Introduction to SSP - Module 3 transcript

It’s time for module 3, those key understandings. Let’s dive in.

There are 26 letters in the alphabet. That’s not new to anyone, but you may not be aware that there are 44 phonemes. Phonemes are the speech sounds we use when we speak. There are 24 consonants and 20 vowels, and we need to understand this so that we can work from a speech-to-print approach and children understand how our language works. There are 200-250 graphemes – and I know that in module 2 I said 150-200 but these numbers are a little variable in terms of what people consider the most common – these graphemes, or letter combinations, are the orthography of the spelling structure of our language and what we need to do is make those connections explicit for children.

A digraph is two letters that represent one sound. These digraphs can be consonants or vowels, and we can see some examples here in shop, crown, or song.

A trigraph is three letters being used to represent one sound. They can be consonants or vowels.

Quadgraph (you can see a pattern) is four letters for one sound. Not nearly as common, but they do exist, such as eight and although.

Finally, a split digraph. You might know this as a ‘bossy e’ or ‘vowel split e’, or some other framework or name for it and that is fine. I'm just going to call it a split digraph today. Essentially, we’ve got this ‘e’ on the end, which is adjusting or making a change to the sound here in the middle. That vowel in the middle.

There can be some confusion around the difference between digraphs and blends. A digraph is two letters and a trigraph is three letters being used for ONE sound, whereas a blend is called a consonant cluster. These are actually two separate sounds that are put together. Children may have difficulty reading these, particularly if they have speech challenges and so including them in practice is great.

What we are not going to do with these consonant clusters is teach them as whole units. We want children to recognise digraphs and trigraphs straight off the bat, but we are not going to put up flashcards that have blends for the children. This is not supported practice. It overloads their cognitive capacity. Instead, we are going to teach children to blend and give them practice blending to help build up their accuracy.

How do we develop sight-reading? I’ve talked about this a few times now within the course. Let’s have a look.

A sight word is any word that we have committed to long-term memory and can retrieve effortlessly. As adults, most of the words we encounter are sight words: we see them, we read them. It may appear to us that we are processing those words as global shapes or a whole unit but it’s actually not the case. The sight vocabulary develops through a process called orthographic mapping. This occurs not by learning words as whole shapes but by working through the phonological route or through the letter-sound correspondences of the word. Linnea Ehri talks about those letter-sound correspondences as the glue that connects the way a word looks, the way it sounds, and what it means. It’s the glue that binds it all together.

Let’s have a look at a picture here.

[Image: Skilled reading: four processing systems for word recognition

Seidenburg and McClelland, 1989; Berninger and Richards, 2002; Eden and Moats, 2002; Shaywitx, 2003

Image shows how the four processes link to each other in a circular process.

Context processor

Selects appropriate meaning based on context

Meaning processor

Activates all possible meanings of a word


Phonological processor

  • Activates phonological image of word
  • ‘Hearing the word in your head’

Orthographic processor

  • Receives visual information from print
  • Recognises familiar patterns of letter
  • Processes every letter]

This four-part processing model by Siedenburg and McClelland is a really great way to think about how we read words. You can see here that we have these orthographic processes going on down the bottom. This is where we look at a word and we recognise the spelling patterns in the word through the teaching that we’ve had around how the alphabet code works and how words work in and of themselves. Then we come up with a bit of an approximation of how it sounds, the phonological processor if you like. Those two skills and bits of knowledge there are the primary way we lift the words from the page. From there our brain has a meaning processor (meaning is important, absolutely) and it thinks about all of the possible meanings of this word. Then our brain – and it does it so quickly it is really incredible – our brain thinks about the words around the target word and chooses the meaning that matches.

When we think about a balanced literacy approach or previous practice – Pam Snow says it’s practices that need to be archived – when we think about previous practice, we were working from context and meaning as the primary steps through which we retrieved words from the page. Actually, we want to flip that on its head and have children accessing these orthographic and phonological processes. That is the glue that binds it all together with the meaning and enables us to develop fluent decoding.

Some children will do this so rapidly and seemingly naturally that we don’t understand how they do it, but they simply have brain physiology that recognises the patterns and, quick as lightning, processes it. That’s only some children though. Most children need explicit instruction to take them from that very fundamental basic level through to proficient reading. Some of our children, unless we attend to these phonological and orthographic processes, will never even reach basic levels of reading. Working with this systematic synthetic phonics approach is beneficial for everybody and absolutely critical for some.

Orthographic mapping is a cognitive process. It’s not an activity that we do. We don’t have on our visual timetable in our classroom a chart that says ‘orthographic mapping time’. It is something that happens over time through the systematic synthetic phonics approach that we are going to see in the next module.

This is from Five from Five and you can look this up. [The slide shows a page from the website Five from Five related to orthographic mapping.] There are three essential components of orthographic mapping.

The first one is automatic letter-sound associations. If you show a grapheme to a student and they sit and look at the ceiling and they look here and look there and then have a guess, they don’t have it. If they give you eleven different possible sounds that could be represented by that grapheme, they don’t have it. We need it to be automatic, fast as lightning and effortless.

Highly proficient and advanced phonemic awareness is necessary. As I’ve said already, some oral work in that is great but where you will have the biggest bang for the buck is that children can use graphemes to blend and segment words.

Then word study. Word study is important in the fact that children need to know how words work. They need to understand that the ‘s’ on the end means a plural. That’s always consistent regardless of whether it’s pronounced /s/ or /z/. There are lots of aspects of word study that are important for this orthographic mapping to occur.

Let’s have a look at how we map words. We could say that this is a three-part process. We identify the phonemes that we can hear in a word, then indicate how many there are, then represent these phonemes using single letters.

Let’s have a look at what that looks like in practice. We can have these consonant vowel consonant words so if we want to (I’m going to show you the word and then we are going to work backwards). We want to show and map this word ‘mat’, we are going to say mat, m-a-t. The way you might get the children to do this in the classroom is with their fingers, m-a-t, some people like arm tracking, m-a-t, or the other way. Some people write lines for it. Whatever you choose to do, just make it consistent, it’s fine. Then we think about ‘which grapheme do I need to write for the sound ‘m’ and then for ‘a’ and then for ‘t’’ and now we have our word.

We can do this with digraphs as well. Let’s have a look and work backwards again. So we have the word ‘shop’. Let’s think about the word ‘shop’, sh-o-p, then we think about which letters do I know that represent those sounds I just said, sh-o-p. This is very different from asking children to remember the letters (names) M A T and S H O P, we want those links to be explicit. In another word, still with the ‘sh’ sound, now we have two vowel digraphs in the word ‘shown’ and so we are going to map ‘shown’, sh-ow-n, sh-ow-n. You may be thinking what if my students know the oa? That’s ok. Sometimes there are rules and sometimes there aren’t about which letters go where but that’s beyond the scope of this training. Know that helping children understand that there are in fact multiple ways and some of them are the right way, is a good thing to do and you will find that if you’re using a systematic cumulative approach that’s within the scope of your lesson, there won’t really be much confusion at all.

I’ve talked about blends already so let’s have a look at a word that’s really familiar to us which is ‘stop’. Previously we might have asked the children to write ‘st’ because they have learned that ‘s’ and ‘t’ as a unit but in systematic synthetic phonics, we are asking them to separate the ‘s’ and ‘t’ and listen for it. If our word is ‘stop’, we would segment that word as s-t-o-p and then think about the sounds that we want to represent, s-t-o-p.

Let’s have a look at our final word here ‘goats’. So now have a consonant cluster at the end (in terms of speech) and of course, that’s a plural ‘s’ on the end, but again that is beyond the scope of this particular training. We are listening for ‘goats’ g-oa-t-s and then writing, or using magnetic letters potentially, to represent that word g-oa-t-s. Notice on the ‘p’ and ‘t’, I’m not using a shwa, so I’m not saying to the children ‘puh’ and ‘tuh’.

Let’s recap this module.

  • Knowledge of the alphabetic code is the glue that connects the way a word is said, the way it is spelled, and its meaning.
  • All words eventually become sight words that are recognised instantly.
  • Sight recognition develops through the process of attending to the internal structure of words and by repeated processing in blending all through the word. What we don’t want to do is ask children to look at the first letter, look at the picture, and come back and think about what makes sense. We want them to blend all through the word as the primary strategy for reading.
  • All children learn to read in the same or very similar way but with different levels of ease and speed. You can be confident that in applying systematic synthetic phonics to your class you are actually meeting the needs of all your children.

We will have a look at exactly what that means in the final module.