Early humans talked. Whether it was a grunt or a click or a consonant+vowel+consonant, they made sounds that achieved the purpose of communication. Then one day, some girl needed certain items to finish off her casserole but the cave and the baby needed attending. So she sent out her hunter. But being male, his memory was rubbish so she came up with an idea, The List. And thus written communication was formed. Well, something like that....
My point is that first we spoke and then we wrote.
But the written language has been around so long, that we view it as a Reality that is apart from the spoken word. It exists therefore it is. In this perception, we bring children into a room, sit them down, and share with them the Reality of the Written Word. And then we ask them to learn this Reality to spell by showing them the 'dead' squiggles on the page make sounds all on their own. This is phonics.
In other words, we've gone from an intuitive and fluid visual representation of spoken language, to a method by which we squeeze the spoken word into the fixed written Reality. Some kids are visual-verbal learners and some are just plain fortunate, in that they learn to read, write and spell despite this illogical process that we've created. I certainly learnt this way. But the evaluation of a teaching method ought not to be simply if it works, but rather whether the learning is intuitive, organic and enjoyable too.
The opposite of the phonics approach is to show a child that the sounds in the language they already know, can be represented by pictures (a letter or group of letters).
So rather than insist that CH makes a sound. We say, hey, you know that sound you're making without even thinking about it? Well here is a picture you can use to represent that sound. Language spoken + language written becomes a unity.
Try to imagine you can't read. But not so well imagined that you would no longer be able to read this post, ahem. Let's take a sound you already know. A sound that you don't have to give much thought to at all, because you just use it.
We'll take the middle sound from boat. This is a sound you already know.
Now I don't show you how to spell boat, and I don't confuse you by insisting that O is for orange and A is for apple. Instead, I show you what picture-sounds can represent that middle sound.
So that's five pictures (or picture sounds as we say) that can represent that middle sound in boat. It's crucial to view the above as a complete picture rather than separate letters. Early readers do this very easily. (I will discuss this further in future posts)
When a child hears the word though, they hear th and ough. If they have learnt the pictures for the sound boat they have 5 possible ways to spell though. This might sound like it could be confusing, but it's actually doable for the child. Much more so than trying to learn the spelling for one specific word, from hundreds of words.
In learning the pictures for the sounds of his language, the child has a mental toolbox (43 groups of picture-sounds) that actually works. It's a method that allows the illogical language a better chance to unfold.
Children understand symbols long before they understand printed language. A drawn circle can represent a ball or the sun. Children understand this with little effort. But we can use their initial understanding to teach language. Makes sense doesn't it? If we present picture-sounds as similar symbols, they understand just as easily. So like the circle, they can learn that one symbol can represent more than one sound. Such as ow can be used for cow or show.
A child can learn that one sound can be represented by different symbols, much the same way that they can label differing pictures all as representing a flower. Such as the previous list of boat sound representations.
In this method we don't really teach the child spelling, not so explicitly. What we give is a method, or tool, for the child to learn how to spell on their own.
In part iii, the child creates.
I recommend The Reading Reflex, and the UK Version.