The Phonics Patch on ABC iView

Someone recently asked me why I’m not a fan of the phonics English mini-lessons on ABC iView. They seem to me to demonstrate what American Public Media journalist Emily Hanford calls “The Phonics Patch”. Rather than designing a literacy-beginners curriculum to systematically and explicitly teach sound-letter relationships to automaticity, a Whole Language/meaning-first teaching approach is supplemented with a few phonics activities, and rebadged as Balanced Literacy.

Title and learning intention

The title of ABC iView’s mini-lesson 16 (you’ll find it here if you scroll down: https://iview.abc.net.au/show/mini-lessons-english) is “Decoding words by segmenting individual sounds”. But segmenting is what we do to spoken words, in order to spell them. When you’re decoding, you start from written words, and must figure out the sounds and blend (not segment) them. So the title doesn’t really make sense.

The stated learning intention is to break words into individual sounds to read them. This makes about as much sense as the title. Is the learning intention talking about spoken words, or written words? It’s hard to know.

This is a systemic problem

The teacher in the video seems like a nice woman whose students probably adore her, and who teaches phonics in the way that many teachers have been taught to teach it. Typical initial teacher education courses focus on language meaning and don’t teach teachers much about the language structure which is the basis of our writing system (sounds, spelling patterns, meaningful word parts), so unless teachers learn this during a placement at a school with strong phonics teaching, or do inservice training after graduation, it’s hard for the typical teacher to teach phonics well.

This problem is systemic, and both teachers and students are being badly let down by the system. So please don’t interpret any of the following as personal criticism of the lovely, otherwise-skilled teacher in the video, or teachers generally. As the good folk at the US Reading League say, when we know better, we do better.

There seems to be no phonics teaching sequence

The video introduces children to three important words: segmenting, blending and digraphs. But saying you’re going to teach “blending” is a bit like saying you’re going to teach “riding”. Riding what? A skateboard? A bicycle? A horse? Two-sound words like ‘in’, ‘up’ and ‘at’ are a lot easier to blend and segment than four or five sound words like “stop” or “slips”, and English syllables can have up to seven sounds.

Which digraphs will be taught? English has dozens, it’s not possible to teach them all at once. It’s hard to figure out where the teaching in this video might fit into a systematic phonics teaching sequence.

Precise sounds and precise language matter

The teacher in the video sits at a whiteboard with plastic letters and nice Elkonin boxes on it, but the very first sound she says is mispronounced. She says “PUH” not a crisp, voiceless /p/. When teachers say consonant sounds sloppily/with additional vowel sounds, they make blending difficult for young children, as instead of blending /p/, /i/, /g/ they are blending puh-i-guh. When the video’s teacher blends, she doesn’t actually blend phonemes (p-i-g), she blends onset and rhyme (p-ig).

The teacher says “a digraph is two letters that make one sound”. Young children are literal creatures, so some will think this is literally true, and wonder if they should sit closer to the letters so they can hear them making sounds. Digraphs are two letters that represent one sound. I sometimes simplify this by telling young kids that sounds are invisible so we can’t really draw them, so we use letters to draw them instead. Using more accurate language makes for fewer confused children.

The teacher says that the first sound in the word “the” is voiceless /th/, which it isn’t. “The” starts with voiced /th/. I’m starting to wonder if this teacher has been taught what all the phonemes in our dialect of English are. Also, if this lesson is introducing the concept of digraphs, probably “th” (whether pronounced as in “then” or “thin”) is not the best one to start with, as lots of five-year-olds can’t say these sounds yet, or hear the difference between them and /f/ and /v/. That’s why they cutely say things like “Fank you” and “Can you help me wif vis?”.

How to spoil storytime

The next section of the video I found frankly bizarre. The teacher starts fluently reading a fun story book which contains two and three-syllable words, vowel digraphs and trigraphs, doubled consonants, contractions and other words that are hard for beginners. Then she randomly stops, just as the story is getting going, and pretends not to be able to read the word ‘stop’. She says “I’m stuck on a word. I’m going to segment (??) out the sounds, /s/, /t/, /o/, /p/, blend it together /st/, /op/, stop! Back up and reread…” and then she goes back to reading the story.

It turns out this teacher can fluently read almost all the words in the book, including the following quite hard words: believe, reason, simple, lose, quivering, loudly, Trevor, reply, ain’t, supper, faster, race, face, gobbled, biscuits, kibble, sausages, whoppers, munched, gnashing, choppers, swallowed, minute, something, know, guess, stuffing, notice, lucky, squeezed, tantrums, ceased, sometimes. She doesn’t notice that she misreads “wolfed” as “waffled”.

She pretends to get stuck on three more words, which she laboriously sounds out: stamp, thank, bin. These words are much easier than the many hard words she reads with ease. If any actual child read the way she does, they’d be a scientific curiosity. Is she trying to teach children that we only sound out easy words, and the hard ones you just have to know somehow? I counted 435 words in the story, and the teacher sounded out four of them. Is she trying to teach children that sounding-out is a relevant strategy for fewer than 1% of words?

If you like, you can try this embedded phonics strategy yourself next time you’re reading a lovely story to a young child. I very dare you. You’ll find that even polite, placid children will soon be giving you the “can you cut that out and just read the story?” evil eye. Highly recommended, if your jam is annoying kiddies and spoiling storytime.

If you’re teaching kids to blend sounds, then blend sounds (not bigger chunks)

Back at the whiteboard post-story, the teacher says we’re going to practise segmenting and blending, and to “get your mouth ready” (which is my suggestion for the subtitle of the Phonics Patch Movie, what does it even mean?). She says /p/ and most other sounds correctly this time (yay), but the words she’s chosen to study from the story are a mixture of levels of difficulty. Where C= consonant and V= vowel, they are a CVC, a CCVC, and two CVCC words, one of which includes a digraph. So if the kids can only manage three-sound words, the last three words are too hard, and if the kids can do four sound words, the first one is too easy. The digraph in the last word is a new one (ch), though children have had no chance yet to practice the first digraph she taught.

When the teacher blends the four-sound words, she does it by saying the onset then the rime, not by blending the individual sounds, i.e. she’s not blending /s/, /t/, /o/, /p/, she’s blending /st/ and /op/. She blends “best” as /b/, /est/ and “champ” as /ch/, /amp/. For kids with poor phonemic awareness, this will be mighty confusing. Where did “op” and “est” and “amp” come from? They weren’t the sounds she said.

A puppet sequence at the end of the video has the teacher saying individual sounds to read words, but then blending onsets and rimes, or for the word “munch” she says /m/, /un/, /ch/, but then having blended the /n/ with the vowel, she segments it out again to get “much”, and has to self-correct. At the end of this sequence we have yet another new digraph, “sh”, again before kids have had a chance to practise the ones taught earlier.

……

Will any five-year-olds learn how to blend or segment from watching this video? Will they be able to read or spell more words, including perhaps words with digraphs? Highly unlikely.

That might not matter to you if you’re used to teaching early reading via multicueing, repetitive texts, and rote-memorisation of high-frequency wordlists with an occasional phonics patch, or if you think getting 85% of children reading well enough is something to celebrate, as a PETAA spokesperson recently said. Or if you have no knowledge or experience of really powerful, effective phonics teaching.

25 thoughts on “The Phonics Patch on ABC iView

  1. Stacie

    As a SP, I really feel sorry for teachers.
    It’s like an apprentice learning to build a wall with the instructions “stack the bricks on top” – where is the explicit instruction on correct placement, levelling or how to use mortar? Completely baffled…

    Reply
  2. Debbie Hepplewhite

    This topic came up on Twitter and I, too, challenged the notion that people are misguidedly referring to ‘segmenting’ when referring to the print-to-sound reading process.

    I suppose one could say the printed word is ‘segmented’ into its letters and letter groups before sounding out – but this is arguably an unnecessary addition to the process and ends up confusing ‘oral segmenting’ (all through the spoken word) which is a sub-skill of the full spelling process.

    The people who are persuaded by the notion of ‘linguistic phonics’ as per the McGuinness’s introduce phonics by the route of starting with spoken words, orally segmenting them, then selecting letter tiles to spell the word – to introduce the link between sounds and print.

    Then the reading process is introduced as a ‘checking the spelling’ by sounding out and blending – but that gets you back to the word you already knew. You started with that spoken word.

    Thus, this is not like decoding where a new printed word is brand new – perhaps being decoded for the very first time – and not always in the reader’s spoken language so there is no help from existing language.

    This means that the reader’s ‘ear’ must be well-tuned to discerning a spoken word from its constituent sounds from ‘sounding out’.

    Although I do use the phrase ‘sounding out and blending’ because it is the standard, well-known phrase, I actually prefer the notion of ‘discerning’ the target word when sounding out.

    Otherwise, there can be an over-emphasis on ‘blending’ the component sounds – and only choosing printed words to practise with beginners that happen to be blendable! And making a big fuss about ‘pushing’ the letter tiles or magnetic letters together.

    Great post, Alison, as always!

    Reply
  3. John Walker

    Hi Alison,
    Your post is a great dissection of what’s wrong in the video and I agree with you on just about everything, especially the need for strong, systematic and explicit phonics teaching.
    However, I have one quibble and it’s about why segmenting is needed for reading as well as for spelling: it’s all here on The Literacy Blog:https://theliteracyblog.com/2018/01/10/3-reasons-why-segmenting-is-the-mother-of-all-skills-in-learning-to-read-and-spell/
    More power to your very formidable elbow.
    John x

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Well, yes, if you use segmenting in the generic sense to mean pulling anything apart into segments (an orange, an unfortunate caterpillar, a written word). But “segment” has a specific meaning in the domain of phonemic awareness: it means breaking up SPOKEN words into phonemes. On the CTOPP there are three subtests which assess what you and I would call phoneme manipulation, blending and segmenting, and all three of these skills need to be Serious Things in teachers’ minds and on national curricula, but they currently don’t get much attention here. I’m keen not to blur the boundaries between written and spoken words by applying PA terms to orthography. Sounds and their spellings need to have equal weight in the curriculum if reading and spelling are to be taught as reversible processes. Otherwise everyone just fixates on the written side and teachers fail to notice kids with glaringly poor PA. We don’t tell kids to “blend” letters (or at least I don’t, I’ve forgotten that bit of SW if you do, sorry), they blend sounds, and I am not keen on the idea of telling them to “segment” written words into spellings or syllables. Is there another relevant term? I like to underline the graphemes and circle the syllables, so letters which really belong in more than one syllable (e.g. the r in parent) can be in the overlapping bit. But I don’t really have a word for that, I just don’t want it to be called “segmenting” because if that’s segmenting then maybe that will subsume the term and sound segmenting will get lost.
      Thanks for always knowing what I’m talking about and giving interesting feedback, though it keeps me awake past midnight thinking about it and I have an 8am client OMG I must get to sleep!

      Reply
      1. John Walker

        I couldn’t agree more: all three subskills of segmenting, blending and phoneme manipulation are crucial and all need to be emphasised a great deal more by teachers. Even individually, most teachers aren’t teaching the separate skills with sufficient vigour, with the result that their pupils, particularly those most in need, are not taught them to automaticity. As we know, without automaticity, the cognitive resources needed to attend to reasoning, monitoring, comprehension, inference and integration can’t be released.
        However, imho, the skill of phonemic awareness is not something we require in the abstract, which is what I object to when teachers ask children to practise it as a skill disconnected from its true purpose in a practical context – reading and spelling.
        I’m not saying that Heggarty-like games do any harm. In fact, I taught my own youngest daughter to do it and she was able to do it so brilliantly she out-segmented me (the object was a long Japanese word!) when she was three and a half years old! Nevertheless, it didn’t teach her to read! For that, what was wanted was for her to link spellings to sounds and sounds to spellings, for which, as I have argued many times, word building, which starts with segmenting and in a concrete context, is the prefect medium.
        The beginning reader has to identify the first spelling in the word, convert it into a sound, go onto the next spelling and do the same before getting to the end of the word, blending the sounds together and producing the word. Of course, once the word (‘mat’, for example) has been built, we blend the sounds to form the word. And then we write it: partly to sediment the sound-spelling correspondences in the long-term memories of the learners: partly, to take the procedure one step further towards automaticity.
        And we see this process with dazzling clarity in the practice of the beginning reader who is yet to acquire automaticity. For the beginner, the procedure is ponderous. It’s a million miles from ‘disappearing’ from one’s immediate apprehension into the kind of ‘below the level of conscious attention’ fluent readers are seduced into thinking enables them to read words as wholes.
        For the beginner, in one word building lesson: they learn to connect sounds to spellings through segmenting; they learn to re-combine them to form the word they began with through blending; and, they begin to perceive the first glimmering understandings of the nature of the code: letters (spellings) stand for the sounds in the language.
        As I see it, ‘segmenting’ also refers to separating words into syllables and sentences into words (cf McGuinness, Early Reading… pp 161-162).
        It’s always a pleasure to debate the issues with you. I’m sure this one will run and run.
        Sleep well!

        Reply
      2. Debbie Hepplewhite

        Hi John and Alison,

        I’m with Alison on this one as you can see from my earlier posting. Yes, you could use the language of ‘segmenting’ the PRINTED word prior to sounding out and blending (decoding) but the use of the word ‘segmenting’ for both the decoding and encoding (spelling) process can confuse the processes of sound-to-print for spelling and print-to-sound for reading.

        In effect, for decoding, the reader needs to study the printed word first to see if any letter groups can be recognised. This can be helped by the use of letter tiles, frieze, flash cards and printed words with a focus letter group in a distinctive colour – or black font compared to grey for the rest of the word – to bring letter groups into focus in the printed words.

        Rather than use the language of the reader ‘segmenting’ the printed word, one just teaches the reader to ‘respond’ to the letters and letter groups with sounds. (Dots and dashes are not even needed, the letters and letter groups themselves are the ‘sound buttons’.) You could argue this is segmenting the printed word but there is no need to use such a verb because the print is already segmented, in a sense, by the use of print – that is, separate letters, and looking for letter groups that have been taught discretely to become more distinctive.

        I also suggest that the emphasis on children starting with spoken words – words that they know – is fine but it is still a spelling process to start with a spoken word. There is nothing wrong with starting with letters and connecting sounds to the letters and yet this is process is criticised heavily by linguistic phonics advocates. Either process (starting with the spoken word, or starting with print and the printed word) is still about raising awareness – teaching – the links between letters and sounds.

        Phonics as it has developed in England’s context is very much about teaching the reversibility of the English alphabetic code from the outset anyway. Thus, teachers should be providing spoken words from the beginning or very earliest stage to orally segment and then model how to allot letters to the identified sounds – and also modelling how to identify letter shapes and link them with their sounds to sound out and blend for reading – both processes – not one or the other. Both.

        And although I myself promote the introduction of the history of the English language (spoken and written) and the notion of ‘codes’ in teacher-training, children can just as much be trained without understanding the processes on an intellectual level. In other words, this letter shape is /s/, say /s/ when you see this letter shape…

        …Extend that to more letter-sound links modelling how to sound out and blend to discern the target spoken word. The children can be trained to do this without understanding. They can also be trained to orally segment and spell without intellectual understanding. The understanding is a bonus which will grow in time and should certainly be introduced at some point – early is good!

        I certainly agree and promote the ‘organisation’ of understanding of the alphabetic code being based on ‘the sounds’ as Alison has described in one of her posts – and as Prof Diane McGuinness recommends in her work – but that does not mean demonising print to sound as a route to reading – nor suggesting that without intellectual understanding children will not learn so well. They will. They become well-trained. Well taught. The intellectual aspect is a bonus which should not be neglected but, arguably, is not the be all and end all or superior to phonics without an initial intellectual input.

        Best wishes,

        Debbie

        Reply
  4. Clare

    Hi Alison,
    I completely agree with your thoughts on the video. Your last few blogs have really highlighted the need for makers of apps and tv programs to back up their claims to truly help parents and educators access high quality content,thank you. Your comments on segmenting have me puzzled. I am in the camp that segment and ‘sound it out’ really mean the same thing. If children come across an unfamiliar word they are often told to ‘sound it out.’ Or maybe look through the whole word and we will map speech to print to set the scene for orthographic mapping to occur. So the way I see it is children segment the word to then blend the sounds back together to create the word looking at the print. (Just for new words or words that are causing difficulty) The very fact that there is the age old split of segmenting for spelling and blending for reading causes confusion. From the very beginning how can children learn to read fluently without decoding the words via phoneme-grapheme correspondences? Reading and spelling are 2 sides of the same coin and the instruction should be linked to create cohesion. I totally get what you are saying from a testing point of view about certain word use, but language is constantly changing. As we know more the vocabulary around the topic should also change. And a side note- I completely hear you about the staying up late. It’s 1am here in Perth and I came across your blog looking for something else. In my home of 5 busy people this is the quietest time to think, read and work.

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Well, I guess nobody is going to die in a ditch if the word “segmenting” is used for the process of breaking up WRITTEN words into syllables or graphemes or morphemes or whatever the focus of teaching is. I just don’t want that to become its only meaning, and that’s the danger, and for the segmenting of SPOKEN words into sounds to get lost/forgotten. I’m going to stop worrying about this and get an early night tonight!

      Reply
  5. Rod Happell

    I did the 3-day Soundswrite course (which I loved) and learnt blending is for reading and segmenting for spelling but have been confused about what the process is when we pull a written word apart into individual sounds to then blend together. It seemed like this was segmenting but did not realise this was a PA word applied to spelling not reading. That it applies to oral language makes sense to me now so I guess maybe a term like “breaking up” words into sounds to blend together to read is a better way to go.

    Reply
    1. John Walker

      Hi Rod, When you pull a written word apart (word building), you are, of course, segemnting it into its constituent sounds. When you recode spellings into sounds and put those sounds together to form a word (in a single-syllable word), you are blending.
      Imho, the argument in reading theory is about what is going on when people read and my argument (McGuinnness, et al.) is that for fluent readers the process of segmenting and then blending is going on so fast (under the level of conscious attention) that it appears but only appears that we are reading whole words.
      Best, John

      Reply
      1. Jenny Chew

        John: Can you see, though, that some of us have a real problem with the way you equate ‘word BUILDING’ with ‘pulling…apart’?

        In ‘Why Children Can’t Read’ (UK edition, 1998) Diane McGuinness uses the term ‘unglue’, starting on p. xiii where she writes that children ‘must be able to disconnect or “unglue” sounds in words in order to use an alphabetic writing system’. There’s one place (p. 147) where she equates ‘segmenting’ with ‘sounding out words’ in a way which may or may not mean looking at letters and saying sounds for them, but apart from that, ‘unglueing’ and ‘segmenting’ always seem to mean separating the sounds in spoken words.

        In ‘Early Reading Instruction’ (2004) she says, on p. 161, that there is considerable confusion about the terms ‘segmenting’ and ‘blending’, but I still don’t find her explanation on p. 162 at all clear. She says that the view that when we read ‘we rapidly translate letters into phonemes and blend them into the word’ is wrong, but her description of what she regards as actually happening sounds very similar, I found it puzzling that she said that when children SAW the unfamiliar word ‘sting’ and sounded it out as /s/ /t/ /i/ /ng/ they were ‘segmenting’, but this was cleared up for me when I got to p. 335 and realised that she meant ‘visually segmenting’.

        In order to ‘segment’ in its normal sense of ‘pull apart’, one has to have some raw material to pull apart. In reading, that raw material can only be the PRINTED word – it can’t be the spoken form of the word, as one does not know that until one has worked it out by reading it. I think there are good reasons for launching straight into teaching beginners exactly what they need to know in order to read their first simple words: a few letter-shapes, a sound for each, how to look at the letters from left to right and say sounds for them, and how to blend the sounds together – i.e. synthesise them (hence synthetic phonics). No segmenting of the printed word is really necessary at this stage, as each letter is visually distinct. It’s only when digraphs etc. are introduced that visual segmenting may be needed, as on p. 335 of ‘Early Reading Instruction’.

        Reply
    1. Debbie Hepplewhite

      I don’t know whether this graphic of the three core phonics skills and their sub-skills will be useful for anyone: https://phonicsinternational.com/Triangle_sub_core_skills.pdf

      It was many years ago that I realised people involved with a sounds-to-print linguistic phonics approach used the word ‘segment’ with reference to reading – and also taught reading via a spelling route.

      I’ve been mindful ever since then to go to the trouble when writing or talking about phonics to add the words ‘spoken’ and ‘printed’ when I refer to spoken words or printed words.

      This means that whichever approach is ‘understood’, the way to avoid people being at cross-purposes (in more ways than one) is simply to add the detail of whether you mean the spoken word or printed word.

      So, do we mean segmenting the spoken word or segmenting the printed word? Just state which is intended.

      We do segment, or split up, a spoken word into its sounds as a sub-skill for spelling.

      Do we segment a printed word when we read? Or simply respond (described as ‘sounding out’ – whether silently in one’s head, or aloud) to the graphemes we recognise? Perhaps this is really splitting hairs.

      Funnily enough, consider this:

      Many teachers using magnetic letters or letter tiles to model sounding out and blending the printed word for reading will ‘push together’ the magnetic letters or letter tiles – the opposite to splitting apart or segmenting.

      It’s easy to see how there is confusion here.

      Personally, I don’t recommend, or model, pushing together any magnetic letters or letter tiles. I do prefer, and recommend, the use of actual printed words to model the decoding/reading process. Start with print.

      You don’t even need letter tiles to model reading – just whole printed words, then scan for recognisable letter groups, then respond by saying sounds to the graphemes left to right of the printed word to ‘discern’ a whole spoken word.

      But let me reiterate, children will be taught be any of the differences people use in their provision. This is an interesting, and perhaps important, talking point however. I, personally, tire of people demonising phonics for reading that starts with printed words, and not spoken words – so thought a bit of clarification might be timely as this occurs via Twitter quite often.

      Reply
      1. Erica

        I wanted to pipe in, I agree with your post Alison. It is very frustrating to have misinformation around teaching children to read.

        I wanted to raise a point regarding Debbie’s answer. I like her chart about the basics of phonics and reading, but it is missing ‘understanding’. Comprehension is a critical part of being a reader. This is why we can’t just learn to decode a bunch of word cards, and even learn to spell them as Debbie includes in her chart. I can read Russian letters, I can write them. But I cannot understand what I read because I do not have the words in my vocabulary. Reading is about understanding and interpreting someone else’s thoughts. It is not enough to simply decode and handwrite.

        Reply
        1. alison Post author

          That’s correct, but literally nobody says it is enough to decode, spell and handwrite. If I wrote a book about bananas, would you infer that I think bananas are enough and I’m not interested in pears and apples? Of course not. People who focus on the decoding/encoding side of the Simple View of Reading equation (the side that is very under-done in much of our education system) typically do in my experience both know and care about the comprehension side.

          Reply
        2. Debbie Hepplewhite

          Hi Erica,

          I have written a whole body of work which provides rich content at code, word, sentence and text level of reading, spelling, writing, vocabulary enrichment and language comprehension – plus building up knowledge of spelling word banks – to go alongside use my free Alphabetic Code Charts. Whoever said that it is ‘enough’ to ‘simply decode and handwrite’. Certainly not me.

          But when it comes to the ‘understanding’ you promote, the Alphabetic Code Charts help an understanding of the complexities of the English alphabetic code. The charts make the alphabetic code ‘tangible’. That’s key.

          Reply
  6. Jenny Chew

    Something that puzzled me greatly when I first read Diane McGuinness’s ‘Early Reading Instruction’ back in 2004 was what she said about segmenting and blending on pages 161-2. For the sake of brevity, I won’t quote it here, but will just say that my puzzlement was not cleared up until I got to p. 335 and read her description of a ‘Poppy Pig’ lesson, where she writes that ‘[Words] are visually segmented and read in a segmented fashion, then blended into the word’. It’s much clearer there than on pp. 161-2 that by ‘segmenting’ she means splitting up the printed word into letters and letter-groups – only then can the word be ‘read in a segmented fashion’..

    By the time I read the blog to which you give a link, John, I was therefore used to the idea that some people use the word ‘segmenting’ of the process of sounding out in reading – pronouncing sound segments in response to graphemes. I was still puzzled, however, by the sentence in which you write that ‘word building (segmenting) systematically establishes a link…’. Here, it was your apparent equating of ‘building’ with ‘segmenting’ that puzzled me. As Alison says, ‘segmenting’ means ‘pulling things apart’, but ‘building’ surely involves the opposite process of putting things together. If I am still trying to work out a pronunciation for ‘paucibacillary’ (your example), the only way I can produce the right sound segments is by splitting up the letters which I SEE into groups which I know can represent phonemes.

    I, like Alison, really would prefer the normal ‘splitting up’ sense of ‘segmenting’ to prevail, and for it to be clear that what is available for splitting up, as a first step, is the whole printed word in reading and the whole spoken word in spelling.

    Jenny.

    Reply
  7. Ann Sullivan

    Hello

    Years ago I was trained (by John actually) in Phono-Graphix and, if you don’t know me then I have a ‘programme’ call Phonics for Pupils with SEN published in 2019.

    My understanding has always been that reading and spelling are two sides of the same coin.
    So, granny, at the risk of handing out the eggs…
    Reading is: 1. written word > 2. spoken word (in thinking voice if not out loud). So, we look at the printed symbols in order, match a sound and blend (Print to Speech).
    Spelling is: 1. spoken or thought word to 2. written word. So, we access the sounds in sequence (segment) in our head and match a symbol / grapheme / sound spelling for each (Speech to Print).
    These are the directions we work in – we have to, because that’s the way the code works – regardless of whether or not we take a ‘linguistic’ approach or not.
    Let’s just think about what linguistic phonics is…
    In linguistic phonics instruction itself is framed around the way writing naturally evolved over time. Writing came from the need to fix spoken words / speech to send messages or leave our thoughts for posterity. This is where the big difference arises between linguistic and other sorts of phonics (and it is quite subtle), we present that orientation in the interactions we have with the child (scripted and otherwise). When we introduce new aspects of the code, listen to a child read, ask a child to spell a word etc. etc. we do so in a way that nods to the fact that sounds came first and are represented by letters – that is implicit in the instruction.
    The linguistic approach is most apparent when looking at variation and overlap. We focus on a sound and from that look at all the ways that it can be represented, at the same time. Similarly, with overlap. At the right time (when the child has worked through all the appropriate sounds) we focus on one sound spelling and explore all the sounds it represents, at the same time. When we work with a child we are aware of what they currently do and do not know and always have variation and overlap to refer to when reading or spelling and we do so in a way that reinforces the sound > letter correspondence, it is logical and super easy.
    What I am hoping to achieve with this is that linguistic phonics is an overarching approach that chimes with the way the cipher (1 pedant point to me) evolved and works. It is not something that can be strictly applied to every situation and reading is, ironically, one of them. We can’t escape the fact that reading is print to speech.
    I was taught to support pupils to sound out words when reading. That is to track left to right through the word and look at the letters (sound spellings of whatever you call them) and when you recognize one recall what sound it represents and say it. Then track on until you recognize another sound spelling, recall the matching sound and so on through the word. Sorry about the eggs, guys.
    What we are actually doing is visually splitting up the word into recognizable units and assigning a sound to each. Yes, we are visually segmenting the word. No, this is not the same as oral segmenting which is well established as meaning splitting a word into its constituent phonemes. Is the problem just that we are all on the same page but are using a term in two very different circumstances? The important question is then, by using the term segmenting in both scenarios with different meanings are we likely to confuse teachers and parents who are new to this thing? If the answer is no, we are just being super-nuanced about this because we love it and we have been doing it for years, then we could say we ‘segment’ a word and then blend to read it. If the answer is yes, we are likely to confuse folks, then we need to think about a new term for the ‘tracking/visual splitting up the word’ and assigning sounds.
    Does this help or shall I get my coat?

    Reply
    1. Jenny Chew

      You ask, Ann, ‘Is the problem just that we are all on the same page but are using a term in two very different circumstances?’ I would say yes. For one thing, ‘segmenting’ is used in many phonics programmes and by many researchers to refer to the process of splitting up the SPOKEN word. It’s also worth mentioning that this is the process implied in the glossary of Carmen and Geoffrey McGuinness’s ‘Reading Reflex’, where ‘segmenting’ is defined as ‘the ability to separate sounds in words, in the correct sequence’. The bit I quoted from p. 335 of Diane McGuinness’s ‘Early Reading Instruction’, however, shows that she is thinking of an operation carried out on written words. At least both those McGuinness publications focus on pulling apart/separating, but the problem was compounded, for me, by John’s apparent equating of ‘segmenting’ with ‘building’, when the two would imply very different processes in normal parlance – pulling apart vs. putting together.

      Reply
      1. Ann Sullivan

        Hi Jenny,
        Yes, I think we are in agreement that when we read we visually chop up the word into symbols, match sounds and then blend. When we want to spell a word we orally chop up the spoken word into sounds and then match symbols. I used the words chop up there so that we can see the action is similar, as you say we are pulling something apart. However if the term segmenting is reserved solely for oral chopping up in preparation for encoding (which over time it appears it has) then we should come up with an alternative for the other sort of chopping. Maybe in ERI, Diane did not feel the need to discriminate between a visual chop up and an oral chop up by calling them different things because it was clear for her what was going on. Maybe mortals such as I need to have things ‘spelled out’ for me (no pun intended)!

        I think John was perhaps referring to Word Build – the activity (which involves encoding and decoding in the same activity) rather than decoding as being a process of building words??

        Such an interesting discussion.

        Reply
  8. Ann Sullivan

    The next question of course is should we be teaching decoding using this strategy?
    The visual splitting / assigning sound results in the child having worked out ‘sound-sound-sound’. They then have to blend those sounds together which involves a complex set of cognitive skills: auditory memory, sequencing, working memory as well as pushing the sounds together and hearing the word forming. This is described a segmented phonation (not my term).

    I teach blending by connected phonation (I refer to it as dynamic blending). This supports the pupil to look at the first sound spelling and say the sound but continue to say that sound whilst tracking to the next sound spelling. Looking at the next sound spelling the child then accesses and says the next sound without a break inbetween the two sounds and so on through the word. So, the child is actively blending and just has to listen for the word forming.
    map
    /m/ /a/ /p/ or mmmaaap

    So segmented or connected phonation?
    For the many pupils segmented phonation works well enough but for pupils with any underlying weakness in phonemic awareness, auditory memory, working memory or sequencing then it is arguable that connected phonation will make things much easier.
    Here’s a link to some research https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10888438.2020.1776290?scroll=top&needAccess=true
    Does this depend on the kind of pupils we work with? For my SEN pupils (who mostly have complex and multiple needs and may not even speak at all) /c/-/a/-/t/ > ‘cat’ is inscrutable (how do you get to 1 thing from 3?) but for typically developing kids or those with slight weaknesses in some areas of processing then can this be quickly mastered?

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Yes, I saw that article on connected phonation, it’s very interesting, I have it in my pile to read this weekend. These approach details are really important in assisting the weakest readers.

      Reply
  9. Berys Dixon

    Totally on board with the discussion on the correct use of the word ‘segmenting’. But for me the greatest sadness is knowing that this lesson is indicative of ‘phonic’ lessons going on right around the country. So many children are being left stranded by these confusing methods. If this teacher had at least used a suitably appropriate decodable book to demonstrate how to blend to read unfamilar words, it would have been a step in the right direction. Unfortunately with the likes of David Hornsby and F’nP given free rein to push their balanced literacy barrows , insisting that every phonics lesson must be embedded in a ‘genuine literacy event’ children will be stuck with having both a really good story ruined and being clueless as to how our alphabetic code works.

    Reply

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