Following an evidence-based phonics progression transcript

Elaine Stanley:

Using a systematic synthetic phonics approach always begins with a phonics progression or, as sometimes called, a phonics sequence. Having a progression as a starting point allows schools to have a set sequence for introducing letters and sounds so that students can build on their knowledge and skills gradually.

We have at the Literacy Hub an SSP progression ready to share with schools as a free resource, which I'm going to unpack with you today. If you're thinking about finding a progression for your school, you're welcome to use this one, or you may have a different one already in mind. The link for this progression is in the resource materials for Topic 1 on the Literacy Hub professional learning page. It's in the handout section of GoTo, and we'll also put it in the link now for you.

I'm just going to share the Literacy Hub progression, and explain to you how it's organised so you know what we're looking at. All right, there we go.

[Slide shows Phase 1 from the Literacy Hub phonics progression.

Phonic knowledge and word recognition level 3

Letter–sound correspondences: s, a (as in apple), t, p, i (as in igloo), n

Letter–sound skills: Start reading and spelling VC/CVC words using continuous blending

Phase 1 example words: at, an, in, it, nip, sat, sap, tap, pin, pat

Irregular words: is, a, I, the]

This is the first phase of the progression, and there are 24 phases in all, moving from simple to complex code. Each phase contains the phase number and relevant Australian Curriculum reference to the Phonic knowledge and word recognition sub element. Having these references in the document helps teachers to track expected student outcomes against the curriculum, and to know exactly what's expected at each stage.

Then moving across, we have the letter–sound correspondences to be learnt, and the letter–sound skills to be developed, plus a few example words containing the letters and sounds taught in each particular phase. In the last column, there's a list of irregular words that would be beneficial for students to know at each phase.

Irregular words are considered to be words that students will encounter early and often for reading and spelling, but that contain spelling patterns or sounds for letters and letter patterns that the students haven't learnt yet.

We'll just start here at Phase 1, but as I'm talking, I'll gradually scroll through the progression to point out some of the important features you should look out for when you're choosing a progression for your school.

Any SSP progression explicitly teaches letter–sound correspondences. It's important that the progression begins with the simplest elements of the alphabetic code first – so that's single letters and sounds – and then builds to more complex code over time.

It's also useful just to note that when you're planning your phonics lessons following a progression, if you include a focus on both reading and spelling, there's no need in the early years to supplement with any other spelling resource or program. Schools are often delighted to realise that this can be a one-stop shop for both areas.

Having that focus on both reading and spelling during phonics lessons can be a real game changer for many schools, because it just increases the effectiveness of instruction, and cuts down the time and the resources needed to cover both areas of the curriculum. It's really beneficial to students, because reading and spelling have such a reciprocal relationship when you're teaching the code in those early years, so study in one area really benefits the other.

The reason that it's important that a progression begins with single letter–sound correspondences is so that students can make a direct one-to-one connection between them at the start. So, for example, we begin here with the sound /s/ and the letter s. Even though this letter can have alternate sounds, we're only going to introduce the sound /s/ at the beginning so that students can make that really strong one-to-one connection between them.

Something else to look out for is that most useful high-frequency letters and sounds are taught first in a progression, so that students can apply them more easily to reading and spelling. For example, here in Phase 1 you can see that the sounds for s, t, and p are taught early on, they're taught in Phase 1, before less commonly used letters like x, j and q, for example, which aren't taught until later in Phase 5.

You can see also in this phase that several consonants plus a couple of vowels are introduced. The progression's organised in this way so students will be able to use known letter–sound correspondences to read and spell simple CVC words as early as possible; CVC words being those with a consonant-vowel consonant structure, such as those ones here, nip, sat, sap.

The example words listed here show a range of words students will be able to read and spell at this stage, while building their skills of segmenting and blending with sounds they know.

I'm just going to move down a phase so we can have a look at that next one.

[Slide shows Phase 2 from the Literacy Hub phonics progression.

Phonic knowledge and word recognition level 3

Letter–sound correspondences: m, e (as in egg), h, r, d, o (as in octopus)

Letter–sound skills: Read and spell with VC/CVC words using new and known letter–sound correspondences

Phase 2 example words: am, on, mat, Pam, hit, dot, red, mop, rip, met

Irregular words: my, has, to, do]

The sample words listed in each phase are just a suggestion and a starting point for words you might like to use during instruction. As you're planning words to include in your lessons, it's important that you choose words only containing those letter–sound correspondences that have already been taught. Over time, students will progress from reading and writing at the word level, to working at sentence level and then whole-text level, but the words contained in the progression are there as a reference point for the types of words that students will be working with at each phase.

An important feature to look out for in a progression is that similar sounds, so for example, /t/ and /d/ and similar-looking letters like b and d, for example, are separated in the sequence so students will have time to learn one before being introduced to the other. This just minimises the likelihood of ongoing confusion between them.

All right, moving down a little bit again.

[Slide shows Phase 3 from the Literacy Hub phonics progression.

Phonic knowledge and word recognition level 3

Letter–sound correspondences: f, c, b, g, l, u (as in up)

Letter–sound skills: Read and spell with VC/CVC words using new and known letter–sound correspondences

Phase 3 example words: if, up, us, fit, cat, bed, got, peg, log, mud, hum

Irregular words: he, me, was, said]

In terms of the pacing of instruction, we would suggest that two to three sounds are taught each week using an SSP progression. This pace allows students lots of time to practise and build their skills of blending and segmenting sounds, to both read and spell words as you go. But the pace you go at is always dictated by student progress though, so at times, you may find you need to speed up or slow down instruction as needed for your students. In particular, students with additional learning needs or with English as an additional language background may need support to work at that slower pace. But it's important to note that for those students too, the order of the progression will stay the same.

As a general rule, it will take longer to work through the early stages of a progression as students are building those fundamental knowledge and skill areas like phonemic awareness, which Rebecca will speak to us about shortly, but as you progress, the pace will generally pick up. This is something just to keep in mind when you're starting out and planning for instruction.

I'll keep moving down a little bit so we can see how it becomes a little bit more complex as we go.

[Slide shows Phase 6 from the Literacy Hub phonics progression.

Phonic knowledge and word recognition level 4/5

Letter–sound skills: Open/closed syllables – one-syllable words

Phase 6 example words: met/me, beg/be, hen/he, not/no, got/go, hit/hi

Morphology: Introduce term ‘suffix. Suffix -s (noun) meaning plural, ‘more than one’. Can sound like s or z.

Irregular words: she, what, your, one]

As students' knowledge and skills develop over time, concepts they are learning about can become more complex. Once the simple code has been learnt, so that's all the single letters and corresponding most common sounds, students can begin to learn concepts like consonant digraphs such as /ch/ and /sh/, vowel teams like ee making the long e sound, or oa making the long o sound, r-controlled vowels like /or/ and /er/, as part of the more complex code, which tends to sort of come in around now in a progression.

At this stage, basic study of syllables, spelling generalisations and morphology can be introduced to explain how the English spelling system works. Here, for example, in this phase, we can see that open and closed syllables are introduced in one-syllable words. Students can be taught that in a closed syllable word such as ‘met’, that first example there, the vowel will make its short sound as it's followed by or closed in by a consonant, while in the open syllable word ‘me’, there's no consonant closing the vowel, so in that case, the vowel can make its long sound e.

This is important for students to learn at this stage, because they'll begin to read and spell words such as ‘go’, ‘me’, ‘he’, ‘she’, and they'll need to know about those alternate vowel sounds in words by this stage.

Simple morphology concepts can also be introduced at this stage. Once students can decode the word ‘cat’, for example, /c/-/a/-/t/, then they can learn that if an s is added to the end of the word, then it means more than one cat. This knowledge just assists students with their vocab development, their early reading comprehension, and also with their developing sentence structure in writing, too.

I'll just move down a few phases so you can have a look. We're getting to that more complex code now.

[Slide shows Phase 11 from the Literacy Hub phonics progression.

Phonic knowledge and word recognition level 5/6

Letter–sound correspondences: ai ay, ee, oa ow*, igh

Letter–sound skills: Read and spell one- and two-syllable words using new and known letter–sound correspondences

Phase 11 example words: snail, play, speech, gumtree, float, snow, midnight

Morphology: Suffix -ed (past tense verb)

Irregular words: their, all, does, goes]

As we progress further down through a sequence, the code becomes more complex as students are now ready to understand that one sound can be represented by multiple letters or letter patterns, and also that individual letters or letter patterns can have more than one sound, so both ways.

In our sequence, those letter patterns that have an asterisk next to them, as in the two o sounds there, tell you that they represent more than one sound that students are going to learn.

Still moving through that more complex code.

[Slide shows Phase 14 from the Literacy Hub phonics progression.

Phonic knowledge and word recognition level 6/7

Letter–sound correspondences: oi oy, ou ow*

Letter–sound skills: Start reading and spelling CCVCC, CCCVC, CCCVCC words using new and known letter–sound correspondences

Phase 14 example words: spoilt, moist, poison, boy, destroy, ground, without, brow, allow, frown, crowd

Morphology: Suffix -ed/-ing double the final consonant

Irregular words: father, mother, brother, other]

We can see here that over time, students will gradually be developing so that they'll be able to read and spell words with more sounds represented, as you can see here with the more complex word structures, with the consonant vowel structures, and the example words listed there.

At the Literacy Hub, we have a spelling generalisations document, which matches with this progression, but could be used with any progression that you choose. It's also contained in the resources section of this topic, in the handouts for GoTo, and we'll just pop it in the chat as well for you.

This document helps you understand and explain when and why different spelling patterns can be used in words. Building this knowledge for students helps them to make spelling choices as they're spelling words because by now they begin to develop a bank of multiple spelling alternatives that can represent the same sound.

We often find that for teachers, too, this is really relevant information, because they often tell us that they haven't been taught these generalisations either, so it's good for their own background knowledge as well.

In our progression, when you see two spellings in one box such as these here [the presenter indicates the box in Phase 14 with oi and oy], that means that there will be a spelling generalisation to go along with instruction. So, for example, with o-i and o-y which both make an /oi/ sound, the spelling generalisation that would go along with them is that o-i can make an /oi/ sound in the middle or at the start of a word, such as in oil, spoil, soil, and o-y usually makes the /oi/ sound at the end of a word, such as toy, boy, soy. Having this level of information just helps students to make that spelling choice, and use the appropriate spelling pattern in the right place.

Also in the chat and on the webpage and in the handouts is a PowerPoint with recordings of the pure sounds teachers will need to know when teaching letter–sound correspondences. Again, this could be used with any progression. It's useful to use with students to practise and review correct sounds that they've been taught, but it's also a good reference resource again for teachers, to make sure they're teaching each sound correctly.

All right, I'll just stop sharing here.

A final word about progressions from me. We've talked about some of the important things to look out for and consider when choosing a progression, but it's really important to remember that any progression you choose will not do the work on its own. It needs to be paired with a really strong instructional model for phonics lessons, and it will work best when there's consistency of understanding and practice amongst all the teachers using it.