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Explicitly Teaching Spelling Rules

Have you been asked to teach them? Why?
If you don't understand why, why do it?
Are there other ways to help children develop orthographic knowledge?

Spelling Rules:
Do they get in the way of orthographic learning?
Orthographic Knowledge develops predominantly within the implicit learning phase- does prolonged explicit instruction get in the way? Should we be more focused on letting them discover patterns
 while actually reading (what they choose) and within writing activities?  

Can we boost orthographic learning with activities that encourage children to be pattern seekers?
Lara wasn't 'explicitly' taught these two grapheme to phoneme correspondences - and yet understood them within the first 4 weeks of my 'Reading Ready Brains' pilot for 3 and 4 year olds: with a little help from my Speech Sound Monsters! They SHOW the concepts teachers struggle to teach. This is why my new Readies library includes a pop up not only of the 'code mapped' words, but also the Monster Mapping. They 'get' the mapping straight away - ANY words - and can get on with reading the book. I am supporting the implicit learning of patterns - with no human present to 'teach' them. It may seem bizarre to you now but in 5 years teachers will wonder how on earth they even thought they could teach ALL children in their class to read via explicit instruction around phonology. At the moment they can't see any other way. I plan to change that.

With a kick-start of phonemic awareness and systematic phonics instruction we can focus on reading and writing - the tech ensures that can independently explore ALL texts of their choosing. 
After all, what are we doing this for? To get them READING - experiencing 'deep reading' and choosing to read! When they develop 'cognitive patience' they hardly need us at all.  

Miss Emma    
Neurodivergent Reading Whisperer  

Recent Facebook Post.

Has anyone ever told you to teach 'rules'?

Twice, yesterday, I succumbed to the dastardly Facebook algorithm: I commented on videos relating to orthographic awareness /knowledge.

Yes, I have only myself to blame.

One was teaching ‘letter sounds’ via a song - telling us that /a/ ‘spells (think a as in ant and a as an paper) - like a fool I commented that /a/ ‘spells’ at least 9 speech sounds (phonemes) so she’s gonna need a longer song! (Think Jaws - we’re gonna need a bigger boat!’ …ok, maybe that reference would’ve gone over a few heads )

I was assured she knows when she will teach them all - eg a mapping with the schwa.

I'm not sure she realises she can’t explicitly teach them all (and thankfully our brains don’t need that, to develop orthographic knowledge)
I asked how she tackled the student names as at least half will be using a ‘schwa’ sound for this important word. (You’ll have seen the clip of Lara (L/a/r/a) explaining what the 2 /a/s in her name map to. The last being the schwa. She was 4 while explaining it - because when presented with ‘the speech sound connection’ with monsters it’s an easy concept.

I realised our basic differences related to the time spent on explicit instruction. 

The other was a page called ‘Toddlers Can Read’ or something along those lines and he was teaching (what actually looked like a 4 year old) the /g/ ‘rule’. Whatever that is...

And there seem to be certain programs that are mad keen on spelling rules. A few attached.

Again, this parent seems to be promoting explicit phonics instruction? I counted the number of words the parent used - and how many the child used. The difference was staggering. And when the child did say something, they demonstrated a lack of understanding - which was construed as the opposite. Looking at the comments most were focused on 'the g rule' - and not what the child was understanding, or whether that way of reaching the goal - of the child knowing how to decode 'giggle or gentle'.    

As you know I hate rules - probably linked to my neurodivergent brain - but also as there are always exceptions. So why teach like that? I think it's around the idea that children learn 'best' from an instructor, and that the instructor doesn't trust that they will know how to 'read' 'giggle' or 'gentle' correctly, or choose the right graphemes while spelling. It's a fundamental misunderstanding of how children learn to read and spell. Mark Seidenberg has a great graphic that simplifies the issue.     

If we focus on help children develop orthographic knowledge and trust that our activities will lead to them discovering we will be constantly surprised by what children can do. Far more than we could TEACH them. Thank goodness.
They don’t need to be 'taught' everything - or SHOWN thousands of words! - as their brains will take over and subconsciously know when a word ‘doesn’t look right’ as more and more words become stored in orthographic lexicon - the brains word bank.


If I show you ‘hieght’ you know it’s doesn’t look right. That’s actually got nothing to do with a ‘rule’. If you learned to read without any of that eg home-schooled - you’d still ‘ping’ it doesn’t look right: at a certain point the brain recognises words without conscious thought (orthographic mapping phase) So the brain just says ‘nope!’ and wants to see the word looking right. It ‘just knows’ - and why getting kids to that stage is vital.

The huge issue is that people think HOW to get kids there is via specific instruction. That assumption leads to far too many kids NOT recognising words instantly, without conscious effort, but also - for too many- not WANTING to read. It is only by reading lots that the implicit learning takes place whereby the brain sees thousands more words than you could ever show them or talk about. And it teaches itself what words ‘look like’. It ‘gets’ the structure of the words - so much that readers actually aren’t conscious of them.

I ask teachers at training how many ‘sounds’ there are (unique sounds) in the word ‘village’ and you’d be amazed at how many brains are ‘blinded’ by the letters. There are 7 letters, 4 speech sounds (phonemes) 5 different sound pics (graphemes) They can read and correctly spell the word - but many have become what I call ‘consciously confused’ by phonics instruction. By the a and i- both mapping to the same sound. So I have to get them conscious of what they aren’t aware of - regarding English orthography. It may be affecting their instruction. 

I also need them to look at any statement of supposed ‘facts’ they are sharing with learners, and disprove them. Readers didn’t become readers because of explicit teaching of ‘rules’ - most just needed a very basic and brief kickstart with mapping phonemes and graphemes and away their brains went. Some need no ‘phonics’ instruction. Some need more phonemic awareness support to be able to map.

My new ‘Readies’ library - launched Nov- allows kids to click on words in their readers and not only see the graphemes, but also the phonetic symbol for kids, and hear the sounds and word.

This will be a world first.

I need to expose them to words as they’re reading - and for them to be shown the mapping - without needing an adult there to ‘sound it out’ for them. Even if the adult does that they may not know which letters map with which ‘sounds’ and still not store it. And let’s face it, adults tend to do too much talking about words they didn’t instantly recognise, or figure out and ‘track back’ (this can relate to GSF eg reads ‘put’ to rhyme with but, and then flips the sound for /u/ as it doesn’t make sense - with good phonemic awareness the word then stored - with no instruction) My 'track back concept / strategy is employed by kids who become skilled readers from the very earliest stages - and stunted if only ‘decodable’ texts are given to read independently as they don’t have to figure out words and track back.

So that list  of rules...They might see words like 

*QWERTY - this keyboard is the standard typewriter and computer keyboard in countries that use a Latin-based alphabet.




*yes - very few words don’t have ck after (insert phonetic symbols here - the concept of ‘vowel’ is misunderstood by many, and the idea that it’s ‘long’ or ‘short’ a concept that will confuse most in the early stages of learning to read - don’t use them to describe vowel letters or vowel sounds (or which there are over 20)

So they will realise these spelling rules are not black and white. 

KISS applies.

The brain that knows ‘black’ looks right and ‘blac’ doesnt is the brain that isn’t struggling.

So focus on getting them there.

The activities and tech will do that for you. Start it after only a simple phonic kickstart - whatever phonics program you’re using will have a systematic way of teaching grapheme to phoneme correspondences. When at my yellow code letter/ letters and sounds phase 3, you can start using the library - with books that ‘sound out’ words for children at the click of a button. I build on that phonics kickstart around their interests and exposing them to words they won’t see or map within their phonics lessons.

A far quicker way to develop orthographic knowledge as the child can learn what they need, when they need it. Even if a child recognises and understands the word ‘school’ they can check it, and as we ask ‘what’s new for you’ they look at the /k/ cloud to find /ch/ and store (especially if they use the monster routine) The routine helps you retain in your brain!

But the huge difference is that they can choose books they want, they aren’t restricted. You don’t know which words they can’t currently ‘sound out’ regardless of your explicit instruction (they may have sat in the lesson but did they learn anything? - and you can only teach a fraction of the correspondences anyway - will you ever ‘teach’ /ch/ for /k/?)

So my neurodivergent brain that loves patterns and loves being able to learn independently, in the way best for me, designed this option for others.

Those folks I watch - damn you Facebook!- want the same as me - kids reading independently with an understand of ‘how words work’ - but intention only gets you so far. You need to take a scientific worldview and accept that maybe you can’t teach that stuff in ways that all can benefit from. You only have a limited amount of time and so is it really best spent teaching rules? Or phonics?

That’s my issue with the SoR movement. Yes, they want to use the research and know what kids need. But they aren’t sure of how (the body of work doesn’t show that either- only stuff likely to be effective)

So I’m giving you something that brings it all together. The science of reading AND the science of learning. But it’s new. And isn’t that e/x/c/i/t/i/ng?!

It might feel scary as you want to ‘teach’ it all but let go of that and trust me to give you activities that give their brains what they need, when they need it. They need phonemic awareness but relatively few taught grapheme to phoneme correspondences to get started with the library, for example. They then start becoming pattern seekers! Patterns represent a guide, whereas rules represent a law that cannot be violated. According to Mark Seidenberg) and others, the English system is not so much rule governed as statistical — some spellings are much more common than others.

Daily speedy solo or paired code mapping (basically text read in speech sounds), Rapid Writing and Snap and Crack will move most into the implicit learning phase quickly and easily because you are forcing brains to see words as pictures of speech sounds, and develop that speech sound connection that is the foundation on which all written language is based. You can also include anything else that comes up - naturally! When I say 'naturally' I mean that you can't plan for what the children will say - or know what they know! 
So 'what's new for you?' is vital. You will fin yourself exploring morphology, etymology, building on what happens in the moment. Isn't that really what 'teaching' is? We may have lost sight of what 'teaching' actually means. Is a person 'teaching' if the student isn't learning? And are they a 'good teacher' if there are better ways for the learner to understand the concept and apply it independently.       

Please try my activities. They give kids what they need, and you learn with them. They give implicit learning a boost. I know that release of ‘control’ is a lot to ask. It’s why folks teach rules - they think the kids couldn’t possibly figure them out without that explicit instruction. Once you let go of that idea everything changes! The focus becomes the LEARNING and not on you - and what YOU are doing, as adults.

Less teaching, more learning: not just a cute phrase, it’s a mindset.
But it also relies on the tech that facilitates that learning. 


Miss Emma X

Exploring the Speech Sound Connection at The Reading Hut | Code the Word, Show the Word, Know the Word | Making Reading for Pleasure a Reality for ALL | Readies Program with 1,2,3 & Away! #NeuroReadies #NeuroSpectives


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