Open and closed syllables

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Bob Boden
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sounding out words with 'ei'

Post by Bob Boden » Sun Nov 04, 2007 9:06 pm

I thought the sentence: "Neither foreign sheik seized the weird heights." showed quite clearly the difficulty facing our children when they begin to learn to read English and have to progress beyond the 'c a t spells cat' stage.

I would note that the Phondot system is capable of converting the sentence to a form in which all letters have but one sound, but the original spelling is not obscured.

Bob Boden

Derrie Clark
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Post by Derrie Clark » Sun Nov 04, 2007 9:18 pm

The key is to embed the teaching of literacy in the sounds of the language Judy. If this fundamental principle is observed through a systematic and cummulative approach that teaches the reversibility of spelling and reading there is no need for rules.

Personally, I have never ever used a rule when reading or spelling.

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Post by mtyler » Sun Nov 04, 2007 10:05 pm

Some people find rules helpful, though.

As for teaching multisyllabic words, I have tried two different approaches that I liked:

1. I instructed my daughter to read the sounds until she wasn't sure. I told her to keep her finger under the letter or letters where she stopped. Then to keep doing this through the word. I would help with sound alternatives as necessary.

2. I gave her a list of long words broken up into reading syllables. I say this to distinguish typing syllables, thus keeping parts of graphemes together. For example:

di-stin-guish distinguish (Helping with uncommon graphemes, n-/ng/ and u-/w/)

We would read through the lists of words for fluency. This seemed to help activity one get easier.

I also found it important to instruct reading each sound only once, so that the words was not lost in the confusion of saying extra sounds.

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Post by Judy » Mon Nov 05, 2007 12:25 pm

Thank you, Derrie. But I am still wondering how you overcome the difficulty that some children experience when faced with a choice of graphemes that can represent one phoneme, when spelling.

Surely it makes sense to limit the choices by offering them 'tips', such as that 'oi' and 'ai' rarely, if ever, come at the end of a word?

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Post by mtyler » Mon Nov 05, 2007 3:37 pm

One thing I've thought about is that in presenting a group of words related by grapheme, for example, 'ai' for the sound /ae/, you could ask the student if they see any patterns in the word list. If they see a pattern, then it can be helpful for them. Then as instructor you can either teach them the patterns you see or just let them work through the word list.

It might be that there is a difference in using the word 'rule' versus 'pattern'. The first implies a much more rigorous use.

I do think that in the end it goes back to Jenny C.'s level of "word specific knowledge." There is no reason why some words are spelled the way they are, 'city' not 'sittie'. Well, that's not exactly true. City is probably spelled as it is as it relates to citizen, whereas if spelled the alternative I would be inclined to think it had something to do with sitting down.

So perhaps you could also try teaching words grouped by meaning. I recall reading a Spelling Society (can't remember the exact name) article that stated that in this way English is quite regular. Words that are connected by primary meaning are spelled similarly-like hear, hearing, heard, hears.

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Post by AngusM » Tue Nov 06, 2007 11:08 pm


Sounds like you are describing working with ‘spelling alternatives’ for phonemes - as opposed to ‘code overlaps’ for graphemes (i.e. where they represent more than one phoneme). I think (maybe wrongly?) that ‘tweaking’ tends to deal with the latter: the student tries out different sounds that might be represented by a particular grapheme - but without having to (so-to-speak) back up one menu level and then laboriously come down another GPC path!

The programs I’ve seen teach ‘spelling alternatives’ in a variety of ways: some ask students to sort words containing the targeted phoneme by their different graphemes; others require identifying targeted phonemes in text and then writing and sorting them by their spelling variations. ** uses something called ‘scratch spelling’ where a child is encouraged to write a word using all of the alternative spellings for a phoneme that he/she can remember and then to pick the one that looks right. Incidentally, this was one aspect of P-G that was criticized by Diane McGuinness - for possibly reinforcing incorrect spelling. Code overlaps can be taught in many of the same ways also, I believe.

I’m sure, as Melissa says, it comes down to word specific knowledge but I believe this has to be combined with knowledge of the GPCs (hence pseudo-words) - if only to facilitate tweaking code overlays and scratch spelling of spelling alternatives. For good readers, as Perfetti shows, word specific knowledge includes “orthographic, phonological, and semantic-syntactic information”. (The Lexical Quality Hypothesis - Precursors of Functional Literacy (pp.189-213) ... thesis.pdf

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Post by Judy » Wed Nov 07, 2007 12:06 am

Thank you for your suggestions, Melissa and Angus.

I do already use most of the strategies you suggest. But there have been various discussions previously on the subject of choosing the correct spelling alternatives and I think it has been agreed that something more than phonics is needed eventually, ie word-specific learning and perhaps some spelling 'rules' (I call them 'tips') as well. So when Derrie mentioned that the Sounds~write programme succeeds in teaching the spelling alternatives without needing to resort to either of these (I think!), I was interested to learn more. After all, anything which reduces the pupils' workload or memory load is worth hearing about. :grin:

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Wed Nov 07, 2007 4:09 pm

I think there are some invaluable tips.

I don't like the idea of 'rules' because along with rules, there are always 'exceptions'.

There's nothing wrong with noting 'exceptions' to 'generalities'.

But better still, is an honest approach of raising awareness or drawing attention to aspects of the English written code.

Awareness of both patterns and exceptions will serve the pupils in good stead.

The English Alphabetic Code is not an exact science so we should, arguably, not attempt to have 'hard and fast rules'.

But what we can do is try to organise the code both to teach it and to learn it and to track teaching and learning.

This is why I go on and on and on about the notion of The Alphabetic Code chart and why I give useful versions of examples of such a chart away for free.

I can put myself in the shoes of a new mother, or a teacher, and consider what I, myself, would have found helpful many years ago.

And that is what I focus on producing for people.

All practical and supportive stuff - I hope.

At least - that is my intent! ;-)

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Post by AngusM » Thu Nov 29, 2007 10:42 pm

Here is a response I received from Michael Bend of ABeCeDarian here in the US - about the research (into the efficacy of teaching syllabication rules) which I posted to this thread last month. As always, he is very interesting -


I think you are asking two separate but related questions, one psychological and the other epistemological.

They psychological question is basically, Why do people believe something. It is clear that you find it almost incomprehensible that educators could advocate and use what seems to you as a clearly ineffective practice. I would just point out that people with access to more or less the same evidence come up with widely divergent positions on all topics ranging from the profound to the trivial. If you look at medicine, there is a movement or push for "evidence-based" medicine, because many recommendations have been promulgated because of habit and tradition, and not on the basis of reliable data. So it is not just education where this problem lies. With regard specifically to proponents of O-G, I would urge you to consider that given the disgracefully poor training in teaching reading that pre-service teachers receive in ed school, many dedicated teachers have an almost religious experience when they discover O-G, after having floundered with whole language or a bad basal for years--after using O-G, they are finally able to see some progress in students whom they had been unable to teach at all before. Hence, there is a kind of devotion that is very resistant to criticism. One of the most outstanding reading coaches I have ever worked with brought ABeCeDarian to her school district in Florida and loved everything about my workshop except the way that I taught students to approach multisyllable words--she was going to stick to teaching the syllable types.

Which brings us to the epistemological question about how we can know about the efficacy of specific instructional practices. Although the literature is filled with research on very narrow instructional questions (i.e., does teaching syllable types or other syllabication rules improve decoding), it is difficult to evaluate the relative effectiveness of a particular technique that is embedded within a whole, integrated program of instruction. Engelmann himself makes this point, railing against the checklist mentality of the National Reading Panel and Reading First enforcers, many of whom, ironically, are Engelmann disciples. (See the essay, "The Leopard and Its Spots" on the Zig website.) For instance, maybe what activates the usefulness of teaching the syllable types is letter/sound fluency and fluency at reading one-syllable real and nonsense words--if these are brought up to a certain high, minimum level, then students understand the syllable types and the technique can show some empirical improvement in decoding, whereas teaching them in the absence of such fundamental skill fluency is pointless. Or it could be the amount and kind of practice. It could be how teachers correct errors, etc. Mind you, I'm not advocating teaching the syllable types at all--I agree with you that they are an awkward and inefficient way to train the mind to understand how letters in English represent sounds. But I do believe the question is complex.

I think the right use of data should be do make two kinds of judgments about what is happening in a school. The main reading instruction, whatever it is, needs to get about 80% of the kids reading well. If the school isn't achieving that, then they need to change what they are doing. For the remaining 20%, the evaluation of instruction needs to be made on an individual basis--if the student is not making good progress (sooner rather than later--we can measure this in kindergarten!) then something significant has to change in that student's instruction--the kind of instruction needs to change, the intensity, etc.

Well, very stimulated questions. Hope what I say makes some sense.


My answer:

.....I also agree that this research is often difficult and laborious to do scientifically. And, no doubt there may well be some knock on effects from teaching children to focus on these ridiculous 'rules' of syllabication. Children may find it helps working memory; or, maybe as you say, breaking words into (phonotactical) nonsense parts, will help their decoding and fluency. But, I can find no science which supports the idea that good readers use these kinds of rules to help them read. And, I believe, that all of the knock on effects you describe (practice, nonsense words, fluency) can be achieved more simply by modeling and working phonetically.

How to evaluate what is happening in schools like my daughter's? I basically agree with you here - but, as you probably know, Berninger and others have taken groups of diagnosed "dyslexics" and remediated 98% in one to two years - so, maybe 20% is too lax? I would add two additional criteria to yours . One is speed (if the same results are achieved faster - and maintained over time - then the faster program is better); and two, if the approach is simpler (fewer rules - and as Diane McGuinness says, 'nothing is learned that has to be unlearned later') and achieves similar results then Occam's Razor applies and the simpler one is automatically better. It seems to me that O-G fails on both of these counts when compared to Linguistic or Synthetic Phonics.

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