According to the DfE (2013c), more than half of teachers reported that they taught systematic synthetic phonics ‘first and fast’. This means that they have used systematic synthetic phonics programme as a prime approach to decoding print, in a fast paced manner. It has also been reported that more than 90% of teachers taught phonics to all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, showing that children start gaining the skills to read at such a young age, which is vital for children to make progress at reading (Medwell et al., 2011). This is an improvement in the past two decades, as Marilyn Jager Adams reported in 1990 that phonics teaching is too slow, mechanical and meaningless to be a satisfactory system of its own.
One systematic, synthetic phonics programme is called ‘Letters and Sounds’. Produced by the Department for Education and kills in 2007, ‘Letters and Sounds’ is a high quality six-phase teaching programme. This systematic synthetic phonics programme teaches the 44 phonemes in an organised and methodical manner. ‘Letters and Sounds’ comprises of; notes of guidance for practitioners and teachers, a six-phase teaching programme, a DVD illustrating effective practice for the phases and demonstrations of how to articulate the phonemes correctly, and posters showing the principles of high quality phonic work. Demonstrations on the correct articulation is vital, because enunciations and articulation of phonemes will lead to incorrect spelling.
‘Letters and Sounds’ aims to build children’s speaking and listening skills in their own right as well as to prepare children for learning to read by developing their phonic knowledge and skills. It sets out a detailed and systematic programme for teaching phonic skills for children starting by the age of five, with the aim of them becoming fluent readers by the age of seven. There are six overlapping phases:
Phase One – activities are divided into seven aspects, including environmental sounds, unstrumental sounds, body sounds, rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, voice sounds and finally oral blending and segmenting
Phase Two – learning 19 letters of the alphabet and one sound for each. Blending sounds together to make words. Segmenting words into the separate sounds. Beginning to read simple captions.
Phase Three- learn the remaining 7 letters of the alphabet, and one sound for each. Learn the graphemes representing the remaining phonemes not covered by the single letters. Reading captions, sentences and questions. On completion of this phase, children will have learnt the “simple code”, i.e. one grapheme for each phoneme in the English language.
Phase Four – no new grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught in this phase. Children learn to blend and segment longer words with adjacent consonants.
Phase Five – now children move on to the “complex code”. Children learn more graphemes for the phonemes which they already know, plus different ways of pronouncing the graphemes they already know.