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Code Shown, Word Known!


Despite completing a full Systematic Synthetic Phonics program, many UK children struggle with applying Grapheme to Phoneme correspondence (GPC) knowledge when encountering unfamiliar words. For instance, in the sentence "I am eating healthier these days and enjoy lettuce, carrots, and tomato in my salad," there are at least 8 GPCs they haven't been taught explicitly, requiring them to guess or "fill in the gaps." While they can use their word knowledge to make educated guesses, this doesn't necessarily lead to storing these new correspondences for future writing. When writing the same sentence, they may spell words like "healthy" as "healtyer," "lettuce" as "lettice," "carrots" as "carruts," and "tomato" as "tumarto" using the GPCs they already know. Some may label this as "spelling phonetically," but it essentially involves applying phonemic awareness with their existing phonics knowledge. To store these spellings in their orthographic lexicon, however, they require strong phonemic awareness and an awareness of the mapping process. While some children accomplish this independently through self-teaching, often without conscious effort, many will struggle. When children can see words "mapped" out, it becomes easier to develop their orthographic knowledge, and they can do this without seeking assistance. The graphemes are shown, but - perhaps more importantly - the Speech Sound Monsters allow them to recognise spelling patterns more easily: they link directly to the phoneme (smallest sound unit).

A few words are shown below. Even if you have never seen the 'Concept Characters' before (the characters represent a speech sound in the same way phonetic symbols are used) your eyes are drawn to the letter/s that map with the same Speech Sound Monsters - different letters (graphemes) but the same speech sound! Without needing anyone to explain the mapping - or that English has an opaque orthography - children understand this concept. 
I make it easier by talking about the sounds we use when we speak English, and that the 26 letters of the alphabet are used (in different combinations) as 'pictures' of the speech sounds - graphemes - aka Sound Pics! - and this is why my approach in Australia was called the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach! Children love to explore words and it becomes a puzzle, rather than something to memorise - or apply 'rules' to! - and when they are encouraged to figure out words and 'track back'. Many children are actually told this is not a good tactic - which goes against something that is natural to folks when learning something new. We like to be able to problem solve - if something doesn't work one way we try a different way. Many of us like to be able to figure it out without asking for help - that applies to children too! But I'd prefer that when they come to words that are unfamiliar that they can see the graphemes, and be sure of the speech sound connection. They can take in the information, further develop orthographic knowledge and also their confidence!
And that is the part that worries me most, when children are expected to just 'sound it out' or 'figure it out' - using whatever strategies their teacher employs, leaving so many children feel lost or stupid as they can't seem to 'get it'. That breaks my heart. 
So I wanted to change that. If the Code is Shown, Words become Known! 

Miss Emma x           

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