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The Speech Sound Connection

For almost two decades Miss Emma has been obsessed with English 'speech sounds' - creating the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach in Australia as an alternative to synthetic phonics: children start by using Duck Hands to segment words into speech sounds, and think about the 'pictures' of those speech sounds - which will depend on the word. Synthetic phonics tends to start from the 'Sound Pics' (graphemes) and teach only a few correspondences, with an assumption that a systematic kick-start to phonics (with around 100 grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences taught explicitly) will lead to 'skilled reading', if the child understands the words (based on the Simple View of Reading)   
So although the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach children will learn the GPCs tested in the Phonics Screener Check (UK, Year 1) the way in which 'the code' is taught differs enormously - for both the learners and the teachers. With the help of technology there is less teaching, but more learning. 

There are many issues faced by those learning phonics, and as a teacher who thinks and learns differently, Miss Emma wanted to avoid confusion, and ensure that at least 90% would be out of the 'explicit phonics' phase within the neurodiverse classroom setting before the end of Prep/ Reception. As a KS1 teacher, day nursery manager and OFSTED Inspector she had seen a range of phonics programmes in the UK, in a range of early years settings, before she emigrated to Australia: she could see a huge number of children becoming disengaged, and failing to make the connections needed to understand 'speech on paper' - and to read and spell! Alarmed at how much the focus was in one 'direction' ie on the written code she chose not to use the term 'phonics' within her approach. Phonics was being associated with 'sounding out words' and the message to 'never guess' and yet she found that if unfamiliar words were guessed or given - and the children then tracked back (to ascertain the correspondences) or given the speech sounds (to then blend) that it meant the children were less worried when they came across new vocabulary or wanted to use a wider range of words when writing. Her focus revolved around the development of phonemic awareness and orthographic knowledge, with oral language skills and engagement at the heart of everything! Language connects us and babble bonds!
Even minimally and nonspeaking children have lots to say. 
An increasing number of children face speech, language and communication difficulties and yet do not receive the speech therapy they need, early or consistently. However even children with fantastic speech and language skills are often not exposed to the realities of speech and it's connection to written English - perhaps because adults aren't aware of them.
By using the Speech Sound Monsters a huge number of issues are addressed in meaningful and playful ways that children (and many adults) find exciting! They are able to discover many of these connections independently.            

Speech Sound Monsters - The Speech Sound Connection

Children will discover Speech Sound Connections - when exploring with the Speech Sound Monsters and 'Speech Sound Pics' - for example how we change those speech sounds while talking - around the world English is spoken differently - and yet we have navigate a Universal Spelling Code? It sounds complicated, but most navigate this with relative ease! Especially with specific guidance in the early years.  

What is Connected Speech?

Some words are pronounced differently in isolation than in continuous speech, and this is generally ignored by those teaching phonics, even though we all adjust the way we pronounce certain sounds in connected speech.

For example, we pronounce the final speech sound in the word ten with a <n> sound, but use a <m> sound for the same speech sound when we say the phrase ten pence. This adjustment does not impede understanding and as native speakers we don't even notice. We use the <m> speech sound because our lips are preparing for the <p> in pence – it eases the process of moving from one sound to another. Connected speech occurs naturally whenever we speak in utterances of more than one syllable.

This is just one reason why so many children in the UK can read reasonably well, but their written work doesn't seem to match up. How can they read 'She went next door' without any issue, and then write 'She wen neks door'...when the sentence is dictated. Many will say 'they are spelling phonetically' - and aren't sure why as they could read it. 'Spelling phonetically' is a term I hear a lot and usually means (in their opinion) that the child is giving an option for each speech sound, but chose the wrong grapheme. It does mean that their code knowledge is limited (another reason to explore the whole code!) but in this scenario haven't recognised that the child is missing 'sounds' because they are giving the sounds used in their connected speech. Or realised the disconnect between reading and retrieval.    


The activities mean that children can both read AND retrieve for spelling - even if teachers don't know that's happening, or why. I can't explain all this to teachers - they are time poor, and have varying levels of phonemic awareness and orthographic knowledge themselves.
The main thing is that the children develop the skills they need: they are making the speech sound connections! 

Babble Bonds - The Speech Sound Connection

"My tech and hands-on playful, multisensory activities are designed to address and secure the Speech Sound Connections that are essential if orthographic knowledge is to develop - even if those supporting the children are unaware of exactly what is happening. It is a very logical - mathematical- approach. Everything makes sense to the children: it all 'fits' : there is less 'teaching' and more 'learning'. In fact if the teacher left the room, the children would likely not even notice - they know what to do and are happy to be left to get on with their own learning.
Or be content to be left to get lost in their self-chosen book!

I view children like caterpillars - all wanting to develop, grow, and fly free. Some may need a little more nurturing, and protection from external elements, but they all want to be able to fly independently! " 

Miss Emma 
Neurodivergent Learning Whisperer®  


I've talked about the issue of accents and the teaching of synthetic phonics for years - it's an issue even when isolated words are spoken because so many teacher's aren't made aware of the issue. When the children learn the correspondences using the Coding Poster video lesson they hear me produce the speech sounds and this is easier for them- regardless of how they say the words. My accent is aligned with the British IPA and the generally accepted mapping for phonics. They learn those PSC correspondences in a few months, if not weeks (not two years). 


The number of differences between the grapheme to phoneme mapping AND phoneme to grapheme mapping because of issues such as accents and connected speech are vast. Far too much to expect teachers to learn about or understand - they aren't studying linguistics! The perception of continuous speech is a complex and difficult process and yet our ability to put together and understand continuous speech is what makes communication possible. Without being able to comprehend continuous speech, we would be unable to understand what others are expressing.

Our perception of continuous speech is different from our perception of individual words, because it is affected by the individual words and phonemes. When teaching synthetic phonics teachers only tend to address mapping of individual words. Even that can be made harder for children to understand if some teachers put speech sounds together - eg onset and rime, consonant blends, syllabification: It is no wonder that so many children struggle to connect speech sounds to text. 
Children have to navigate an opaque orthography: graphemes can map with numerous speech sounds, and speech sounds can map with numerous graphemes! - and teachers are often unsure of how children know which map with which! As there are too many correspondences to teach explicitly I am always flabbergasted that so much time is spent on just those 100 or so GPCs! There is so much to learn, and most of this must happen via implicit learning ie without being 'taught'. This is why I teach concepts - teach children how to map words (any words) independently, and the how to store them for easier retrieval. Independent learning is vital if all are to read. 

The process followed by Speech Sound Pics Approach teachers allows for quick and easy recognition of the correspondences needed for the kick-start phase, but they also read and spell the 400+ mapped high frequency words with ease - early. 
At the Yellow Code Level they start using the mapped Village with Three Corners books, alongside their Code Level readers. The children are also doing a range of activities to read and write - applying their knowledge. This means that they are exposed to these variants and the 'brain dictionary' becomes vast. Because children are learning at their pace (not listening to a teacher-led lesson from the front of class, or within a group) they reach that self-teaching stage as quickly as possible for THEM. This also makes it much easier to see if they are not progressing as expected, and jump in, or see that they learn exceptionally quickly and ensure challenged. Individual needs are meet, with every child fully engaged.  

Even within the first month of learning 'phonics' this way they are mapping all words and connecting speech sounds. It means that we can stop and discuss any discrepancy- asking 'what's new for you?'. Listen to Lara reading this and then 'code mapping' it - giving the speech sounds. There are 3 things I would correct here - 3 clear differences between how she voices the words, and the speech sounds she then gives. Can you spot them? That's what I teach teachers to do - and what my technology seeks to do if children don't have access to those teachers. 

For example, when watching the Duck Level word videos - and she comes to 'because' she would SEE the graphemes b/e/c/au/se and also the 'sound values. She would identify that she pronounces the single /e/ grapheme using the monster she sees - when she says the word as she reads the text, and yet she didn't use that phoneme (speech sound) when code mapping! The Monster Routine will soon cement the correspondences to long term memory and help children identify patterns - and transfer this knowledge to other words (essential if orthographic mapping -reading by 'sight' without conscious effort is the goal)    

Becoming aware of this is actually as important for those teaching phonics in the UK as it is for children learning to read and spell.

A great way to find out if their synthetic phonics programme is giving them this awareness of The Speech Sound Connection' is to ask who watches 'Law and Order' - ask them to Duck Hand the sounds they use when they SAY this phrase. Ask what happened to the /r/ speech sound (the third speech sound they used when they said the words)

This was because of 'connected speech' and the fact that they missed the /r/ is because the visual representation of the words in their (literate) minds is so powerful. I often refer to this as being 'blinded by the letters'. It doesn't matter to the teachers as they can speak, read and write. 

That's the difference between 'teaching phonics' and exploring The Speech Sound Connection! We are using all senses, and connecting phonemic awareness and orthographic knowledge to the real lives of the children. They explore words that are relevant and interesting to them, and we WANT them exploring a wide range of words. 

This goes against the DfE guidance for synthetic phonics programme developers seeking validation. 
Note that these programmes 

Unfortunately this only amounts to around 1/3 of the 'whole code used when we read and write (see our 4 Code Levels). The Speech Sound Connection activities will ensure that they can learn the whole code via 'self-teaching' - in the implicit learning phase (within months or weeks, not two years)

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Code Mapping and Monster Mapping words of interest to explore the Speech Sound Connection!

When a different approach is taken this is not necessary: books do not need to be fully 'decodable' at every stage - this can hinder their progress - and dampen their enthusiasm for reading. And as seen with Aussie kids, they can read and spell over 400 'exception' words before the end of reception: even in areas of social disadvantage where as many as half of all children start school with Speech, Language and Communication difficulties.


Exploring ANY books of interest is key. And when Code Mapped and Monster Mapped they can explore these in the very early stages too!


The DfE validation panel just need to think differently about how children learn the 'alphabetic principle' - perhaps this free 'NeuroSpectives' webinar would be a good start!

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