Although it may seem very modern, the teaching of synthetic phonics is not a contemporary pedagogy.
The committee found that the alphabet method in which letters proceeded from letters to syllables to words was false and tedious because letters' names and sounds did not correspond. More to the committee's liking was the phonic method because it began with the letters' true sounds and was genuinely synthetic. Although it would require reformed spelling, phonics had the great merit of cultivating the habit of distinct articulation, and of imparting to the ear accuracy and delicacy in the discrimination of sounds.
Gretchen, R. (1997) Reading Lives Reconstructing Childhood, Books and Schools in Britain 1870–1920. Galbraith
Consider the above quote and reflect on whether any of the points have a relationship with your teaching of phonics in the twenty-first century classroom.
In particular, you may like to reflect on the following phrases.
- Began with the letters' true sounds and was genuinely synthetic.
- Require reformed spelling.
- Distinct articulation.
- Accuracy and discrimination of sounds.
What is systematic synthetic phonics (SSP)?
There are different approaches to teaching phonics (including analytic) but the one most increasingly seen in schools in Wales is systematic synthetic phonics (SSP). The Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF) does not explicitly advocate this approach but it uses the language of SSP in the outcomes for the Foundation Phase. For example, there is reference to phonic and graphic knowledge, decodable words, sight vocabulary and the ability to blend and segment.
A description of this approach can be found on the Systematic Phonics website (external link).
There is a range of technical terms used when teaching systematic synthetic phonics and you may like to revise your knowledge by accessing this document (external link).
Distance learning resource: Getting them reading early
(This resource is relevant to all commercial SSP packages including Read, Write, Inc., JollyPhonics, Letters and Sounds and Phonics Bug)
This is a comprehensive distant learning resource produced by Ofsted which rates as highly recommended. The material is appropriate for all levels of staff and can be used in groups or on an individual basis. If you are reading about SSP for the first time then the introductory sections are more applicable. If you are in the position of refining your provision then you may like to consider the sections on whole-school approaches.
The document contains interactive activities and links to key documents including Reading by Six.
There are also useful guidelines for observing phonics lessons which can also be adapted for audit use.
The document Getting them reading early (external link) is an excellent resource, but as it is an English resource it is not wholly reflective of current policies in Wales (for example, Wales does not have a Year 1 phonics screening check and has no matched funding for purchasing phonics resources).
The Estyn document Improving the learning and teaching of early reading skills (external link) has a useful section on phonics (page 16) and provides balance from a Welsh policy perspective.
All of the commercial synthetic phonics packages have websites which offer a range of resources including interactive games. Some also provide phase appropriate planning tools. Most are now inter-linked to the phases identified in Letters and Sounds and so it is possible to mix and match resources. However, a key part of successful phonics teaching is fidelity to a particular scheme so mixing should be approached with caution.
In this subtopic you will have revised and explored the concept of systematic synthetic phonics through ensuring teacher subject knowledge is current and accessing a comprehensive online distant learning pack.