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Is 'synthetic phonics' a different way of teaching phonics from other phonic schemes?

(36 Posts)
slotnicki Thu 03-Mar-05 20:56:32

I've read a couple of articles over the past few weeks about an apparently very successful experiment in Scotland where children were taught to read using 'synthetic phonics'.

As these were not detailed articles, I am unclear as to whether synthetic phonics actaully differs in some way from schemes like Jolly Phonics or whether reading in Scotalnd is usually taught using a system that differs from phonics.

I'd be really interested in hearing from the 'phonics experts' on this.

TIA

pupuce Thu 03-Mar-05 20:57:41

I know it's different but am NO expert - it was featured on Newsnight a few weeks ago.

NotQuiteCockney Thu 03-Mar-05 20:59:14

I'm not an expert, but I did dig into this a bit. Essentially, what I found out was, there are two kinds of phonics: analytic phonics, where you take a word and break it down, and synthetic phonics, where you take letters and build them up.

This system seems to involve teaching kids a small number of letters, then starting to build words with those letters.

Anteater Thu 03-Mar-05 22:52:05

There was an expert (!) on Radio 4 on Tuesday(?) talking about synthetic phonics, you should be able to replay online.. Only heard some but it seemed to be a developed phonic approach to tackle kids who had been taught to read by memorising words, like what I was! The examples were of children sounding out the sylabels of a word, so like a 'practical' jolly phonics!

Catflaps the one who will know..

Janh Thu 03-Mar-05 23:01:46

Isn't it just "c - a - t cat"? (where you make the sounds, not say the letter names).

My kids' primary school has used a combination of this (just called phonics in the old days?) and word recognition for as long as I've been involved with it - DD1 started there in 1987 - it works very well. You can't use phonics for words like "the" and "eye" and "high" (and millions of others, English being the weird language it is) so the child has to learn to recognise those, but knowing the sounds of the letters helps them with more straightforward words.

anty, I heard that too - was it on Today? Can't find it on the website.

Janh Thu 03-Mar-05 23:05:58

Clackmannanshire synthetic phonics programme .

soapbox Thu 03-Mar-05 23:11:43

Janh - that is analytic phoncis. Synthetic phonics is where you build up the letter sounds rather than decompose them.

There are appartenly 44 different sound combinations in the English language and they basically start to build up the letter compositions that make these sounds. They supposedly do not do this from reading books at this stage. They don't even pick up books until they have learned quite a few of hte sound combinations so that when they finally start reading books they already recognise a number of the words. So readling comes much easier to them.

Both my DD and Ds have been taught to read in the same way as Janh describes - so analytic rather than synthetic phonics. It is interesting though - I'm always fascinated by the whole subject of how children finally start to read - its such a mystery as to how it finally 'clicks'

soapbox Thu 03-Mar-05 23:13:52

Can you tell from my spelling that I've been drinking

HunkerMunker Thu 03-Mar-05 23:19:39

I'm really fascinated by how children learn to read too - I remember asking a very bright five-year-old when I was working in a reception class who could read pretty much anything she came across if she remembered what it was like before she could read. She couldn't. But I also asked her why she thought she could read so well - and she said it was because she tried to read everything she saw (signs, packets, everything). Bless her - she was adorable.

Janh Thu 03-Mar-05 23:20:07

Ah, I was confused by the "building up" bit, soapbox. c - a - t seemed like building up to me!

The sounds are things like sh and ch and gh presumably? The Clackmannan page includes "Children are taught the 42 letter sounds at six a day over eight days." which seems to be asking a lot of 5-year-olds - not sure I could remember 6 brand-new things a day over 8 days and I can read already!

DD1 was my most fascinating reader. She started school in January at 4.9 and wasn't reading much at all by the end of reception; it clicked with her when she was about 5.9 (or even older, can't remember exactly, certainly well into Y1); but by just 7 she was reading Narnia books with total absorption.

singersgirl Fri 04-Mar-05 10:49:03

Hi all. Warning - this has turned out a bit long! . Synthetic phonics is what Jolly Phonics teaches and that's the programme used in the Clackmannanshire (sp?)study.The 42 sounds are the letter sounds and then the vowel digraphs (long a, long i, long o, oo, ow etc)and consonant digraphs (sh, ch, th/th (thin/these)).
I bought some Jolly Phonics stuff to help DS2's (3.5)letter learning, after reading a really good thread on Mumsnet shortly before Christmas -he asked me to learn to read. What surprised me was that he has gone from knowing only a handful of letter sounds to being able to sound out regular 3 to 4 letter words without my really doing much more than showing him the sounds, certainly not one every day. Of course I'm now enthused because he is really enjoying (for now!) identifying sounds in words and 'reading' his words. DS1 (6.5), who is a very able though not exceptional reader, learnt by a combination of whole word and analytic phonics, and I remember being frustrated that though they were teaching letter sounds via Jolly Phonics, he was never given any books he could decode - they were all guesswork (ORT stuff). He is a very visual learner, and the whole word approach was fine for him; he was reading ORT stage 6/7 by end of Reception at 4 years 11 months. But DS2 is a much more auditory learner (took him much longer to recognise name/numbers etc) and finds the sound games fascinating.
And I really think synthetic phonics could help the struggling readers in DS1's Y2 class. A couple of boys still don't seem to know their letter sounds and find it hard to build up words like 'can'. They're just guessing at ORT texts and it's meaningless and dull to them. The Jolly Phonics approach, with actions etc, really reinforces that stuff.

Catflap Sat 05-Mar-05 20:33:41

Ah yes, here's something I know a bit about! Singersgirl, you haven't seen long till you've read some of my postings on the subject...! I will try hard not to reproduce those here though...

I taught Year 1 adn Reception before becoming a SAHM and looked hard into the teaching and learning of reading when I becamse seriously disillusioned with the way that was being promoted in schools - it seemed groosly inadequate and a complete mystery to many children. There had to be something better. (There is! )

We know 'phonics' means 'sounds' and so basic phonics stuff teaches the sounds associated with the 26 letters of the alphabet which are, of course, used to write them in words. So, kids learn a is for apple, b is for ball, c is for cat etc and match each letter to a bunch of words that start with that letter.

Children are then encouraged to use that information to sound out simple words like 'cat' 'sun' etc

However, our language is complicated and this 'phonics' approach is hugely limited and incomplete.

Synthetic phonics has been in the news a lot recently because oif the most recent research - but it has been practised around the world for decades. It's just that our Government refuses to acknowlegde its importance for some bewlidering reason that they have kept silent on.

Synthetic phonics works from sounds first as these are what our spoken language consists of adn it was this that existed first. There are 40+ sounds in our language - the actual number is debateable - I think its 46!

These sounds are represented by combinations of our 26 letters - some sounds have 1 letter, some 2, some 3 and some 4! Children learn these spelling variations in a systematic order and use them as they go to build up words to read and write. Becasue they learn sounds that are represented by 2 letters at the same time as those written with 1, they find this concept much easier than having a = 'a' as in 'cat' and i = 'i' as in 'pig' so engrained that when they encounter those letters in words such as 'rain' 'high' and 'boat' they don't know what to do. They can also read words such as 'mushroom' and 'woodpecker' with just as much ease as 'cat' and 'sun.'

Just teaching 26 'letter sounds' is so limiting, children cannot possibly begin to read most words with this knowledeg, so other strategies have to be employed to read the other words they will encounter, such as guessing from the pictures and the idea of the sentence. Guessing produces mixed messages about how we learn to read and how our written language is composed and encourages reading that is prone to inaccuracies.

For an example of how a child might try to read using a mixture of methods, see the latest Reading Reform Foundation newsletter and scroll down to the middle to a part called 'Comprehending Decoding' by Ruth Miskin.

Analytic phonics is commonly used with this mixture of methods - words are learnt as wholes and then examined after to see why the letters are there.

ALso, syntehtic phonics schemes do produce fast learning of letters - about 6 a week. This is perfectly manageable when they are accompanied by easily remembered and enjoyed stories and actions. We have grossly underestimated what children can learn and remember in the past - especially when it is meaningful, they can see a result and it is reinforced in context of reading. The sounds learnt are constantly practised in blending and reading. In the first week in Jolly pHonics, the letters and sounds s, a, t, i, p and n are introduced. This means, at the end of the first week, children can read adn write the words is, it, in, at, an, as, sat, sit, sap, sip, sin, tap, tan, tip, tin, pit, pat, pin, pan, nip, nap, snip, snap, ant, ants, taps, tins, pits, pins, pans.

For a more thorough description of the synthetic phonics teaching principles, see here , again, from the Reading Reform Foundation.

As parents, do be concerned about this latest research and how your children's schools are teaching reading. No school has to follow the Government's National Literacy Strategy - although it claims its phonics programs are more like synthetic phonics, it is taught at a dreadfully slow pace and still alongside the strategies of guessing from pictures and the sentence.

Oh dear, I have gone on for a while. Well, hopefully that's enough to get you going! Hope it helps.

Catflap Sat 05-Mar-05 21:38:25

Janh - meant to add that it is of course phonics that helps us read as in the sounds, not the names. All the letter names do is give us something to call these shapes! Also, words such as 'the' and 'high' can be read using 'phonics' - there are very, very few words which are so odd in their spellings that it occurs only once and is threrfore truly tricky. Most 'tricky' words are mostly regularly decodable and only have a tricky part. 'high' is quite phonically decodable, once you know the sound for 'h' and once you know that 'igh' is a common representation for the 'ie' sound where it comes at the end of some multi-syllabic words (high, sigh, thigh) and where it is followed by 't' (night, light, sight, flight etc)

'the' is also phonically decodable, with a slightly tricky bit - 'th' is quite regula and the 'e' in this case stands for the 'schwa' sound - the indistinct vowel sound. the sound 'e' as in 'egg' is never on teh end of a word, so children learn to spot what the letter is there for e.g. with the 'a' for 'ai' as in 'cake' for example.

'eye' is a really irregular, tricky word. So is 'one' and 'once.'

Anteater Sat 05-Mar-05 21:41:50

catflap, it should have been you on the radio!

grumpyfrumpy Sun 06-Mar-05 08:56:44

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

roisin Sun 06-Mar-05 09:21:28

I am fascinated by this too. DS1 basically just 'learned to read' without a consistent approach. By the time he started school (5 and a bit) he could read pretty fluently, and made very very few spelling mistakes, as he just wrote the words he knew. If he didn't know the word he had a 'best guess'.

DS2 (almost 6) has had a very thorough education in synthetic phonics. His reading level is very similar to ds1 (extremely good for his age) and is spelling is good too ... but atm it is not as good as ds1. It seems he has to 'learn to spell' everything which differs from his first (most obvious) phonetic guess. It doesn't take him long and I'm sure he will catch on very quickly, it just strikes me as a fundamentally different approach.

For example "many" ... At this age ds1 would just 'know' how "many" is spelt, and I suspect ds2 does too. But ds2 goes into this 'phonics' mode and spells it "meny". Of course he is learning to look at it and realise it is incorrect. But my point is that ds1 would never have made this mistake because he wasn't so firmly wedded to the phonics approach.

As I say I am fascinated as to how it works. DS2 also sounds out/spells words in phonemes rather than letters (which is good), so he would spell out loud 'scratch' as "scr-a-ch", or 'this' as "th-i-s".

wordgirl Sun 06-Mar-05 09:35:27

Hi Catflap, I wonder if you can help me. I try and do some phonics at home with my Yr1 son as unfortunately his school use ORT. Understandably however he is tired after a day at school and not keen to do any more 'work'. I have been looking for a CD Rom with phonics games etc that would make it seem like fun (and not learning!) but it seems Jolly Learning don't do one. Do you know of any?

Doddle Sun 06-Mar-05 09:45:22

DS1's school use a synthetic phonics scheme, actually RML, which is Ruth Miskin Literacy, as mentioned in Catflap's post. It has resulted in huge improvements in reading ability. All children stay on the RML scheme until they can read fluently and only then do they do a version of the Literacy Hour. They work in very small groups which change a lot so that every child can progress at the rate appropriate to them. It is very highly thought of by the parents.

I teach, my main problem with phonics, is with spelling. I teach a year 6 class in another Hackney school, many of my children cannot spell regularly becuase they speak with a strong East London accent. They all spell phonetically, which means endless pages of nothink, enythink, fowsant (thousand) and other such delights. The other year six teacher and I have spent a lot of time this year encouraging our kids to talk and to listen to the way we talk, and to 'speak for spelling'. We are finding this quite successful.

Catflap Sun 06-Mar-05 15:42:39

wordgirl - I bleieve Jolly Learning have one coming over the next couple of years.... but no good for you now... They do have some videos and DVDs which perhaps he could watch? Other CDs, well, you'll have trouble finding some that do a truly synthetic phonic appraoch as I don't believe there are any one the market yet but you could check out any you find and see if you feel it meets his needs - most phonics games will deal with using the letters to build up words without any other muddled strategies so you will probably be OK in finding something suitable. Word Shark rings a bell from my teaching days but I'm afraid I can't be any more helpful as to where you can get it...

titchy Sun 06-Mar-05 17:49:23

Could I just add that despite CAtflap's confidence that within a week a child could be able to read and write words such as sat, tin, at etc. this very much depends on the child's ability to hear the sounds in the word. While I agree that phonics work, my experience with my almost fluent dd tells me that she (and I thinking about it) doesn;t sound out words phonetically any more, unless they are unfamiliar - we just recognise the whole word shape.

My ds is just 4, and I have been trying to get him to learn his letters and sounds before he starts school in September, but to no avail, until we had a break through recetnly where he suddently twigged that car started with a 'c', dog with a 'd' etc. Remembering dd at his age she understood this concept a lot earlier, but even so she learnt to hear the initial sound first, then the end sound, and then several months later she began to hear the middle, vowel sound. Children need to be able to hear the word in this way before they can be expected to read and write. Phonics is not the 'teach your child to read in only a few weeks' programme that Catflap may be implying it is, rather it's a teaching method that works when your child is ready to hear sounds. Whole word recognition comes much earlier though, as my ds will testify to, having been able to recognise several whole words for 6 months plus.

ks Sun 06-Mar-05 17:54:42

Message withdrawn

wordgirl Sun 06-Mar-05 19:17:02

Thanks for that Catflap. It would seem that Jolly Learning have missed a trick as I'm sure I can't be the only one who would like to see a CD Rom of phonics activities and games.
We have one of the videos but I really wanted something he could actually do to practise his phonics skills etc.

singersgirl Sun 06-Mar-05 20:15:33

Yes, thanks, Catflap - I found that really interesting. I'm fascinated by the whole learning to read thing too. My DS1 (6.5 in Y2), though not as advanced by any means as Roisin's, nevertheless had a very similar approach to reading and his spelling is excellent for his age, too - he just seemed to 'get' all the spelling patterns and internalise them from reading one or two examples. Will be interesting to see whether DS2's enthusiasm continues. He is great at hearing the first sound in words, beginning to hear the end sound and still struggling with the middle, but he too is sounding out words as phonemes rather than letters. Haven't had time to catch up on the rest of the thread, so will read that later!

ChocolateGirl Sun 06-Mar-05 22:22:51

Catflap, I have bought a load of Jolly Phonics stuff to do with my ds1 now. It is great. I have read the Handbook and it has explained loads to me.

Before it arrived I showed him some "Fun with Phonics" books - "Fat Cat", "Jen the Hen", etc. I showed him how to sound out the word and explained about -at endings and -en endings (because I know they've done it that way in school). I didn't realise how much it had paid off until our SALT came a few days ago. For ages she has been working on "f" and long vowel endings with him, "foo", "far", etc., and this time she used a different initial sound - c - with the same vowel endings and he got it straight away. He didn't even have to sound it out, he just looked at the pictures and said "coo", "car", etc., straight away. It was amazing.

She commented that she could tell I'd been doing lots of phonic work with him and that he was picking it up really quickly for a boy of his age.

I was so pleased! Thanks for all your help.

I have had to think hard and quickly for a way to mix the visual reading systems he is using in school with the phonic approach and I think I have solved it now by telling him that some words are "tricky words" - we make flowers - and other words we can sound out. Fortunately, he seems to have a good visual memory.

One question: in your experience, if children are introduced to about 6 letters a week, can they keep up with learning to write them? A teacher acquaintance mentioned that her class couldn't.

Catflap Mon 07-Mar-05 12:24:47

titchy - I wonder if you perhaps misunderstand the whole nature of the synthetic phonic approach and the Jolly Phonics scheme.

Of course children need to be able to discriminate sounds in words - they need to be able to hear them; blend them and segment them. This requires considerable auditory skill. Some children have this naturally adn others need to have it developed. Jolly Phonics incorporates this, however. You are right - these words are never going to be read without these auditory abilities but it all part of the scheme to develop this - all part of the holistic approach. I even do considerable phonological awareness work before I introduce the letters so I know the children WILL be able to read the words.

Also, your description of your DD's current reading ability and strategy is one of secure ability and progression. We can read so fluently as adults - we don't need to sound out letter/s by letter/s but research has shown we do attend to each adn every letter - just so quickly we hardly notice it and because most words are so familiar to us we seem to recognise them as wholes. Teaching children the synthetic phonics way, although the emphasis is on soudning words out, of course we don't want children reading every word like this for ever. That would never make for fluency adn therefore understanding. We are aiming for chldren to become familir with words as wholes and recognise them without having to sound out every time.

Most children do find initial sounds easier to hear - but not all. I have found many find the last sound easiest to identify as it's the last one they heard. I even had a child who found the middle sound easist to hear - she would say 'dog - d - o,o,o,o,o,o,o -g!' The National Literacy Strategy does promote teaching initial soudns first, then final, then middle sounds; but why? WHy do it in this order? With secure phonoilogical awareness, children have demonstrated that with systematic teaching, it is just as easy to hear and blend all the soudns in a word in the right order.

Whole word recognition does not come much earlier than sound recognition for most children. In fact, phonological awarenss is what we all have first - from birth. It is what we need on order to be able to speak. Babies only learn our language becuase they have extremely good phonological awarenss - studies have shown they can discriminate between similar sounds such as 'ba' and 'ga.' However, with mis-teaching, this can be eaily lost.

SOme children with good visula memories do become very good at recognising whole words - as pictures. They can 'read' 'McDonalds' 'tesco' etc in its natural location but can rarely do so when handwritten or typed in ordinary text.

As far as mentioned in your message, titchy, your opinions seem to be based on your own children only. My confidence comes not just from teaching this way to 5 classes but also extensive reading of teh research and studies to show me this is a reading scheme to teach your children to read in weeks.

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