How Pictophonics Works
The Beauty of Pictophonics
The key to pictophonics is that it takes an “implicit” instruction approach, using the natural strengths of the learner to make learning to read fast and relatively stress free. It does that by helping the learner decode words with visual phonic images above the text, showing each sound in each word.
We learn all skills like walking, talking, catching a ball and riding a bike implicitly through guided practice. Does anyone do an engineering lesson before learning to ride a bike around a corner? No!
Why is this a problem for reading? Well, conventional phonics is an explicit instruction process, which teaches the “rules” of Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondences (GPCs). What that means is that a particular sound (phoneme) is linked to a particular letter or group of letters (grapheme).
So a child learning to read through conventional phonics is always trying to “work out” which rule is needed for each sound in each word. Some children will crack reading by learning in this way, and it is currently the best available way to teach reading in a classroom setting. But many children will just build a vocabulary of sight words instead of decoding, because it seems easier for them.
English is a tricky language
In English, there are roughly 43 phonemes (sounds) and 120 graphemes (possible letter groups) to generate over 400 grapheme to phoneme correspondences.
So each phoneme has around nine different possible graphemes on average and each grapheme has over three different possible sounds. There are over thirty just starting with the letter A (e.g. achieve, ache, arch, gas, was, later, water, banana, restaurant, lawyer, war, warren etc…)
Here is an example of what I mean, with three simple words:
move – love – cove
If you have spent time teaching children to read you will know there is meant to be a “magic E” that makes the vowel say it’s name… well, count how many times that rule works in this example above! And why don’t these three words rhyme?! It makes life very hard for a child following the phonic rules they have been taught.
Many words in English break the phonics rules
You might be thinking, “Ah yes! But that is an exception word. Most words follow the rules!” Sadly that is just not true. If you look at the paragraph above, I would say the following words are in some way tricky: you (x2), have (x2), to, know (x2), joys, word, why, doesn’t, rhyme, don’t, child, phonic and taught. So that is 16 words out of 45 (i.e. a third) in a random paragraph. Pick any paragraph and you will find the same pattern.
So, what happens when a child is faced by this inconsistency?
Well, many bright children will find a workaround. That usually means trying to remember as many words as possible by sight and using the context to fill in the gaps. That is why long words sometimes seem easier than short words; the context is a stronger indicator for a long word.
The solution is pictophonics
Over the past 10 years, we have developed a process we call pictophonics. It is unique in the world at the moment, but in time it will be the way anyone learns to read, because it is just easier.
Using pictophonics, we give the child the tools needed to decode any word with visual guidance. So they then start routinely decoding words and with practice that skill becomes second nature to them. It normally takes around 90 short lessons for that to kick in.
Pictophonics has the letters with our visual phonics characters floating above each word. Let’s have another look at move-love-cove, to see how it works.
Instead of repeated moments of failure the child consistently succeeds and that inevitably helps with their attitude and self-esteem.
Why is that important?
Well, for us, the key thing is that we can make reading easy, fun and interesting. If you use conventional phonics, it is very hard to do that. It tends to be boring and the learner is stuck reading very dull books.
Within days of starting our pictophonics process the learner is reading pretty much any text, with the help of the visual cues.
If the learner finds auditory memory retention hard, then we guide them towards books with shorter words, but that is the only limitation. We use books about jokes, amazing cars, spy gadgets, weird animals, crazy weather and other nonfiction subjects, plus a whole raft of fiction stories too, including classics.
If you have ever read any phonically “leveled” books with a child you will know what torture they are!
Dialect changes for different countries
Let’s go back to the example of “was”, we would use the Octopus who Knocked a Puss above the letter “a” for the British coding. For an American, we would code it using the Umbrella Man with a Suntan above the letter “a”.
The online system adjusts to get the coding as close as possible to your pronunciation, although that varies infinitely, of course.
Quicker, easier, permanent results
The routine of decoding in this way generates enough experience to be able to start reading normal text without the images in around 60 to 90 15-minute sessions. From that point we are just building confidence and fluency. The spelling normally starts dropping into place naturally after 120-150 lessons.
The whole point of text is communication. So learning to read without comprehension is a waste of time.
Many of the people who say they don’t “like” reading actually just suffer from low comprehension without knowing it. Often they will hear no “little voice” in their head as they read, which is the key to full comprehension.
Anyhow, we focus on accuracy and comprehension for every learner using pictophonics in the Easyread System and we have no problems achieving that. It is the whole aim of the process. And high comprehension usually leads naturally to a joy in reading!
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