The THRASS Synthetic Phonics Programme: Unlocking the Door to Literacy for Children with Dyslexia

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In his recent report on the identification and teaching of children with dyslexia and literacy difficulties, Sir Jim Rose has identified the need for specialist teachers for children with dyslexia and for courses for teachers on selecting and teaching literacy intervention programmes. There is, however, no need for expensive new specialist programmes, as THRASS is a synthetic phonics programme that already has a proven track record for unlocking the door to literacy for all children, including those with dyslexia.

You don't get pandas in Africa

In his recent report on the identification and teaching of children with dyslexia and literacy difficulties, Sir Jim Rose has identified the need for specialist teachers for children with dyslexia and for courses for teachers on selecting and teaching literacy intervention programmes. There is, however, no need for expensive new specialist programmes, as THRASS is a synthetic phonics programme that already has a proven track record for unlocking the door to literacy for all children, including those with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed but it is not related to intelligence.

Sir Jim Rose recommends that the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) should fund a number of teachers to undertake specialist training in teaching children with dyslexia, in order to provide substantially improved access to specialist expertise in all schools and across all local authority areas; DCSF should also commission short courses for teachers on selecting and teaching literacy intervention programmes. But he admits that it is not always easy to recognise dyslexia in young children.

There is, however, no need for expensive new programmes. What is needed is for all teachers and teaching assistants to be trained in the simple principles of synthetic phonics teaching and to deliver this regularly to children of all abilities in mainstream classrooms, thereby providing continuity for pupils and ensuring that the needs of borderline children, in whom dyslexia may or may not be recognised, are not overlooked.

Evidence shows that children with dyslexia need logical, sensible, highly structured, multi-sensory teaching that uses graphic representation, is used 'little and often' and allows time for reinforcement and encouraging generalisation. The THRASS (Teaching Handwriting Reading And Spelling Skills) synthetic phonics programme, which can be used across the curriculum, meets all these criteria, while at the same time being equally suited to teaching children of normal ability.

THRASS has been pioneered by British Educational Psychologist Alan Davies, who holds the Dyslexia Institute Diploma and the British Dyslexia Association Diploma, and the very first THRASS programmes were based to a considerable extent on his work with dyslexic children and adults.

THRASS is a whole-school programme for teaching learners of all ages and abilities using pictures and keywords, and is used in thousands of nurseries and primary schools in the UK, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. It helps learners to understand the building blocks of the English language by teaching them about the 44 phonemes (speech sounds) of spoken English and the 120 graphemes (spelling choices) of written English. It is also a multi-sensory programme based on developing VAK (Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic) skills and has the potential to at least double the normal rate of progress made by primary school children who have reading and spelling difficulties, including dyslexics.

One of the THRASS key resources is the Phoneme Machine, a groundbreaking computer programme that uses moving human lips to pronounce the sounds (phonemes) in hundreds of frequently used English words. It is suitable for all ages and abilities but is of particular value for teaching children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia. The value of the Phoneme Machine was recognised in the September 2007 edition of Independent Talking Points, the magazine of the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice (ASLTIP), in which Catherine Redmayne, the editor, wrote, "I would have paid just for some bits of this programme. Considering the whole thing was free to download, it was a wonderful offering from THRASS."

The THRASS SING-A-LONG resources have also been particularly successful for teaching children with learning difficulties. The resources use 44 songs that teachers and parents can sing with children to explain the 44 sounds and 120 main spelling choices of English. The songs have really memorable tunes in different musical styles and dance rhythms, and wonderful imaginative titles such as "The moon fell out of the sky" and "You don't get pandas in Africa".

THRASS has for some time been used in the Caribbean for children with special educational needs, including dyslexia, as well as for mainstream children and has already received extremely favourable reviews there. When The Caribbean Dyslexia Association organised a SING-A-LONG workshop in 2008 the response was overwhelming. "There is so much enthusiasm within the entire programme and you can teach so much to the children through "SING-A-LONG". It's inspiring." "The resources will definitely help with reinforcement of reading principles especially in dyslexic children who need opportunities for over-learning. The SING-A-LONG adds a dynamic element to the process and activities."

It is of no little significance that in 2007 I CAN, the national education charity that provides education services for children with speech and language impairments, announced that it had chosen to further increase the use of THRASS at its Meath School in Surrey. More recently Brown's School, an independent special school in Kent that has an excellent record for teaching children with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, has also started using THRASS. Teaching at the school has been recognised by Ofsted as being consistently good with examples of outstanding practice and pupils making good progress, particularly in reading and spelling.

The THRASS synthetic phonics programme really does unlock the door to literacy for children with dyslexia.

The THRASS extensive picture-based training website for schools and parents with easy access to a wide range of resources and support materials, and extensive evidence of the widespread success of THRASS is at http://www.thrass.co.uk

Sir Jim Rose's report 'Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties' can be downloaded from http://publications.dcsf.gov.uk/default.aspx?PageFunction=productdetails&PageMode=publications&ProductId=DCSF-00659-2009

For details of THRASS Professional Development Courses, visit http://www.thrass.co.uk/courses.htm

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

Mike Meade, Media Director, +44 1829 741413 Mob: 07970 151 738
Chris Griffiths, International Development, +30 266 203 1207

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CHRIS GRIFFITHS
THRASS
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