Teach early literacy like they do in Finland



when we learn to read and spell we create a whole new brain circuit we connect up our visual cortex where we see things and our speech centers and particularly the sounds in our speech centers so we link up the sounds and the letters and the spelling patterns that represent them so it looks like this here's the visual cortex at the back of your brain and there's a little area that we hijack it's called the visual word form area or you can call it the brain sweater box you might see some people calling it and then we build connections to the speech centers so first sound letter correspondences and then also to the meaning and structure kind of centers so that we know the difference between packed and packed back to the land that countries have packed and I packed my suitcase is a past tense verb so that's got et so that goes to the sort of the structure part of your brain and then also the ships sail and the shop sail are slightly differentiated in the system so that we don't mix them up just because they sound the same so what I want to look at is different ways that that can be taught because we know that about one in five children if they make too much of the complicated English spelling code at once they can get very derailed from decoding words and instead just to start guessing and often I'm guessing is encouraged and we want to make sure that we build the connections that they need for developing their site vocabulary and you only really develop a fast efficient site for Oak Avenue where you can see a word one to four times and bang you've got it and you will be able to read that word until you're a hundred just in a snap you don't have to think about it or decode it and the only way you build those circuits is by really tightly linking your sound system and your spelling patterns so let's look at some different ways of teaching that okay let's talk about what the consonant sounds in English are first so we have made with your lips and bump made in the same position at the same action close your lips and let that go yeah but this one's got voice and this is voiceless and then mmm is the one that arm in the same position that's or your nose then we have the same thing behind the teeth voiceless voiced and the nasal and then the back stop sounds where you stop there and let them go up and go and then that mmm is the nasal that goes with them so there's sort of a neat set so that's the stop sounds and the nasals and then we have friction sounds so we have and the with your tongue out between your teeth this one is in like thigh and that one in vice so they are technically voiced and voiceless pair of sounds we treat them as one sound when we spell in the same way so not such an issue in spelling and a pair with your top teeth and your bottom lip and you're creating the friction the narrow narrow I mean just behind your teeth in the same spot as mmm you say senses that one's voice that ones forces and then we have Shh so that's on your palate and just like treasure vision beige this is a sound from French and we don't say at the start of words but they do they say zoom m'appelle but we only say it after vowels and then we have and Joe now actually he's actually made up of it and then a Shh so it's actually got two sounds wrapped into one we treated as one in terms of building words and thinking about sounds but some kids will notice that there's that and ash in there and then also there's yeah so these are voiced and voiceless pairs so this one is a do and then as you push together that just makes sure but again we just treat it as a single sound and that's made behind your teeth going back to your palate then we have au which is made in the same spot as and that didn't Custer so behind your teeth but the sound comes out the sides of your tongue that one doesn't have a pair then we have her now in American English this is said at the beginning and end of syllables but in Australian English we just say it at the beginning or so British English so we don't say car Britta sake huh and then we have which is a sound again but it doesn't have a pair usedto in Old English that kind of sound and we used to write with gh and words like cough had a that's at the end cough and nice and and then the sound dropped out of the language or else it got pushed forward to become a so like in cough and tough but we kept the Spelling's just to confuse children and then there's these two sounds are consonants but they operate on a consonant slot but the very like vows he listened yes and Wow as in well and then so that's the consonant system okay let's have a look at the vowels so we have a and O are our what linguists called checked vowels or you might call them short vowels all of them have to have a consonant after them you're not allowed to have a checked vowel in English without a following consonant you can't say cat in English it must be cap or you can't say we're in English it has to be wet yeah then we have a e i o oh and you now this one it like the U in human is actually you sound a consonant and then ooh so you have couch and cute but the U in the word human is just a letter U so how do you know how to explain which part that is the year and which part is the O's bit hard so let's just count it as a single sound while remembering it has got a little constant and that's why children will want to write a letter Y at the start of words like use because they're hearing yeah very clever but that's not how we spell it then ah yeah yeah ow and boy are the other ones these ones in America own often in books you'll see them called the are controlled vows some people don't count these as separate files they're actually two two vowels air is really air and then this is the unstressed vowel the earth that's sort of in the middle of the vowel chart and just go oh there's no kind of it's just a neutral mouth position so air is really air in our Ericsson Americans they say error and then here is really a American CEO I like to count these and say there's 25 other people say there's only 18 and count don't count these two it really it depends how thin you slice them because a lot of these fouls are actually two vowels we have three different sorts of vowels in English we have combination we have single ones pure vowels like an R and then we have combination one's called diphthongs that shift in your mouth for a year and then I and Rou if you say them and feel your mouth you'd feel that it shifts yeah you I said before it's a consonant then of our and/or ye is a diphthong yeah yeah yeah I said yeah and the rest of those appeal of ours I think so and this one is where we get really stuck on spelling it's an O sound so when you're learning spelling you don't pay much attention to that because it you know it's at the end of words like butter so fat collar you know flour so there's many many ways you can spell it just about any way but when you're spelling those words once you know ER for you can go but you know to say but earth anymore you say but and tract or and call yeah and so on and so you kind of treat every because this is this happens in unstressed syllables but when you're spelling your stress every syllable you're working through the word one syllable at the time and you're saying each syllable in a stressed way so forget about just say those syllables as they're spelt and that will help you remember the spelling okay now it's time to join up the sounds in the speech part of our brain with the Spelling's that occur in books in order to be able to read unfortunately English doesn't have the kind of one-to-one correspondence that you have in languages like Finnish and Spanish and Italian where there's mostly just one spelling pattern for each sound and look at all that complexity little kids if they meet all of that at once they will just go into cognitive overload yeah it's too much cognitive load to give them all at once so let's zoom in and have a look at how different teaching methodologies approach this task now the complexity of this system is such that this letter first letter of the alphabet actually represents five main sounds I don't know if you can see the little words at the bottom here these letters are from my um removable alphabet up to 100 first Spelling's and this is an R in the word set so we're going to put a connection between AA and the letter A but it's also in the word last it's an R sound so there'll be a connection here and then it's also an a in the word paper so it's got to be connected up to here so that's in longer words table paper apron and the R sound it's for last past grass the ones that American say grass past last we've shifted it to and R then there is an a connection to art because of what and watch and wallet and wand when there's a walls and and then an O mu and art together we usually write with the W then a and then there's those ones like all and ball and call and fall that's got an or sand and that preceeds and rule so it's a separate pattern so what we want to do is teach children how to connect all those up meet one get really good at it the main one is ah let's do that one first and then later on we can come back and we can do we can do a and we can gradually build our system now one of the main ways that young children are introduced to how sounds and letters work in my local schools is they have their offer bet freeze-out is for Apple butters for banana is for cat and they're taught how to hear those sounds at the beginnings of words and they do this thing when it's about is this swollen is this one and that's all really good and they start to learn how to hear those sounds at the beginnings of it's the rest of the word is a blur and a lot of those it's for elephant all that can work out is the first sound because it's just a long hard word then they are also learning high-frequency words so they're learning that which isn't in the alphabet it's got its own spelling it's a separate sound so that they've got to cope with that th smart kids who can hear that the rule is different from the sounds that they're learning in their alphabet fries will be able to cope with that other kids might be quite confused and then teachers often say the word that with an R sound which connects the letter e to ah which is not really a connection that we want please say think of the Katy Perry song the eye of the tiger please say either thee is the stressed way to say do choo or the that is the unstressed way with this schwa vowel because it's not a Content word in most sentences we just drop it down to we say I'm going to catch them to the bus and so if so either say V if you're talking about in a stressed way or before a vowel you say the eye of the tiger now the same thing for ah the word as in a bus and a banana people say ah the sound R is connected to a so again we've got this real problem when children learn that as R and then you give them the word bag to read this a bug because this is connected to here so please be really careful for the same thing for that one you have a stressed version a if you if someone brings you something you don't want if you see if you wanted one banana in there and then they brought you're 15 you can say I'm sorry I didn't want 15 bananas I wanted a banana we don't say ah we say a in the stressed form and is the unstressed form like I'm gonna catch a bus but so don't say it as ah you've just confused children then we have the word of oh this is a good connection ah the sound to the letter O we want that connection we want that nice and strong let's do lots of words with that connection and the sound move not but ver and the letter F this is the only word that has a lesson on school staff with the letter F and that's often the first connection children make if they're right learning their high-frequency words so that's a bit of a problem was this is good connection to the letter W ah remember we were doing that one was wallet ah a so now we've got all of this this sort of business is going on with the vowels and children getting very very enthused about fast this is was ends with the sound this is not it's not what it was but the letter is yes so if you've taught children that this letter is and then they're hearing this well you know you might what explain this is often this is sound at the end has was does goes these are a pair and often they um they spell each of the sounds if you want to put it that way actually we want to be working from sounds to let us not from letters to sounds because the logic is much more clear and it's easier to make sense of the system okay so high frequency words please be aware of them also but palliative predictable texts can be a real problem I'll just zoom out and show you why so I'm going to use as an example the first book in level a from fountas and pinnell which is one of the sort of p.m. style reading recover your level style books you know look at the picture and guess that real repetition and there's no control over the spelling patterns in those books so the first one has a whole lot of animals inish and the animal noises that they make and it includes the words word may so now there's no problem with that hmm you can connect that up nicely and then a now what we've got to do is connect this very uncommon it's in the word eight but you know there's a few other words this uncommon aigh spelling up with a I don't think I'm do it with my elastic that distance but this is much more commonly represented by just the letter a a something ear or a I or a why why are we doing this one first and then the animal the sheep says bar so but it's not a problem for our with double a well it's a kind of very unusual spelling I don't even have it in my system here because there's so few words then there's a turkey so that we're going to be learning it's fine and then well that is a common spelling of earth but do you want to do that one before you do that one or that one hmm maybe not and then Turkey so that is okay E when we do Turkey it's with an e dy so we're linking up e here but in fact mostly we write here you like the this or in little tiny words they'd be in me we do it like that so there the main East Spelling's and yet in this level one the liberal a sorry book one it's gone straight over here and I les one that's used mainly it's in the word key but otherwise in longer words second book has got ooh like in soup it's got the word soup finished that's usually our and then it's got bread which is an air we want to have it established nicely before we go and do this yeah because that's more commonly in e and then it's got pizza which this is a this is spelling so that is so uncommon mozzarella pit so there's hardly any words with that and here it is in book two of level a of one of those look at the picture in guests games please get those books in between bout level 1 and level 5 put them gently in the recycling and replace them with decodable books the next thing I'm going to do is show you how we start off teaching the sound data correspondences like they do in Finland so we're going to strip out the complexity and we're going to do the main spellings first and then we can gradually introduce once we've got the engine going and doing a strong mapping relationship between the most important spellings then we can go and teach things like the a in May and the E in soup ok this is more like a finish looking kind of system where you know there's our and haha hey and a and and and you can kind of make a bit more sense of it this bunch of spellings here are the ones that are taught in the pocket rockets pocket rockets you can buy boxes of them enough for 10 children put them in a little photo album and send them home as readers or they also have now the biggest size to put in the library and they also have parent packs that you can just get one set if you're a parent you want to dice it to do at home a little card that tells you what Spelling's are introduced this is not a comprehensive teaching of all the phonemes and great homes in English it's a starter and so what I'm going to do is I'm gonna get each book and put it out we don't teach the whole lot all at once what I'm going to do is take them all away except the ones that I taught first and then at high speed I'm going to start putting the connections in and as we do each book we add another connection we had a few more letters and whatever until we achieve what's in front of us all connected up with the sounds and the letters and hopefully this middle bit between the letters and the sounds will look fairly much in straight lines and not too much mayhem like you get if you're just doing whole language kind of work or if you're doing a whole lot of high-frequency words first reader in the sequence in this particular sequence not saying this is the best sequence but it's one example has a part in it and you can make little sentences like a pad set I had a chap with those kind of ones now we're gonna have a I'm gonna call it a not at and so I'm going to get those lit up at those letters I'm going to connect those up to the sounds and then I'm going to keep going through this series for a while and then we'll pause and have a look at what we're up to okay so now we've got through the first box or the first set of the pocket rockets and we've got a little story this is the hardest story and first set and kids are reading things like this they're having an argument and she's being bossy it has a narrative arc so and that's just with that amount of code now I'm going to do the second box of pocket rockets and then we'll see how the connections look okay done so once you've learned one letter-sound correspondence at a time and practiced it in a little book and in classroom activities like this at the end of that the kids are doing these little books can do this sort of stuff and I'll sent you children whisk through this little books once they've got a code that's fairly consistent bang I start to match up their sounds and their letters and be able to sort of attack new words so how beauties that and it looks like a finished system we've got this qua this funny cool and war that's a big diagonal I've got two connections to them and yeah and we've got a few connections to because it is and and here with the war and it's also in look at the end and back next o'clock duck and it's also in yep so there's a few connections there and make it a little bit complicated but not too bad mostly one-to-one correspondence –is and now those are the main ones now you got a really good foundation on which to learn about all the other harder Spelling's now I should say that the pocket rockets are by no means the only set of readers that approach this task of teaching reading in the kind of Finland style way where you break it down and teach the main patterns first and the little learners love literacy books so lovely and also Australian and the same with the initial lip books which are really nice and there are some UK books which you really nice here the dandelion ones are very nice and there's some that are for preschoolers as well these ones are fly leaf books from the UK as well imogen traders series and these ones are sounds right readers and if you have absolutely zero dollars for the task of teaching beginners and strugglers you can use the South Australia's spell books which are free you just download and print them yourself from the South Australia's build website and there are many many more on my website it's under the phonics resources decodable books that are suitable for a variety of ages so there's no need to throw people in the deep end learners in the deep end and expose them to far too many patterns and make them go into meltdown and just guess and get confused and not be able to do it there's lots of systematic phonics programs around that allow you teaching that systematic successful Finland style way

9 thoughts on “Teach early literacy like they do in Finland”

  1. Thanks for this Alison. A question for you. As an alternative to Fountas and Pinnell for beginning decoders, noting your comment about the 16 min that levels 1-5 could find a home in the recycling bin, can you suggest any assessment frameworks that might focus on and inform decoding teaching points for individual students?

  2. "y" is actually /ee/ rather than /yuh/…the /uh/ cannot blend into words. Ei. If you sound out "yellow", it is /ee/ /e/ /ll/ /ow/ not /yuh/ /e/ /ll/ /ow/. Try it. Say /ee/ rather than the mistaught /yuh/. The sound for "w" is not /wuh/. There is no way to blend the /uh/ at the end of /wuh/. The "w" is actually /oo/ as in the word "boo" /b/ /oo/. Think of the word "whale". The sounds are /oo/ /a-e/ /l/. The sound of "q" isn't /qwuh/. It's actually /k/ /oo/. Think of the word "queen". The speech to sound is /k/ /oo (as in /boo/) /ee/ /n/. "Queen" equals /k/ /oo/ /ee/ /n/. These are the 3 sounds that are most represented in the English Language. I wanted to ask if Spelfabet would be good for Canadians, as I know there are a number of pronunciation differences in our dialect, compared to your own dialect. Do you have a Canadian dialect version (which would mostly be identical to a US dialect)? Thanks for your videos. They solidify what I learned in Reading Reflex. I taught my children to read with the principles of synthetic phonics and the manner in which I learned about graphemes and phonograms in Reading Reflex. 🙂

  3. My English must sound horrible. I didn't realize how many sounds there actually is. But I hope, as I listen it every day so much (well, American English actually), subconsciously I learn some of those sounds.

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