Floating idea for Reception/Early Years

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Dave Philpot
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Post by Dave Philpot » Wed Apr 07, 2004 8:06 pm

Hi Lesley!

It's really not easy to answer your queries without re-writing the bulk of the Sounds~Write Manual, because the devil is in the detail and we have produced very detailed lesson plans (but hopefully easy to follow). For example, there are issues over the language that we encourage teachers to use and to teach their pupils (and their parents) to use so that there is no doubt what anyone is talking about - and it does take a bit of practice for most of us to become totally consistent in our speech about graphemes and phonemes so that the two don't get confounded. One difference between compared to P-G is that there are fifteen main lessons in the total S~W programme and all of them include a writing aspect.

It is worth remembering that almost every lesson you can come up with has been tried before. I'm very bad at remembering references, but I'm pretty sure, for example, that the idea of coded text as used in PG dates back to a lady teacher in 1903 (The name Nellie Dean springs to mind!).

In respect of teaching polysyllabic words we have very carefully focused lessons for teaching word building and word spelling at the phoneme level, before teaching the same things at syllable level - and we find that rushing the phoneme level work causes many pupils to lose sight of the strategy and then 'fail'. There is then a further lesson which is used to show pupils how to seek out the 'unusually' spelled phonemes and the schwas in any polysyllabic word - and then how to commit them to SOUND memory so that they can be recovered when writing to ensure accurate spelling.

Interestingly, we have trained several people on S~W courses who were already PG trained. They have all said that our course has enabled them to understand properly how all the parts of the linguistic phonic approach fit together to teach students fluent and comprehensive literacy skills and knowledge.

Hope this helps a little.

Dave P.

Dave Philpot
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Joined: Wed Dec 03, 2003 8:46 pm

Post by Dave Philpot » Wed Apr 07, 2004 9:12 pm

Hi Jenny!

During my first 25 years as an ed psych I have lost count of the number of pupils I have watched fail to become literate despite seeing some excellent and knowledgeable teachers teaching them carefully constructed traditional phonic programmes. And it has always been self evident to me that phonics was the only way to teach that could possibly work. Back in the 80's I even co-authored a complex suite of computer programmes for teaching traditional phonics. It was only about five years ago that I found the courage to go revisit them with an open mind and question whether the activities and lessons involved were really phonic. When I did, I found to my horror that they weren't. The more I looked at them the more I realised that they actually exist to 'explain' spelling. But as you rightly point out, a symbol and sound connection is always involved. This isn't a problem in a transparent system where each symbol represents one, and only one, sound and each sound is only represented by one symbol. This is why, although traditional phonics is actually trying to demonstrate that c...a...t spells cat, it also inadvertently demonstrates that the spoken word cat can be written as c..a..t. Most traditional phonic programmes if taught well get pupils to reading ages of about six and a half, ie the initial letter sounds and the consonant digraphs sh, ch & th. It is only then that things can start going hideously wrong. When a pupil reads a word incorrectly the starting point for correction (ie tuition) is what the child has said, not what is written on the paper. Reading is about turning marks on paper into speech, and when errors are made we need to consider the speech first, considering the letters first is a graphemic approach. After all, if there were no problems with traditional phonic teaching it would work and we wouldn't be having debates about it.

A different example to last time. The idea that there is a hard g in the word get and a soft g in the word gym (or is it the other way round?). As we all know, "g" and "j" are two very different consonant phonemes made with completely different mouth shapes. The idea that they are hard & soft versions of the same thing is clearly not true, but is being used to explain why the letter g can represent both the sounds "g" & "j", ie this is a graphemic idea - and a nonsensical one at that, equally as bad and confusing as silent letters. There is no problem with this in a true phonic approach other than it being a totally unecessary complexity.

You introduced one of these situations yourself in your response when you wrote there are a few words where ['oa'] is followed by 'r' which turns it into a trigraph pronounced as in 'boar'. In English speech there are 19 sounds known as vowels that have no direct perceptual relationship. Two of these are the phonemes 'oe' and 'or'. But you have highlighted a spurious connection by starting with the digraph 'oa', adding a single letter grapheme 'r' and ended with a trigraph 'oar' that can be used to show a different phoneme "or". Pointing this out to children implies that it is the written symbols that are controlling speech and logically maybe even that "or" is a dipthong composed of "oe" sliding into "r". Not totally dissimilar from saying that letters 'make' sounds when letters actually only represent the sounds that people make. These are the types of processes that cause many children to get confused and retreat to their only secure strategy, ie that of trying to add the word to their sight-vocabulary memory, ultimately resulting in the research figures that show 52% of British adults are effectively illiterate (see www.oecd.org).

David Share's point about kickstarting the self-teaching mechanism is a good one. However, the reality is that some pupils catch on to the process very young (even at 3) and others don't. Those that don't need a lot more tuition. Some pupils get there when they have learned about 50~60 sound:symbol correspondences, but others may need the full 175 or so suggested in the S~W programme. Experience may teach us that no pupil ever needs to be taught more than 140 say, or maybe that a few do need to be taught them all.

Dave P.

Dave Philpot
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Post by Dave Philpot » Wed Apr 07, 2004 9:22 pm


Re **. I think Geoffrey McG's claim that it is not phonic was basically an attempt to distance PG from traditional phonic programmes, which in my opinion (and probably his) are not necessarily very phonic. We had the same problem with Sounds~Write, but in the end felt that as S~W is phonic we would just have to accept a degree of confusion in those who aren't familiar with, or don't understand, all the arguments. But I can understand Geoffrey not wanting PG to be perceived as just another minor variation on what has gone before.

Dave P

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Post by maizie » Wed Apr 07, 2004 10:10 pm

This is a fascinating discussion, but I'm begining to get a trifle lost!

Dave, could you define a 'traditional phonics' programme please? From what you are saying about your programme and P-G it feels as if you are saying that they very different from traditional phonics and I am not sure what you are comparing them with. Where would you place programmes such as Jolly Phonics and Sound Discovery?

I don't quite understand your exampleof the difficulty with 'g' spelling the 'g' and 'j' sound. As far as I can see 'g' only represents the 'J' sound when it is followed by 'i' 'e' or 'y', the same way that 'c' is modified to the 's' sound when followed by the same letters. If we are looking at the letters and letter combinations as elements of a code then I can't see how this can lead to confusion. On the other hand, I am very new to this game so I could easily be completely missing something here.

I have to teach KS3 children to read and spell, you will know that time is of the essence by this sstage; I'm very anxious to find the most effective method.

Jenny Chew

Floating idea for Reception/Early Years

Post by Jenny Chew » Thu Apr 08, 2004 11:09 pm

This thread really needs a change of heading!

Anyway, here's my response to Dave's response to me....

I'd be really interested to know, Dave, what the source is of your statement that 'most traditional phonics programmes if taught well get pupils to reading ages of about six and a half, i.e. the initial letter sounds and the consonant digraphs sh, ch and th'. I myself was taught a lot more consonant and vowel digraphs than this at primary school in South Africa in the 1940s. The USA Spalding programme (first published in 1957) covers much more than you suggest - likewise Joyce Morris's 'Language in Action' (1970s).

You say that 'when a pupil reads a word incorrectly, the starting point for correction (i.e. tuition) is what the child has said, not what is written on the paper. Reading is about turning marks on paper into speech, and when errors are made we need to consider the speech first, considering the letters first is a graphemic approach'. It seems from this that your main focus is on what to do when things go wrong. Some of us, however, focus more on how to get things right in the first place, so we focus on the initial turning of marks on paper into speech - if that is a 'graphemic approach', it's because that is in the very nature of the reading task. I agree that there IS a place for the sort of remedial instruction where the pupil is invited to analyse the spoken word he has just produced to see whether he has converted the print accurately, but I don't think that this should be elevated to the point where it takes over completely.

Re. 'hard and soft g': I'm amazed at your take on this. No one that I know of has ever suggested that they are 'hard and soft versions of the same thing', if by that you mean 'different versions of the same sound'. Rather, they are different sound-values for the same GRAPHEME. Way back in the 1940s, I was taught to try both sounds, if necessary, when I saw 'g' in a word - ditto for 'c'. We started learning Afrikaans at 7, and then had to learn to convert the letter 'g' into a guttural sound (more guttural than the final phoneme in the Scottish word 'loch'. This was not a problem - it was just another sound for that letter-shape, and we were by then quite used to the idea that each letter-shape could represent more than one sound. My teachers didn't used the terms 'hard' and 'soft' at all, and I have never used them with any child I have taught - once they get beyond 'basic code' stage, I have just said something like 'When you see that letter-shape, you may have to try a /j/ sound if the /g/ doesn't sound right'.

I wondered, when I wrote what I did about 'oa' and 'oar', whether you would take it the wrong way, but thought I would risk it for the sake of brevity. My point is this: in first-time reading (as distinct from correcting misreadings), the reader has to group letters as digraphs and trigraphs where necessary. He is processing the print from left to right: he looks at the word 'board' - he is familiar enough with 'oa' not to fall into the trap of seeing the 'o' and the 'a' as separate 'sound pictures', but he is about to sound out the 'oa' as 'oh' when he notices the following 'r' and realises that he is dealing with a trigraph rather than a digraph. We have to do this grouping of letters on the hoof, so to speak, in reading. Actually, if he had a Scottish or American accent, he might not have to learn 'oar' as a trigraph, as pronouncing the 'oa' as 'oh' and then adding the /r/ sound, as people with rhotic accents do, would produce a pronunciation very close to his normal one. You imply that it is wrong to give children the impression that 'it is the written symbols that are controlling speech' - but as far as I am concerned there is a sense in which the written symbols do indeed control the speech we produce in a READING situation. Letters may not strictly speaking 'make sounds', but they DO make the reader make sounds.

Exactly how much of the code needs to be explicitly taught in a classroom situation is a moot point. Spalding teaches 70-odd phonograms and then finds that the children just take off. 'Jolly Phonics' teaches (I think) 60+, with a number of others covered through 'tricky words'. I myself have taught only a few beginners (mostly family members - two of them under two when we started), and have never found it necessary to cover more than the Spalding/'Jolly Phonics' sort of range. But it may well be that your S~W programme produces even better results. Keep us informed about test results!


Dave Philpot
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Post by Dave Philpot » Fri Apr 09, 2004 7:08 pm

Hi Maizie!

Re: traditional phonics. I suppose I use the term in order to distinguish between programmes such as Sounds~Write and ** and other 'phonic' programmes where the teaching ideas seem to be to focused in the direction of graphemes to speech, rather than the other way round. So Jolly Phonics would come in that category and I suspect Sound Discovery would as well, but I'm not that familiar with it. As far as I can tell, and sometimes individual teachers make a big difference, the traditional programmes work quite well for the 50% of pupils whose brains seem to intuitively organise the information needed for reading. For 25% of that 50%, they do not help those pupils organise the information in a way that leads to successful spelling. For the other 50% of pupils the programmes seem to result in them adopting a variety of strategies that basically come down to sight vocubulary memorisation and guessing based on the first letter or two and a random one or two others in the middle and end of the word. Depending on memory and intellect, this 50% who are not understanding the phonic nature of the alphabet code may appear to achieve reading ages as high as 12.0 on standardised tests, but eventually (ie by Y7/Y8) they more usually score in the 8.0 to 10.0 range. But, as their scores are based on sight vocabulary memorisation of many high frequency words that appear in all their school texts, and in the reading tests themselves and are also worked to death in the NLS and tested in the SATs, these scores are unreliable and start dropping again once they leave school and are not getting regular reinforcement. Look carefully at the data of adult literacy to be found at www.oecd.org if you think I'm exaggerating. I recently looked at the data of nearly 300 pupils entering one high school last September. Their English SATs were fine. On an NFER Reading test, however, over 70% were reading below their chronological age level.

To return to hard g and soft g. Your analysis is that of someone looking back on the process having successfully learned to read. It's not the same if you're a pupil struggling with things you don't understand. How do you know to read get rather than jet, after all the g is followed by an e? If you've mastered the system you can analyse it in all sorts of interesting ways and account for anything by exceptions to 'rules'. But if you don't know what's going on, then what do you understand by the hardness and softness of g (or c)? Do long and short vowels make any sense if you can hear that the short ones are just as long as the long ones, and indeed may be longer when you're singing - and if you listen carefully then "a" is actually closer to the sound "ee" than it is to "ae", so should long a be "ee"? What about magic e that causes vowels like i to "say their name!" - and super magic e that causes the second i in imagine to say its name and then revert back to its initial sound again? And do we teach that the k in know is silent, but ow is a digraph when we might as well teach that kn is a digraph and the w is silent? These are all examples of ideas that exist in many traditional phonic programmes that only exist to explain spelling, but if incorporated before children can read fluently serve to confuse them and damage their reading as well as their spelling - and once confused pupils generally retreat to what appears a safe option, ie sight vocabulary memorisation. But it isn't safe, of course, because their visual memories for this type of information run out before they can remember even 5% of the words they need for very basic fluency.

Dave P.

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