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Sound Waves

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Evidence of the Effectiveness of the Phonemic Approach and Sound Waves

Many studies have been carried out over the years to understand the most effective approach to reading and spelling. These studies have reflected a shift away from the traditional whole-language and towards the synthetic phonics approach.

The National Reading Panel in the US clearly found that, not only did the systematic instruction of synthetic phonics significantly help children who were struggling to read, it also benefited “good readers”.

The US study concluded, “systematic phonics instruction has been used widely over a long period of time with positive results, and a variety of systematic phonics programs have proven effective with children of different ages, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds”. Read this study in full.

These results have been corroborated by a seven-year longitudinal study in the UK called ‘The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment’ published in 2005. Researchers compared students learning by the synthetic phonics methods to those learning by analytic phonics programs. They found “at the end of the program, the synthetic phonics taught group were reading and spelling 7 months ahead of chronological age. They read words around 7 months ahead of the other two groups, and were 8 to 9 months ahead in spelling”. Read this study in full.

Carol A. Christensen and Judith A. Bowey found similar results in their 2005 study, ‘The Efficacy of Orthographic Rime, Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondence, and Implicit Phonics Approaches to Teaching Decoding Skills’. They compared a control group of students taught by a whole language approach with two groups explicitly taught decoding skills, one focused on word families and the other on grapheme-phoneme correspondence. Their study showed distinct benefits with the grapheme-phoneme approach (see Fig 1) with significantly higher reading ages and clearly improved skills including:

  • “better at spelling transfer words”
  • “faster at reading program words”
  • “significantly better in reading comprehension”
  • “greater competence in … the accuracy and speed of decoding unfamiliar [transfer] words”

Fig 1

Reading Ages of Literacy Approaches

Read this study in full.

In 2005, the Australian Government conducted it’s own research with the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy and made the following notable conclusion: “The Inquiry found strong evidence that a whole-language approach to the teaching of reading on its own is not in the best interests of children, particularly those experiencing reading difficulties. Moreover, where there is unsystematic or no phonics instruction, children’s literacy progress is significantly impeded, inhibiting their initial and subsequent growth in reading accuracy, fluency, writing, spelling and comprehension”.

The inquiry went so far as to make the following recommendation to Australian Education Authorities: “The Committee recommends that teachers provide systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic code-breaking skills required for foundational reading proficiency”. Read this study in full.

Professor at Macquarie University, Max Coltheart has also analysed global studies and Australian literature and confirmed that  ”systematic instruction in phonics is an essential component of any effective method of teaching reading.” Read this study in full.

The amount of evidence supporting the synthetic phonic approach to teaching reading and writing at both the beginning level and throughout a child’s schooling life shows overwhelming support for, and need of, a whole-school phonemic approach to be implemented in Australian schools as part of their literacy studies.

Sound Waves is fundamentally based on the explicit teaching of synthetic phonics and provides a whole-school word study program using the phonemic approach that develops reading and writing skills from Foundation through to the final primary school years.

We have conducted case studies in schools across Australia who have implemented the Sound Waves program in their classrooms. Padstow Heights Public School teacher Kris Hull said she is seeing “significant improvement across all students of between 2 and 4 stanine levels” and that the Sound Waves series is positively affecting the way students learn to read and write. Read this case study in full.

We are looking for more schools who use the Sound Waves program to be part of our case studies to help demonstrate how effective the phonemic approach is to reading and writing in the classroom.

If you would like to participate, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to hear from you.