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Sound Waves and synthetic phonics: The facts

Systematic synthetic phonics has been in the spotlight lately, with the trial of a Year 1 Phonics Check in South Australia and the New South Wales government allocating funding for decodable texts. So what exactly is systematic synthetic phonics? What evidence is there for its effectiveness? And how does Sound Waves fit into the picture?

Systematic synthetic phonics

Systematic synthetic phonics is the explicit teaching of how speech sounds (phonemes) are represented by letters (graphemes). Instruction focuses on developing students’ ability to segment words into sounds and synthesise, or blend, sounds to form words. Lessons are systematically sequenced so that students progress from learning simple, broadly applicable sound–letter relationships to those that are more complex and unusual. In the early years, lessons also incorporate the use of decodable texts to teach reading.

The evidence

There’s been a lot of research in recent years analysing different approaches to teaching reading and spelling. This research shows that systematic synthetic phonics is an essential and effective method for developing students’ reading and spelling proficiency. Several relevant studies and reports from the past two decades are summarised below.

2000 – The National Reading Panel in the US conducts a review of research, finding that systematic synthetic phonics significantly helps children struggling to read, and also benefits good readers. The study concludes, ‘Systematic phonics instruction has been used widely over a long period of time with positive results.’1 Read this study in full.

2005 – The Australian Government’s National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy report 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’.2 Read this study in full.

2005 – Johnston and Watson conduct the seven-year longitudinal Clackmannanshire study comparing children taught using synthetic phonics with children taught using alternative methods of phonics. They find, ‘At the end of the programme, 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.’3 Read this study in full.

2005 – Christensen and Bowey compare the progress of children taught using synthetic phonics with those taught using alternative methods of phonics instruction. Children who were taught using synthetic phonics outperformed children in comparison groups on measures of spelling, word reading and reading comprehension. Their study shows 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”.4

Fig 1

Literacy Approaches

2007 – Macquarie University professor Max Coltheart and University of Melbourne professor Margot Prior analyse global studies and Australian literature, and confirm that ‘systematic instruction in phonics is an essential component of any effective method of teaching reading’.5 Read this study in full.

2012 – Researchers assess ten-year-olds who participated in the Clackmannanshire study in their early years of schooling, comparing the abilities of those taught using synthetic phonics with those taught using an alternative method of phonics. The study finds, ‘Overall, the group taught by synthetic phonics had better word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension.’6 Read this study in full.

2018 – Five From Five releases a research brief on systematic synthetic phonics that states, ‘The instructional principles of SSP (systematic synthetic phonics) align with the scientific evidence of the cognitive processes involved in learning to read.’7 Read this study in full.

Sound Waves: Systematic synthetic phonics for the whole school

Sound Waves is a whole-school systematic synthetic phonics and word-study program designed to develop reading, spelling and writing skills from Foundation through to the final years of primary school. The program provides all the resources and guidance teachers need to implement systematic synthetic phonics, including comprehensive Scope and Sequence documents, lesson plans and engaging student activities. For Foundation teachers, there’s even a bank of Decodable Readers perfect for introducing beginning reading.

Sound Waves goes beyond phonics to include all the other essential components students need to read and spell. As the years progress, a significant portion of teaching is dedicated to word study, including morphology (prefixes, suffixes and Greek and Latin roots), etymology (word origins) and language concepts like homophones and homographs.

If you’re interested in systematic synthetic phonics – the scientifically validated approach to teaching reading and spelling – then ask one of our education consultants about Sound Waves today.

References

1. National Reading Panel (US) 2000, Report of the national reading panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, viewed 25 October 2018, https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf.

2. Rowe, KJ 2005, Teaching reading: Report and recommendations, Department of Education, Science and Training: National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, viewed 25 October 2018, http://apo.org.au/system/files/2127/apo-nid2127-81546.pdf.

3. Johnston, R & Watson, J 2005, The effects of synthetic phonics teaching on reading and spelling attainment: a seven year longitudinal study, Scottish Executive Education Department, viewed 25 October 2018, https://www.gov.scot/Publications/2005/02/20688/52449.

4. Christensen, CA & Bowey, JA 2005, ‘The efficacy of orthographic rime, grapheme–phoneme correspondence, and implicit phonics approaches to teaching decoding skills’, Scientific Studies of Reading, 9(4), pp.327–349.

5. Coltheart, M & Prior, M 2006, ‘Learning to read in Australia’, Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 11(4), pp.157–164, viewed 25 October 2018, https://www.fireflyeducation.com.au/downloads/LearningtoReadInAustraliaColtheartPrior.pdf.

6. Johnston, RS, McGeown, S & Watson, JE 2012, ‘Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching on the reading and spelling ability of 10 year old boys and girls’ Reading and Writing, 25(6), pp.1365–1384, viewed 25 October 2018, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/SarahMcgeown/publication/251371861Long-termeffectsofsyntheticversusanalyticphonicsteachingonthereadingandspellingabilityof10yearoldboysandgirls/links/53fdce580cf2dca8000390a7/Long-term-effects-of-synthetic-versus-analytic-phonics-teaching-on-the-reading-and-spelling-ability-of-10-year-old-boys-and-girls.pdf.

7. Buckingham, J 2018, Five From Five Research Brief 2: Systematic synthetic phonics, The Centre for Independent Studies, viewed 25 October 2018, http://www.fivefromfive.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/rb2.pdf.