Synthetic Phonics - Making it Easier for Parents to Help at Home

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The final report of the Rose Review into how young children in England should be taught to read, published on 20 March, recommends that children should be taught using synthetic phonics, an approach that makes explicit the sounds and spelling choices of English (the alphabetic principle). And to make it easier for parents to help their children with synthetic phonics at home, a new ground-breaking computer programme, the Phoneme Machine, has just been launched.

The final report of the Rose Review into how young children in England should be taught to read, published on 20 March, recommends that children should be taught using synthetic phonics, an approach that makes explicit the sounds and spelling choices of English (the alphabetic principle). And to make it easier for parents to help their children with synthetic phonics at home, a new ground-breaking computer programme, the Phoneme Machine, has just been launched.

The review stresses the important role played by parents in developing 'positive attitudes to literacy' from the earliest stages by identifying 'well before the age of five, sharing and enjoying favourite books regularly with trusted adults, be they parents, carers, practitioners or teachers,' as being 'at the heart of this activity'. However, there are concerns that many parents will find it difficult to help their children with the synthetic phonics at home, because they themselves do not understand fully the sounds and spelling choices of English. But the Phoneme Machine, a small but powerful Adobe Macromedia Flash application, is now available to help them.

The Phoneme Machine is aimed at parents of children starting to read, children finding reading difficult (including those with speech difficulties, hearing difficulties or dyslexia) and those for whom English is not their first language. It is designed to give them a good understanding of the 44 sounds (phonemes) and the 120 main spelling choices (graphemes) of English by using moving human lips to demonstrate the pronunciation of hundreds of words frequently found in children's reading books.

It has been designed by Alan Davies, British educational psychologist and pioneer of the widely used synthetic phonics programme THRASS (Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills) who says,

'Despite having been a teacher, lecturer, teacher trainer and educational psychologist, I was not confident in helping my own children with the sounds and spelling choices of English. Schools simply don't have the time to explain the intricacies of phonics to parents. I therefore designed the Phoneme Machine to give parents the knowledge and confidence to support the teaching of synthetic phonics, in partnership with their children's schools. With help from their parents, children learn to read and spell much sooner.'

The THRASS Phoneme Machine is available to parents and schools and costs only 10.00 GBP (plus VAT), which covers its use on any number of computers at the same address. It comes with a free DVD/CD DualDisc, containing over four hours of video of THRASS in action in the UK and Africa, including two one-hour presentations to parents. More information, including an online version and downloadable trial versions for both PC and Mac computers, can be found at http://www.phonememachine.com

Notes for Editors, Headteachers and Chairs of Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs):

1. The THRASS Phoneme Machine software uses the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) pronunciation system (the symbols listed in the pronunciation guide at the front of many English dictionaries) and moving human lips to demonstrate the pronunciation of sounds (phonemes) and hundreds of words frequently found in children's books. It is considered to be groundbreaking because hundreds of video clips are used within the one small Adobe Macromedia Flash application - and the instant vector graphics and video still look good on large interactive screens. There are also serious discussions about putting the Phoneme Machine on mobile phones. Said Mike Meade, Media Director THRASS UK, "If this happens, parents will certainly be able to help their children at home."

2. Alan Davies, and his wife Hilary, intend to fund research into the impact of the Phoneme Machine in the homes of England, Wales and Africa. They have already funded, in part or in full, about 10 courses or projects in southern Africa. It is their intention to meet members of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations (NCPTA), the largest organisation of home/school associations in England and Wales, which represents over 6 million parents through some 12,500 member associations, to determine the level of interest and decide on the exact nature of the research.

3. Alan and Hilary Davies are the sponsors of a five-day workshop, Time for a New Phonics Approach for Teaching English in Africa?, to be hosted by the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. From 5-9 June 2006, delegates from universities, associations and governments will debate issues surrounding the teaching of English Phonics in the schools and universities of Africa. The aim of the workshop is to encourage collaborative research projects across Africa to investigate the relative merits of the synthetic phonics (where children blend individual sounds) and analytic phonics (where children blend groups of sounds) approaches for teaching the 44 sounds and the main spelling choices of English. Further details, including streamed video of THRASS in action in South Africa, Botswana and Ghana, can be found at http://www.thrass.co.uk/witsworkshop.htm.

4. Alan Davies recommends that children be taught synthetic phonics and analytic phonics, a message well received in thousands of schools worldwide, mostly in the UK, Europe, Australia and, in recent years, Africa. The Botswana Government is to pilot THRASS and, if successful, it will be implemented in all primary and secondary schools. In South Africa, two universities have already made his two-day accredited training a compulsory module for Foundation Phase student teachers and, on the 20 May 2006, he will address 1000 Foundation Phase teachers, as keynote speaker, at a conference in Johannesburg organised by the National Union of Educators (NUE).

5. Alan Davies is the author of an accredited 'Phonics Certificate for Parents' training course which was first run at Oxley Park Primary School, Milton Keynes, England, in September 2005 and attended by 50 parents. More information on the certificate can be found at http://www.phonics4parents.co.uk . The website has links to 3D animations, a free email course (on the features, phases and stages of the THRASS programme), downloadable files (e.g. the photocopiable THRASS Calendar Chart) and streamed video of features, interviews, demonstration lessons and a school's video diary.

Issued by: THRASS UK News Media Centre http://www.thrass.co.uk/nm.htm
Mike Meade, Media Director

Chris Griffiths, International Development,

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Chris Griffiths
THRASS
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