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Does orthographic knowledge develop when phonics is taught explicitly and systematically? 

I am an advocate for explicit and systematic phonics instruction (to kick-start orthographic learning) which is why many cannot understand why I do not promote or support systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) programmes, and especially not as the primary method for teaching reading. This is because SSP can severely impede or prevent the development of orthographic knowledge (and 'self-teaching') for a significant number of children and for a range of reasons prevents too many children from developing joy when reading - and therefore choosing to read in their free time for pleasure. 

We are Readies! I Can Read Without You

We can get a bit bogged down with 'research' so let me keep it simple. 

If you don't have decent phonemic awareness then learning to map graphemes to something you are struggling to 'hear' makes learning phonics difficult - so you may soon stop wanting to try, and you might also learn to 'fake' it / hide it - you memorise what you are supposed to be able to hear but can't - and you can get away with that for quite a while if being taught in a classroom setting (unless using the Speech Sound Pics approach in AU as the teacher would know this is happening) Synthetic phonics is very 'print to speech' and not the best for developing phonemic awareness: pretty dire if you are dyslexic.  

Even if you manage to learn to map graphemes to phonemes and can read and write the 'code level' words and sentences, if being taught with synthetic phonics these are restricted - and so everything 'works' during a phonics lessons, when the resources are all restricted, but you struggle to write the words you want to write in other sessions, or read texts within other curriculum subjects eg written maths (word) problems. It becomes 'too hard' and you get frustrated - reading and writing seems really hard.
The words commonly used outside of phonics sessions - aptly called 'high frequency words' - are important. If taught with synthetic phonics you may only learn around 40 in reception - as opposed to the 400+ children can read and spell within the Speech Sound Pics Approach in Australia - using the ICRWY lessons app.  

You have to learn the GPCs included in the program at the pace of the group of class - not your own. Over 90% of children are capable of learning these in less than 6 months . Unlike the Speech Sound Pics kids using the ICRWY lessons app at school and home there are no options to learn them really quickly. Many children have to sit through two years of synthetic phonics - many get bored with it, and associate reading with feeling disengaged. They are told to 'sound it out' when the come across unfamiliar words, and yet haven't been taught those correspondences, and no-one will just tell you the word - so you sit there feeling foolish. You want to avoid that. Why does it need to be so hard?
This is not what I do with children - I give the sounds so they can blend and continue, or give the word so they can 'track' back - or go back to it afterwards so the meaning of the text isn't lost (as it is when there is a lot of stopping while reading) 

There is no focus on exploring 'the whole code' - which is what happens when there is a spelling cloud wall and routines take place where words are chosen as they have at least one correspondence not covered within the phonics programme - eg with my Speech Six Spelling activities (undertaken in all grade levels. This inquiry learning is essential as it teaches children how to map ALL words - as a strategy - they start storing more words in 'brain dictionary', they start recognising patterns (and then transfer that knowledge to new words) they start thinking about morphology and etymology, they discuss issues eg accents - and they then use these experiences when reading and they come across unfamiliar words, and when writing independently.

Many children actually do use the kick-start phase to develop orthographic knowledge- especially those with good phonemic awareness and vocabulary knowledge.  Share’s (1995) self teaching hypothesis sees phonological recoding, of which PA is a core component, as the mechanism for orthographic learning.  Phonological recoding is a cognitive process used in reading that involves converting written words into their corresponding sounds or phonemes. It is an essential skill for reading, especially in languages with alphabetic writing systems like English. Here's how it typically works:


When a reader encounters a written word, they first recognize the individual letters or graphemes in the word.

They then use their knowledge of phonics (the relationship between letters and sounds) to associate each letter with its corresponding phoneme (sound). 

The reader blends these phonemes together to pronounce the word aloud.
Some may be new and they need to 'deduce' the correct mapping by linking the pronounced word with their existing vocabulary.
After any necessary adjustments - think of a child seeing 'put' - they say it to rhyme with 'cut' and realise it doesn't 'fit' and so switch the second phoneme - they can understand its meaning in the context of the text.
Only a few exposures to that word are needed in order to store it for instant retrieval in the future.
The more often they do this the better - but this is avoided within synthetic phonics, and the resources designed to avoid 'the whole code'.
The child would see 'i' in words like 'pin' - and not words in which the phoneme is NOT mapped with that grapheme
Think 'orange' 'lettuce' 'forest' 'England' etc! But these words facilitate orthographic learning and evoke fantastic discussions.   

Phonological recoding allows readers to decode unfamiliar words by utilising their existing knowledge of speech sound connection between phonemes and graphemes, making 'mapping' a fundamental aspect of reading development, especially in the early stages of literacy acquisition. As readers become more skilled, they rely less on phonological recoding and increasingly recognise words instantly by sight (sight word recognition/ orthographic mapping). However, phonological recoding remains a valuable strategy for decoding unfamiliar or complex words throughout a person's reading journey.
The earlier this starts to happen, the better.

Although around 60/70% (based on my decades of experiences!) seem to transition into this phase with relative ease, this leaves a lot of children 'stuck' - and in the UK they are often given MORE of the synthetic phonics content, rather than intervention that centres around 'the whole code'. Ironically, high frequency words are brilliant for this!   

English has an opaque orthography: the spelling of English words is not always straightforward or consistent, making it difficult for learners to predict the pronunciation of words based solely on their written form - and yet synthetic phonics programme developers seem to present written English to children as if this is not the case. If written English words only consisted of those correspondences, and children all pronounced those words in the same way the it wouldn't matter so much. Exploring the 'whole code' - during the implicit learning phase - is the MOST important part of learning to read and spell - that phonics kick-start is just that. It should be completed far more quickly, with everyone clear about its role. The term 'which looks right' should be integral to daily writing activities. 
And that is one of the biggest issues I have with systematic, synthetic phonics: the skewed 'value' of phonics - as if children will become skilled readers simply by working through them. Its not accurate - and, even worse, it leaves so many not wanting to read. The existing data relating to 'reading for pleasure' in the UK is shocking! If it's not a wake up call then that's perhaps even scarier.   

We can teach over 90% of children to read AND become avid readers before the end of Year 1. Fairly easily.  It relies on the early acquisition of orthographic knowledge - with a much heavier focus on strategies rather than isolated correspondences and words - and for 'transition' readers to be introduced by term 2 - following an effective term 1 of phonemic awareness and systematic and explicit (predominantly speech to print) phonics. Alongside the phonics decodable readers - print to speech - we introduce readers using a 3 step approach. Bookmark the Readies page to learn more!

Miss Emma x          

Mapped Words - Orthographic Mapping Tool
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