As I have discussed in the past, teaching phonics to children is very important. There are several different phonics teaching approaches and not all are equal.
Today I want to talk to you about the differences between analytic and synthetic phonics.
Analytic phonics is the process of going from the whole to the part. So usually, we come across a word incidentally in the text and we look at the whole word. We then make analogies to other words. So we might say something to the student like this is LATE, now you can spell MATE and FATE.
There tends not to be a huge amount of explicit instruction in an analytic phonics approach. It’s implied and assumed that the student will pick it up. For some kids, this will work. For struggling readers and spellers they might not be able to connect those dots.
Another feature of analytic phonics is that the focus tends to be on the initial sound, or the onset and rhyme patterns. So for example, we might look at a list of words like sat, pat, mat, fat, cat but not really break those down into their individual phonemes.
We’re only looking at how we can switch up the first sound and the rhyme.
One of the best indicators of how well a child will be able to pick up reading and spelling is how well they can manipulate phonemes or those individual sounds in spoken language.
So we want them to be able to do something like change sat to sap and change sap to sip. So they are switching around those individual sounds.
This helps children to self-teach. Once they know all of the code and they’re good at manipulating those sounds, they’re able to figure out new words in different contexts. This is because they have strategies for being able to sound the word out once they’ve got good phonics knowledge.
Another feature of analytic phonics is it tends to promote guessing. So looking at the first letter and guessing what the word might be. Or looking at the first letter and thinking about the context of the sentence and guessing what the word might be. This strategy isn’t great as we never want to teach struggling readers that the purpose of reading is to guess.
Reading is not about guessing it’s about cracking the code.
So it’s a little less effective approach than a synthetic phonics approach.
A synthetic phonics approach is where we blend together individual phonemes and make sure that we’re sounding out the entire word. So in a synthetic phonics approach, all of the sounds in sat are equally important.
We look at the S but we also look at that A and T. We carefully decode the word from beginning to end blending together each phoneme and each grapheme that represents those phonemes.
A synthetic phonics approach involves explicit teaching of each part of the code. So we go from the part to the whole.
We would teach the children that S quite often makes s sound, A quite often makes an a sound and T quite often represents a t sound. Then we get them to blend those sounds together, S A T, until they can think of the word sat.
So, it’s very explicit, it’s very broken down and we make sure that we teach each part of the code reallycarefully. In a synthetic phonics approach, we usually teach reading and spelling as being reversible or inverse of each other. If we can read and blend all of the sounds in sat, we’re also learning that we can segment those sounds to be able to encode the word sat.
Handwriting is a really important skill in this process. Handwriting helps children to build up the motor memory of the word. It also helps with understanding all of the sound properties and the visual representation of the phonic patterns that we use to represent those sounds in written words.
In a synthetic phonics approach, we only introduce texts that we know contain words that we have explicitly taught before. This ensures that students have the most amount of success when reading texts. We can also teach oral language skills through genuine literature, reading to children and talking to children about texts. But when it comes to teaching that code it’s really important that we use a synthetic and explicit approach.
Have a think about your phonics teaching.
Are there any tweaks you can make to your program to make it more synthetic.
Free Phonics Assessment
If you would like to get your hands on a free phonics assessment that will allow you to assess your student’s gap and create a plan for teaching phonics for the entire term, click here.
It’s all laid out with the easiest patterns at the beginning moving on to the more difficult. The phonics assessment will help you to address and laser target the gaps that your learner has so that you can be sure you’re using structured systematic synthetic phonics.
This is the best approach to a phonics program if you’re trying to help struggling readers and spellers.
Inspired Education Services has developed a number of online courses that bring you the most relevant, research-based teaching practices. Some of our courses include: