Gaining phonographic awareness

10th January 1997 at 00:00
In "Minion muddle", Jeff Hynds (TES Letters, December 6) asks for guidance on the teaching of reading and spelling skills, in view of the apparently contradictory advice from Jim Rose, the Office for Standards in Education director of inspection, and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. However, rather than thinking of reading and spelling as separate skills, as Mr Hynds appears to do, the National Literacy Project, rightly in our view, requires teachers to consider reading and spelling as inter-related skills (see "Literacy framework gains early welcome"in the same issue).

Teachers need to be aware that even simple texts have words containing spelling-choicesgraphemes of more than one letter. For example, the word "c-ar" has a digraph (two letters representing one soundphoneme) and the word "ca-tch" has a trigraph (three letters representing one phoneme). Therefore, having taught the children to read the vowel phoneme (ar) at the end of "c-ar", "j-ar", and "t-ar" and the consonant phoneme (ch) at the end of such words as "ca-tch", "ma-tch" and "pa-tch", it is counter-productive to then have the children spell the phonemes (ar) and (ch) using phonic letter-sounds, as in "aa", "beh", "cuh" and so on.

Hence, SCAA's declaration that "spelling is held back by an over-emphasis on phonics" (TES, November 22). Children must be taught, from the outset, to identify letters by name using "Ay", "Bee", "Cee" and so on symbolised as "a", "b", "c" and so on, so that they can be taught how the 26 letters are used, individually, in pairs, or in threes, to represent the 44 phonemes of spoken English. For example, children should be taught that in "car" the "a" "r" represents the phoneme (ar) and in the word "catch" the "t" "c" "h" represents the phoneme (ch).

If teachers refer to letters by name, children are more able to understand that reading involves changing graphemes into phonemes and spelling involves changing phonemes into graphemes, rather than being misled and confused by phonic letter-sounds, silent letters and irregular spellings. Hence, OFSTED's directive that: "Good teaching of reading has at its core the teaching of phonic knowledge and skill" (TES Letters, November 8).

If teachers use phonic letter-sounds they are treating each letter as a graph (one letter representing one phoneme). For example, the "c" in the word "car" and the "c" and "a" in the word "catch" are graphs. Having established each letter as a graph, it is difficult for teachers to explain to children how digraphs and trigraphs or graphs representing phonemes other than those that have been taught (e.g. the graph at the start of giant) represent the 44 phonemes of spoken English.

Therefore, if children are to understand the alphabetic nature of English orthography, teachers must use letter-names to identify the graphemes for the phonemes in the words that their children read and write. In so doing, they will develop good phonemic awareness and good graphemic awareness (good phonographic awareness) in their children. In terms of guidance, teachers must in their individual, group or class teaching link reading with spelling to develop good phonographic awareness. If they do not, their pupils will take longer to read and spell than they should do and, if they do become literate, they will have little or no conscious understanding for the 44 phonemes of spoken English and the various one, two and three-letter graphemes of written English.

ALAN DAVIES and DENYSE RITCHIE

THRASS Project Manchester Metropolitan University Crewe Cheshire

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