What is synthetic phonics?
The name comes from /synthesise/ which means to create from individual parts. A natural car oil is extracted complete from crude oil. A synthetic car oil has been constructed from different chemicals to create their ideal of a car lubricant. A cow synthesises meat, milk, bone and methane from grass, water and air.
So a synthetic approach to phonics is based on working with the very basic elements of the text sound code, which are the individual phonemes.
That contrasts with Analytical Phonics which works with groups of words with similar letter patterns and sounds (eg cat, fat, pat…).
Synthetic phonics teaches the learner the individual sounds in a language (43 in English) and then begins to present the different letter patterns that can represent those 43 sounds.
And that is where things get tricky. In some languages, such as Spanish, there is virtually a one-to-one relationship between graphemes and phonemes. In English there are around 190 phoneme grapheme relationships. Most phonemes have more than one possible grapheme and visa versa.
The problems with synthetic phonics
Like most reading systems, synthetic phonics can get great results.
However, it has a variety of problems:
- It is very technical to teach. It will normally require several days of instruction to train a teacher to teach synthetic phonics well. And even then, many teachers will not be naturally inclined towards this type of teaching.
- It is dull to learn. Frankly, phonemes are not very exciting! For a child, watching paint dry would probably be more fun. So it is hard to keep a group glued to a lesson.
- The visual learners will probably not follow the lesson. The truth is that around 50% of a class will probably learn to read whatever way they are introduced to text. It is the other 50% that are a worry. Of those, the strong visual learners will probably not easily follow synthetic phonics when delivered in a group setting.
DM Easyread has been designed as a solution to these common issues.