Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) is built on the alphabetic principle. It is a structured, cumulative and evidence-based method of teaching reading whereby students are taught the link between letters and the speech sounds they represent. Our students learn that sounds (phonemes) are represented by letters (graphemes). We teach children that letter sounds can be blended or 'synthesised' together to form words. The 'synthetic' in SSP means 'composed' or 'built from'. Systematic Synthetic Phonics is a bottom-up approach in that instruction starts not with whole words but with the most basic sound unit, the phoneme. The reading process involves decoding or ‘breaking’ words into separate sounds blended together to read an unknown word. At Clayton South Primary School, children are explicitly instructed how blending and segmenting words is a reversible process; if you can read a word, you can spell it.
Clayton South Primary School introduced Little Learners Love Literacy (LLLL) systematic synthetic phonics in 2020. We are a Science of Reading (SOR) primary school and use structured literacy. Little Learners Love Literacy is sequenced into 7 stages, allowing us to teach children the 44 sounds of the English alphabet in a sequential way. We aim to teach ALL our children to read, write and spell confidently. Our program is supported by evidence-based research and includes phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary knowledge, fluency and comprehension. Chants and Speed Sounds are utilised in conjunction with LLLL 'Pip & Tim' and 'Wiz Kids' Decodable Readers, making it easier for our students to learn to read. Each stage is sequentially taught so children can learn, apply and practise their developing skills in words and connected text.
At Clayton South Primary School, we gradually introduce a small number of high-frequency words (HFW) that frequently appear in print, and they may be regular or irregular in that they deviate from common phonics patterns or familiar letter-sound relationships (e.g. said, my, is, was, are). HFW are words that children need to 'learn by heart' initially as they cannot decode them just yet. As we move through the Little Learners Love Literacy systematic synthetic phonics program, many of these HFW (which we call heart words) will become decodable as our children learn more alphabetic code. Our early year's staff provide multi-sensory, explicit teaching instruction to assist students to automatically read a handful of tricky HFW (heart words).
e.g. with the word - said - the tricky part is 'ai' in that we can hear the 's' and the 'd'.
We would say in this word, the a and i are saying e. Students can sound the s and d part of the word.
These heart words are taught (like other words), showing they are mostly decodable but that one part is "tricky" or irregular. We introduce and teach a small 'pool' of HFW, which contrasts with learning a 'swamp' or a large bank of whole 'sight' words. Sight words are a function or output of the reader they become automatically recognised through repeated decoding. (i.e. sight words are words that are instantly recognised).
Educators use the term “Orthographic Mapping” to describe how written words are etched into our brains long-term memory. Orthographic Mapping is a process competent readers use to store written words in our lexicon (our brains storage system for letter spellings and patterns) for future use. Orthographic Mapping enables us to automatically recall a word or letter string without needing to decode again. Once a word has been decoded, which requires a good awareness of the sounds in the word and well-developed phonics knowledge, the word or letter string is mapped and stored in long-term memory. Written words are not stored in visual memory, and learning to read is not a visual task. All words are stored in the brain in the same way - they are orthographically mapped - using grapheme-phoneme knowledge. The storage of printed words into long term memory is the process that all successful readers use to become fluent readers.
Not all phonics approaches are the same!
1. Incidental Phonics or Analytic Phonics is often used in other schools. This type of phonics instruction may not always follow a logical plan or sequence. Instead, this approach highlights particular phonic rules opportunistically, starting at the word level after appearing in the text.
2. Children in whole language or balanced literacy landscapes are taught to read by analysing a word, taking clues from recognition of whole words, the initial sound and context or picture - an approach teachers call three cueing.
3. Children at other schools typically use a different type of take-home text, known as 'predictable or repetitive' readers (we only use decodable readers in the early years). Predictable/repetitive readers promote multi cueing (guessing), so they are not aligned with SSP instruction and may mask reading difficulty, so we avoid using them at CSPS.
In summary, at Clayton South Primary School:
We do not encourage children to guess the identity of an unknown word based on pictures, context, or the word’s first letter.
Nor do we have children memorise long lists of sight words.
Why teach using synthetic phonics? Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols to construct or derive meaning (reading comprehension). Our brains are not hard-wired to read, and it is not a straightforward process of always lifting the words off the page or learning by osmosis with exposure to rich text. The English language has complicated spelling patterns or a deep orthography, and this means that many letters can have multiple sounds associated with them. Phonemic awareness and systematic synthetic phonics instruction help students use the alphabetic principle to learn relationships between written language letters and spoken language sounds. For example, English has 26 letters *but* 44 unique sounds. Our synthetic phonics approach at Clayton South Primary School will teach these 44 sounds from simple to complicated. Using synthetic phonics gives children the skills to crack the code.
Below are a couple of excellent clips by Alison Clarke, a well known Melbourne Speech Pathologist. Explaining (amongst other things) some differences in reading instruction within primary schools and the importance of systematic, explicit teaching of sounds like we use at Clayton South!
Preventing literacy failure and shifting the whole Bell Curve up!
Sound out words, don't memorise and guess!
The two clips below on early reading instruction are from a "parent" perspective and they highlight the value of Synthetic Phonics, Decodable Readers and an approach aligned with the Science of Reading as we use here at Clayton South:
Is My Kid Learning How to Read? Part 1: Purple Challenge
Is My Kid Learning How to Read? Part 2: Our Friend “Ur”
1. Decodable Readers and 2. Sound Wall - Phoneme with Mouth Articulation Pictures