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Reading Reform Foundation (RRF) - Promoting Synthetic Phonics : Page Title

RRF Newsletter 47 back to contents
Phono-Graphix helps older students Christine Cartwright


When I began teaching adults with reading and spelling problems in 1994, I was confident that a good dose of phonics would solve all their difficulties. To my great disappointment this turned out not to be the case. They hardly seemed to make any progress at all, whatever method I tried, which seemed very puzzling.

It was reading Diane McGuinness’s book, Why Children Can’t Read that finally gave me the answers. Her book explained problems which exactly matched those my adults were experiencing.  She also showed how the methods used in Phono-Graphix could overcome these. I have been using Phono-Graphix for about two years now and at last have something that really seems to work well for these older students.

The McGuinnesses stress the importance of developing in the students a deep understanding of the nature of the English written language, something these students lack, surprisingly, even when they possess a good knowledge of the letters and the sounds they represent:

Phono-Graphix teaches the following concepts:

·        The English written language is a sound based code. Letters are pictures representing sounds and a ‘sound picture’ can comprise one or more than one letter. For example the three sounds in ‘boat’ are represented by b oa t.

·      There is variation in the code. Thus, the sound in ‘boat’ could be represented by:

Bot       o

Boet     oe

Boat     oa

Bote     o-e

·        There is overlap in the code. Some components of the code can represent more than one sound, as ‘ow’ in the words ‘brown’ and ‘snow’.

The explanation of these concepts combined with teaching methods using straightforward and simple logic ensure that students do achieve a much better understanding of the English written language. Without this insight the written language appears illogical and incomprehensible. 

For example, a frequent complaint from my students used to be with the number of different ways to represent sounds in words and how were they supposed to know which spelling to use? The teaching of spelling rules did nothing to alleviate their frustration. 

The concept that the English written language is a sound based code with variation as taught by Phono-Graphix gives the students a more logical explanation. A simple method is taught to manage this variation. The frustration disappears. One benefit of this improved understanding is that they are able to make much better use of their inherent knowledge. This is something that just did not seem possible using other methods

As many adults already have a very good knowledge of letters and the sounds they represent this can lead to a remarkable and speedy improvement in their spelling performance. It is wonderful to share in their joy when this happens, especially when they have spent so many years trying and not getting anywhere and it can make such a difference to their lives, as the letter written by a student I have been teaching this year demonstrates:

When I first started this course I felt I couldn’t do anything for myself. I have three children and they always wanted me to read to them, but I always told them no because I didn’t want to look stupid in front of them, but now I do all the reading possible. I can write letters to people and don’t have to worry that they won’t understand it at all.

Because this course has helped me so much I am starting college in September and I don’t feel scared about doing it like I did before and the one person I owe it all to is Christine.

Thank you.          Name supplied.


Christine Cartwright is employed as a basic skills tutor at Woodhill Prison, Milton Keynes, and she is also a volunteer mentor for the Thames Valley Basic Skills Project. This latter scheme is aimed at helping offenders on probation who have requested help with their basic skills. The role is to assist on a one to one basis to encourage, support and train so that they are able to move on to mainstream training, education or work.




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