Colours indicate examples of code overlap.
*The dreaded schwa.
N.B. the spellings in the chart above are placed according to a Received Pronunciation accent, but good quality phonics programmes recommend teaching to the accent of the children. For example, in a Lancashire accent the <au> spelling in aunt and laugh will move from /ar/ to /a/. ''(I)f someone in Lancashire says /s/ /t/ /er/ /z/ instead of /s/ /t/ air/ /z/, we put the spelling in the /er/ categories'' (http://literacyblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/second-half-dog-whistle-politics-of.html) The phoneme /x/, which represents the final sound in words such as 'loch' and 'lough' and is common in Scottish and Irish accents, may need to be added to charts.
There are no 'un-phonetic' words. English spelling is 100% phonetic but many of the most commonly used words (High Frequency Words/ HFWs) such as <straight>, <their> and <people>,
an unusual or unique spelling correspondence that is hard to decode initially without direct instruction. These are called common exception words in the new national curriculum.
<One> is a common exception word, often held up as a word that can't be phonically decoded. It has two GPCs; the single letter 'o' represents two sounds /w-u/ (just as the letter 'x' represents two sounds /k-s/ in the word <fox> ) and the digraph 'ne' represents the sound /n/ as in the word <gone>. There are approximately 100 HFWs with 'grotty graphemes' (Ruth Miskin) which need to be taught directly and systematically in every early reading programme, using a phonics all-through-the word approach -for a list see D.McGuinness. ERI p 58.
The ill-conceived idea of 'regular and
X How to respond to the 'But some words can't be sounded-out' objection to phonics
No English word is completely phonologically
opaque. ''Even the core of high frequency words which are not transparently decodable using known grapheme–phoneme correspondences usually contain at least one GPC that is familiar. Rather than approach these words as though they were unique entities, it is advisable to start from what is known and register the ‘tricky bit’ in the word. Even the word yacht, often considered one of the most irregular of English words, has two of the three phonemes represented with regular graphemes'' (L&S Notes of Guidance p16) .
When people unthinkingly quip that the word fish could be re-spelled as ghoti, they are revealing their lack of knowledge of the English spelling code. As John Walker explains, 'There are NO examples of <gh> representing the sound /f/ at the beginning of an English word. Traditional spelling 'rules' tend to be very unhelpful because exceptions to them often occur more frequently than the 'rules' themselves. However, in this case, we could construct a perfect rule: within English words that begin with the sound /f/, that sound /f/ is NEVER represented by the spelling <gh> at the beginning of the word! The single letter spelling <o> can represent several vowel sounds in English, but it only represents the sound / i / in one word, women (Sounds-Write Lexicon p13) The two-letter spelling <ti> represents the sound /sh/ at the beginning of several English suffixes, for example <-tion>, <-tious> and <-tial>. There are no examples of the digraph <ti> representing the sound /sh/ at the end of an English word. ''There are, of course, words that end in <ti>, such as yeti, but in all those words the <t> and <i> are single-letter spellings, each of them representing one sound''.
A myth, disseminated by the whole language advocates, is that using synthetic phonics to teach reading leads to lower comprehension levels. This is absolutely not the case. The Clackmannanshire researchers Johnston and Watson say, ''Much is made of the fact that the synthetic phonics programme in Clackmannanshire led to much greater increases in word reading and spelling skill than in reading comprehension, implying that reading comprehension did not benefit from the intervention. However, it should be noted that at the end of the seventh year at school, reading comprehension in the study was significantly above age level, in a sample that had a below average SES (socio-economic status) profile'' (RRF newsletter 59. p3) A follow up study by Johnston and Watson found that, ''The children in the Clackmannanshire study (taught by the synthetic phonics method) were reading words about two years ahead of what would be expected for their age. Their spelling was six months ahead of what you would expect for their age, and their reading comprehension was about right for their age. However, although the pupils in England (taught by the NLS analytic method) from similar backgrounds were reading words about right for their age, their spelling was 4.5 months below what is expected for age, and reading comprehension was about seven months behind'' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/7147813.stm)
When students struggle with word decoding, their comprehension also suffers. ''One way we overcome this limitation
of working memory while reading is by learning how to make a rapid,
automatic deployment of underlying reading processes so that they become
fast and unconscious, leaving the conscious mind (i.e., the working memory)
free to think about what a text means. This is why fast and accurate
decoding is important. Experiments show that a child who can sound out
nonsense words quickly and accurately has mastered the decoding process and
is on the road to freeing up her working memory to concentrate on
comprehension of meaning''
Decoding, comprehension and muddled thinking.
Specific Reading Comprehension Disability: major problem,
myth or misnomer?
Another widely circulated piece of mis-information is that synthetic phonics teachers engage in the ''rather cruel'' (Goouch/Lambirth p39) practice of withholding real books from children until they have ''cracked the phonic code'' (Hileryjane blog 27/01/10). Certainly, as the synthetic phonics method positively excludes the use of whole word memorisation and multi-cueing decoding strategies, beginning readers are not expected to use the early levels of whole language
banded scheme books (Book Bands: pink, red, yellow, blue and green), or 'real books', for independent reading practice. As Debbie Hepplewhite says, ''There is a myth that children who get synthetic phonics teaching are totally deprived of real books. The reality is that children who get true synthetic phonics teaching are not expected to read independently a book which they cannot decode so that they are forced to guess the words or memorise the sentences by heart''. Fortunately, there are plenty of attractive and well designed decodable book schemes available nowadays. These schemes are written using cumulative phonics text, making them suitable for beginning readers (or those having reading intervention) from the very earliest stages.
As Sir Jim Rose wrote in his 2006 review, “The findings of this review argue strongly for the inclusion of a vigorous programme of phonic work to be securely embedded within a broad and rich language curriculum”. Beginning readers in high quality synthetic phonics classrooms will have plenty of access to real books (fiction and non-fiction) with freedom to browse the text if they want to do so. When doing shared reading of a real book, the teacher (or parent if it is a home book) takes responsibility for reading any as yet untaught GPCs or words with tricky spellings so no multi-cueing (guessing) or whole word memorisation is necessary.
It's also a myth that children taught through synthetic phonics and decodable books will never be able to read 'normal' books independently. Jenny Chew (contributor to 'Letters & Sounds') notes that, ''mixed methods' children do more independent reading of 'rich' literature in the early stages because they aren't limited to words that they can decode - they also know lots of 'sight' words and can guess from pictures and context''. But this is a hare and tortoise situation because, as Chew goes on to say, children taught using systematic synthetic phonics, ''quickly become better readers of 'rich' literature, and that as they can really read the words they are not dependent on guessing''(Chew. RRF message board)
X Phonics AND the love of reading
Maggie Downie, a secondary school reading intervention tutor, explains why it is important that beginning readers are not asked to read real books or whole language texts independently. She says, ''There is a world of difference between 'looking' at books and reading them. Synthetic phonics practitioners are just as concerned that children should enjoy a 'literature rich environment' as any of the balanced literacy/whole language advocates. All that they say is that children should not be expected to READ books which are beyond their current state of phonic knowledge. Giving children words to decode which are beyond their capability is something akin to expecting a beginning pianist to play a piano sonata before they have mastered the scales. Systematic phonics instruction is scaffolded learning; give the child words to read which it hasn't learnt the code for and you pull the scaffold away from under them, leaving them dangling helplessly with no option but to guess at the word. This confuses and scares children, and turns them off reading. I can't understand why anyone would want to do that.'' Phonics expert Ruth Miskin agrees, ''While we're teaching them this nightmare alphabetic code, we should give them simple books to read, but the richest books to hear'' (Guardian 01/04/08)
In his 2006 review, Sir Jim Rose wrote, ''There is some force in the
view that, as they learn to master the alphabetic code, children
should be given reading material that is well within their
reach in the form of 'decodable books'... Using such books
as part of the phonic programme does not preclude other reading.
Indeed it can be shown that such books help children develop
confidence and an appetite for reading more widely.'' (Rose
Review.2006 para 82)
Oct 2010: The DfE's revised set of criteria for synthetic phonics programmes included new advice on early texts to practise reading: ''(E)nsure that as pupils move through the early stages of acquiring phonics, they are invited to practise by reading texts which are entirely decodable for them, so that they experience success and learn to rely on phonemic strategies. It is important that texts are of the appropriate level for children to apply and practise the phonic knowledge and skills that they have learnt. Children should not be expected to use strategies such as whole-word recognition and/or cues from context, grammar, or pictures.''
alternative to Book Bands for beginner readers
Too bound by Book Bands
X Video: Alison Clarke illustrates why predictable or repetitive texts are harmful for beginning readers.
''Some schools believe that the work of teaching explicit phonics is completed by the end of Y1. However, there is much to be gained by continuing to teach and reinforce phonics throughout Key Stages 1 and 2 and by continuing to apply phonemic strategies throughout the whole curriculum during the school day'' (Dr.Grant Follow-up study p8)
Dr. Marlynne Grant's recommendations: What to do in Year 2 and beyond
• Check basic code knowledge and advanced code knowledge for all children moving to Year 2
• Ensure that there is phonics catch-up in place with identified children as often as possible
• Whole class and targeted practice, preferably daily, with the alphabetic code, particularly basic
code digraphs and the advanced code (e.g. ‘long’ vowel digraphs)
• Reinforce letter formation, particularly start points of letters. Errors such as reversals are most
often orthographic errors
• Continue applying phonics throughout the whole curriculum and throughout the school day.
Simple phonics walls charts of the basic and advanced codes can hugely support both staff and
children with this. More unusual graphemes can also be identified and their virtual position
located on the advanced code chart
• Incidental phonics teaching can continue with words that crop up in the course of the school day
• Continue beyond phonics to polysyllabic words, ensuring children can break down longer words
into smaller chunks, are aware of prefixes, root words, suffixes and syllables. Phonics is then
used within smaller chunks for reading and spelling.
• Continue to tackle ‘tricky’ words and high frequency words phonemically, identifying any ‘tricky’
grapheme-phoneme correspondence(s). Do not learn these by sight as whole words.
• Remind children to continue using their phonics and not to guess at words when reading
• Remind children to vocalise words clearly when spelling and identify all the sounds in the word or
chunk of a word
• Continue with decodable storybooks and texts to reinforce specific weak areas and extend skills
• Continue with structured handwriting and writing practice, making a plan of key paragraphs and
using a ‘talk for writing’/modelled writing approach which includes verbal rehearsal of sentences,
adult moderation, accurate writing of sentences, one at a time, and reading back to check what
• Set negotiated written expectations for those children who are struggling most with pieces of
written work. Aim for accuracy rather than quantity with clear paragraphs, coherent English
sentences, accurate punctuation and spelling. (Dr.Grant Follow-up study p8-9)
Prof. Pamela Snow: Language is literacy is language -
Positioning speech-language pathology in education policy,
practice, paradigms and polemics
# Stuart, M. (1999). RCT.
Synthetic phonics teaching improves reading and spelling in inner-city second language learners.
# DfE Evidence paper: The Importance of Phonics: Securing Confident Reading
# Empirical study using a synthetic phonics programme 'Sound Discovery' from YR-KS2 (700 children) ''dyslexia eliminated''
# Sound~Write's longitudinal study of literacy development from 2003-2009, following 1607 pupils through KS1
# Synthetic phonics and early reading development. ''A synthetic phonics approach may be particularly suitable for children starting school with weaker than average language skills (e.g., those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds)'' http://www.drsarahmcgeown.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/a-phonics-focused-approach-to-teach.html
X A prototype for teaching the English Alphabet Code by Professor Diane McGuinness.
2006 Fourth time at the ball. Will phonics ever find her magic slipper? Diane McGuinness
Comprehensive report on the Phonics International programme's implementation in a W.Aus. primary school.
Myths about synthetic phonics
13 myths about synthetic phonics.
Phonics:The Scientific Research Evidence.
Phonological awareness versus teaching letter/s-sound links
# Longitudinal Study of the Effects on Reading and Spelling of a Synthetic Phonics and Systematic Spelling and Grammar Program: N.B. re.PA training ''It can be concluded that none of the pre-test scores [included PA] were useful in predicting the scores obtained in the Waddington tests at the end of Reception and Year1''.p7
# The Clackmannanshire study: A Seven Year Study of the Effects of
Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment
# 2017. Phonics works.
New research suggests that sounding out words is the best way to
The paper describes how people who are taught
the meanings of whole words don’t have any better reading
comprehension skills than those who are primarily taught using
phonics. In fact, those using phonics are just as good at
comprehension, and are significantly better at reading aloud.
# Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching on the reading and spelling ability of 10 year old boys and girls.
Fact and Fiction about the Clackmannanshire study.
# Rhona Johnston's ppt. on the Clackmannanshire study
Phonics: The Holy Grail of Reading? Jenny Chew explains the
relationship between Decoding and Comprehension.
Research About Reading Instruction: A Time For Action
# Three large-scale classroom research studies provide evidence about exactly which elements of instruction are effective, and which of those are not, when teaching children to read.
For ideological reasons, many educational academics remain vehemently opposed to synthetic phonics (Wyse. Rose Tinted Spectacles ppt).
Even now they campaign to overturn the 2006 Rose report's conclusions and recommendations (Wyse/Styles.Editorial), and all government initiatives, both Labour and Conservative,
made following the Rose report, designed to ensure that
synthetic phonics is taught as the sole decoding method. Education consultant, John Bald, quotes Andrew Lambirth, professor of education at the University of Greenwich and author of, 'Literacy on the Left: reform and revolution', as saying that the synthetic phonics method was ''designed to restrict and control children in the interests of the owners of the means of production''.
Although these academics concede that teaching decoding using synthetic phonics ''can be extremely effective'' in transparent languages (Wyse/Goswami p693), in their opinion there is still ''not enough evidence'' that
discretely taught synthetic phonics is superior to
contextualised multi-cueing for decoding in English.
Over the course of many decades they have consistently failed to provide any
scientific evidence to support this opinion.
The academics cherry-picked two particular publications from the extensive range of evidence that the Rose report team considered, to back their
view. They singled out the American National Reading Panel (NRP) report and the DCSF commissioned Torgerson et al research review (Wyse/Goswami p693) because these publications tied in with their ideology, having as their conclusion that there was no strong evidence, ''that any one form of systematic phonics is more effective than another''. The Torgerson et al review carried little weight with the Rose report team. The reasons for this are explained in a report by Parliament's Committee on Science & Technology, produced after they had examined the evidence base of the Rose report -see paras.22,23,24:
Professor Diane McGuinness, a cognitive scientist trained in statistical analysis, also examined both publications closely. See
http://dyslexics.org.uk/comment.pdf for her Torgerson et al analysis, and her book, 'Early Reading Instruction' Chapter 4, for a comprehensive analysis of the NRP report. For an additional critique of the American NRP report see
As a matter of fact, evidence of the superiority of direct and systematic phonics teaching was already available in the 1960s. In her book Learning to Read: the great debate, Prof. Jeanne Chall noted that, ''The current research also suggests that some advantage may accrue to direct as compared to indirect phonics. It would seem that many of the characteristics of direct phonics, such as teaching letter-sounds directly, separating the letter-sounds from the words, giving practice in blending the sounds, and so forth are more effective than the less direct procedures used in current analytic phonics programmes'' (Chall. Learning to Read: the great debate.1967)
Jeanne Chall 1921-1999.
As part of their mission to overturn the synthetic phonics initiative, the same educational academics attempted to subvert the Clackmannanshire research study because, unlike the Torgerson et al.review and NRP report,
it concluded that, ''synthetic phonics was a more effective approach to teaching reading, spelling and phonemic awareness than analytic phonics'' (Johnston and Watson, 2004 p351) . This study played a large part in persuading the then DCSF to introduce synthetic phonics as the primary method to teach reading. ''Johnston and Watson (2004) carried out two experiments, one controlled trial and one randomised controlled trial (the gold standard of scientific research) to understand the effects of synthetic phonics teaching on reading and spelling attainment. The research is known as the ‘Clackmannanshire study’. Clackmannanshire is a very deprived area of Scotland. Many of the pupils came from extremely deprived homes and/or had significant educational difficulties – and yet pupils tracked from pre-school to age 11 achieved results in reading and spelling far beyond that expected for their age'' (italics added. DfE. evidence paper p3) The academics, ideologically opposed to synthetic phonics, disseminated myths and misinformation about the Clackmannanshire research -see the RRF newsletter article, 'Fact and Fiction about the Clackmannanshire study', which also includes comment on the Torgerson et al review:
An examination of the Torgerson et al meta-analysis
'Old Andrew' explores phonics denialism -also see parts 2 and
Marilyn Jager Adams wrote the foreword for the last book (The Academic Achievement Challenge) written by the late Jeanne
Chall, Professor of Education at Harvard University, outstanding academic researcher
and a staunch advocate for synthetic phonics. Marilyn Jager Adams wrote, ''Many years later,
when I was given the task of reviewing the research on phonics, Chall told me
that if I wrote the truth, I would lose old friends and make new enemies. She
warned me that I would never again be fully accepted by my academic colleagues''. Adams continues, ''as
the evidence in favor of systematic, explicit phonics instruction for beginners
increased so too did the vehemence and nastiness of the backlash. The goal became
one of discrediting not just the research, but the integrity and character of
those who had conducted it.'' (Chall p.vi)