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The Visible Spelling Code

Improve your phonemic awareness, articulation and understanding of English orthography! Learn how to use the IPA to map speech sounds to the written code.
Everyone welcome! You do NOT need any prior experience. Let's look at spelling differently!
Explore the Universal English Spelling Code with Miss Emma through Code Mapping® (graphemes made visible) and Speech Sound Monster Mapping® (phonemes made visible) Practical strategies and ideas to support ALL learners.   

Visible English Orthography

Miss Emma - Creator of Code Mapping and Monster Mapping!

Visible Spelling
- Using the Universal English Spelling Code
Training for KS1 teachers and SENCos!

This is such a HUGE topic I'm creating a whole site dedicated to Word Mapping! - contact me

I wasn't sure whether to call it or - but seems simpler? Also as many of my followers are teaching - or learning- English as a Second or Other Language.

Training options (face to face in the UK and online) available from June.
Start the new academic year with fresh ideas and a new perspective about word recognition and spelling that is supported by science, and goes much deeper than the training currently available for KS1 teachers and SENCos. If we want to ensure that more children are confident, independent and engaged literacy learners we need to empower their teachers. Teachers need to 'see' the
English Spelling Code differently!


This is not a new topic of interest. Research has shown that preservice teacher education students show surprisingly low levels of performance in phonemic awareness and orthographic knowledge (Purvis, McNeill, & Everatt, 2016; Washburn, Binks-Cantrell, Joshi, Martin-Chang, & Arrow, 2016). 

Without explicit knowledge about the structure of spoken English or the characteristics of the written code/ writing system, it will be difficult for teachers to teach reading effectively (Moats, 1994; Munro, 1999; Spear-Swerling & Brucker, 2004; Tetley & Jones, 2014). Catherine Snow et al. summarize the  importance of spelling for reading as follows: “Spelling and reading build and rely on the same mental representation of a word. Knowing the spelling of a word makes the representation of it sturdy and accessible for fluent reading.” 

Research also bears out a strong relationship between spelling and writing: writers who must think too hard about how to spell use up valuable cognitive resources needed for higher level aspects of composition. Writing is a mental juggling act that depends on automatic deployment of basic skills such as handwriting, spelling, grammar, and punctuation so that the writer can keep track of such concerns as topic, organisation, word choice, and audience needs. Poor spellers may restrict what they write to words they can spell, or they may lose track of their thoughts when they get stuck trying to spell a word. Ineffective handwriting also affects this, and why we write all words when spelling, and ensure that they form letters correctly, and with 'exits' - I'll go over the Spelling Routine during training! 

A lack of orthographic knowledge can have such a negative impact  on literacy instruction, and especially with regards to teaching encoding. For example many have no understanding of how poor phonemic awareness skills and accents impact learning. An accent is simply how the children (and teachers) pronounce words—a style of pronunciation. A dialect includes pronunciations, but also general vocabulary and grammar. These only matter when it comes to learning to read and write in English. I find it useful to always refer to the written language as 'universal' - and fairly logical and mathematical. On paper, it is designed for everyone. They can then translate/ apply it to their own accents. The reading part can be relatively easy as the written language 'road map' is there. It is far more difficult the other way round - when children have to use their own spoken language and translate that to paper. The structure of their spoken language can be far removed from the Universal written code. Dialects can be a major block to mastery when learning to write in English - they need to do so in a way that everyone around the world can understand it.      

The Universal Spelling Code may be very different to the grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences used when speaking. That's not an issue when you can already read (are using orthographic mapping) - it's like being a driver. You can then get into pretty much any car and drive it - although there will be some initial adjustments as you figure out that particular car. The ability to drive without much thought is key. So you can be shown most texts and figure them out - although you may need to get out an instruction manual to work out specific features (like using a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words) 
When you can't yet read however, it is all a minefield. So we need to give them as simple a vehicle to operate, with consistent instructions and features, to build their confidence, from anywhere in the world. That means using the Universal Spelling Code to TEACH written English. How you then drive your vehicle is up to you.  

It's also going to get much harder for kids as they navigate more of the code - because English orthography is opaque. In English, we have just 26 letters to work with — but we have 44+ phonemes (speech sounds) and more than 300 graphemes (ways to spell those speech sounds) A phoneme is the smallest speech sound that distinguishes words. In the UK the school phonics programme will likely only cover around 100.  My priority for children - especially those who learn differently (my 'NeuroReadies) is to develop phonemic awareness, and to make the English Spelling Code visible as a 'preventative' approach - and avoid difficulties. Think of the smallest sound units, explore how they map in words - think about the universal code and whether it's different to the way you speak. These discussions between kids are priceless. They can learn those 100 or so grapheme-phoneme correspondences in a different way. Even just a shift in thinking can change what happens in KS1 classrooms. For example teachers are used to thinking of “letter-sound” correspondences, or 'GPCs'  They are used to phonics programme handbooks and assessments referring to the mapping system between sounds and symbols in English from print to speech and yet it is is more accurately conceptualised the other way around — as a map between phonemes (speech sounds) and graphemes (sound pictures).  


Whichever way you think about it, the learning of these correspondences is impacted by accents! Think about the word 'pan'
Most children can be taught that the /a/ in this word is a representation for æ through phonics instruction, using the universal spelling code  - type the word into or similar - British or American - to see the universal written code / representation for speech sounds on paper. They can THEN 'translate' this code to their accounts. I talk about this with Aussie teachers a lot - when many children say 'ant' they may say it like 'air/n/t - and if taught print to speech then they will look at ant and most will be able to blend those sounds to say 'ant' in their accent - if they can recall the sound value of the graphemes, remember them all - working memory- and blend them.

The issue is that because this discrepancy hasn't been addressed (phonics programs often totally ignore it) the child may decode 'decodable texts' fairly well, but a lot will struggle with spelling...because they have to go the other way round - thinking of the sounds. If they didn't already know 'pan' they would struggle to spell it with their accents, if not secured in orthographic lexicon. The kids who navigate around this (and don't need much explicit instruction) are fine - but it'll slow the learning down for around 40/50% and at least 20/30% are going to be totally lost when accents are very different to this universal code. I don't like those odds. Rather than a focus on print to speech phonics (eg synthetic or analytic) we MUST ensure that we are going both ways, every day.  Print to speech (decoding) AND speech to print (encoding) But I have found ways to make this really easy for children, as we are doing this daily. We are ALSO addressing 'language' - I talk about our 'speaking voice' and our 'writing voice' - and when doing comprehension tasks eg Snap and Crack, they use both. We also address the issue of accents with pre-school aged children (our Little Mappers) by using 'The Story of the Speech Sound King' and his Code Mapping book (the dictionary) The mapping of the words in this wonderful book are based on HIS accent - which aligns with the IPA (the Universal Spelling Code)

Reading requires orthographic recognition, while spelling requires orthographic recall and application - and is therefore much harder to learn. Orthography refers to the spelling system as well as capitalisation, hyphenation and punctuation. When Code Mapping® we show this writing system, with 'black/grey colours used to make the grapheme visible, but without visual overload. When Monster Mapping® we are showing/ mapping the phonemes - aligned with the Universal Code (we can't use the actual phonetic symbols as the children can't read and spell in letters yet - and they wouldn't be interested in a bunch of squiggles! - but teachers need to understand this code.) The monsters are great, as children can see the sounds being used and to compare with the universal spelling code. They are an incredible 'communication tool' for children who are non verbal.

In the UK kids are taught phonics daily in KS1, which is great, but teaching phonics as a kick-start to learning to read and spell isn't enough. HOW phonics is taught matters more than many seem to realise. The literacy outcomes in the UK over the past decade (since synthetic phonics has been mandated) should show us that daily systematic phonics is not enough. Thankfully the 'print to speech' approach is not such an issue for UK children as accents are more consistent with the 'sounds' mapped with graphemes (GPCs) taught in their daily phonics lessons, and they are more likely to naturally pick up the code the other way round for spelling. When asked to encode (spell) words those correspondences are more aligned with the universal code. At least 1 in 4 here still don't learn to read in primary school though - my goal is to connect with like-minded teachers and school leaders and change that. Going 'speech to print' in the USA and where accents and dialects can be very much at odds with the universal English spelling code, is a major worry. Starting from speech and hooking the 'pictures of the sounds' is how I teach children - but I have an accent that aligns closely to the universal code. My 'speech sounds' complement the Universal Code. This is one reason why the children learning phonics using the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach in Australia, are so successful - they are listening to ME as using the Spelling Piano and ICRWY Lessons apps every day. They hear my voice - and the phonemes are more consistent with the Universal Spelling code. If a 'speech to print' approach is used - as described by many now pushing for this (the new 'S2P' movement) then the 'whole language V phonics' war may be won, but too many battles will be created, and too many children will suffer. We need to focus on healthy reading growth for all, and this means a focus on how children (and teachers!) learn - only then will teachers be clearer on the instruction. 

Orthographic processing is the ability to understand and recognise these writing conventions as well as recognising when words contain correct and incorrect spellings. You will hear me ask children 'which looks right' - to determine if the sequence gets a “direct hit” in the child's orthographic lexicon. A word may be sufficiently established in orthographic memory to read it correctly, but not to spell it reliably; a more firmly established orthographic image is required for spelling than for reading. The way many are teaching in the UK means that most will no doubt learn to decode with basic correspondences (those tested in the PSC) reasonably well - but teachers are then baffled by poor spelling. With Visible English training adults who can already read understand why all this matters and will implement my daily strategies (eg Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers) to ensure that both decoding and encoding skills are strong. Sure, some children pick this up with just a kick-start to phonics. But a lot don't. And a lot will struggle to decode this way, and struggle to read, not just to spell! Then when they have a driving test it is like presenting these beginner drivers with a car with caravan in tow and asked to reverse it through a tiny gate. They WILL be able to do it - eventually - but not with the limited instruction they have been given.   

There is an easy way to address all of this with kids around the world - and that's what's frustrating. If teachers understood these issues, and recognised the importances of discussing these issues (differences between spoken and written English) so many more kids would only need the phonics kick-start in reception (and maybe half of year 1) and then be out of that explicit instruction stage. Without it, it just gets harder and harder for kids. By grade 2 the gap can be HUGE, especially in areas where the accents and dialect are very different to the correspondences used within the Universal spelling code. And yet, fairly easily avoidable with better teacher training - even if the phonics programme doesn't change. 

What has happened, with this push for 'science' is that thousands of ready-made programmes have been developed over the past couple of decades - all claiming to be 'evidence based'. The money invested in these programmes is mind boggling - imagine if it was spent on teacher education and ongoing support - on collaborative efforts between professionals!  
Asking teachers to follow a phonics handbook may improve overall literacy results, but it won't ensure mastery of the written code for 95% of children who are capable of reading and spelling before the end of Year 1. Only knowledgeable teachers (with autonomy) can do that. Although UK teachers have to use a systematic synthetic phonics programme, we can give them the training to cover the other elements so that they are more successful - and this is where Visible Spelling comes in! Teachers can continue to use existing programmes but will know how to fill the gaps. 

Most children learn spoken words relatively easily - the sound of the word (individual speech sounds /phonemes sequenced automatically) is stored in the brain’s phonological lexicon, and the meaning of the word is stored in the semantic lexicon. What doesn't happen (for most) without at least some explicit instruction, is the securing of the orthographic lexicon ie the spoken words in written form. By making orthography 'visible' we can speed this up - and help children transition into the 'self-teaching' phase and move closer towards Orthographic Mapping in less time. Ideally any child in the UK who is not yet reading by Grade 2 can work through the Mapped Words Intervention at home, because their teachers may not understand how much more is needed if they are to become an engaged and independent reader. Their 'synthetic phonics' programme of choice may not be offering them sufficient support to become a skilled reader, ie to facilitate healthy reading growth. The teachers could change this, by signing up for Visible (English) Spelling training! They will understand how to adapt the DfE validated SSP programmes, and differentiate according to the needs of the children (not just give them more of the same when they are struggling) This is not a 'spelling programme' - I'll train you to understand how children more easily learn to spell. And I have some wonderful children who will demonstrate what can be done at home.   

We need to delve into our written code as explorers - which also means a shift towards more playful learning that centres around the learning journey of individuals, and a deeper dive into understanding how they learn. By exploring the universal code WITH children - and other adults - we keep learning; we start (collaboratively) working towards a more unified science of LEARNING TO read and spell in English. We never say 'this works' - we say 'is this effective for ALL learners, and if so how can we keep building on it?' During training I will NOT give you a 'Scope and Sequence' or lists of words etc. You will have that already. I will show you how to ensure that they learn them more easily - and store in their 'brain word bank'; by making English words visible. 

This shift in understanding, and use of Code Mapping and Monster Mapping, will results in greater independence and engagement, happier students and 'less teaching, more learning' - so happier teachers, too!

I 'see' the English Spelling Code differently, perhaps because I think and learn differently.
I love to share my ideas and strategies with those who embrace 'differences'


Miss Emma - and the Speech Sound Duck!

Miss Emma MA SEN
I am a NeuroReadie! 

Little Mappers
Just turned 2)

Bigger Mappers!
(5 year olds)

Visible Orthography - Mapped Words!
The Active View of Reading - many of the elements rely on an understanding of English orthography
Code Mapping is a unique design by Miss Emma - Visible Orthography!

When written English is made 'visible' everything else is easier to learn. Especially if you are a NeuroReadie!

Making the Universal English Spelling Code visible
Speech Sound Monsters - making phonemes visible
We are NeuroReadies! Embracing our differences.
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