Weaknesses in phonological awareness and phonological processing are core features of dyslexia and a contributory factor in the literacy difficulties experienced by many dyslexic children. A dyslexic child in the early stages of literacy acquisition will find it challenging to identify the sounds (phonemes) within words and to recognize and distinguish the visual symbols (graphemes) that represent sounds. Whole class Phonics teaching that typically takes place in Reception, year 1 and year 2 of Primary school is hugely beneficial to dyslexic children in helping them encode the phoneme and grapheme correspondence in words – however, this alone is rarely enough.
Depending on how well a child appears to be decoding words and how severely they are affected by dyslexia, additional out of class 1to1 or small group phonologically based intervention will be required. A published or online programme could be used for this purpose or the intervention teacher could create a personalized programme. Precision teaching* could be used to monitor progress and plan the learning, however, in order for phonological intervention to be effective and to have maximum impact, the following 5 core principles should be adhered to:
1. Multi-sensory teaching – Multi-sensory teaching is essential for retention. When a range of sensory pathways are activated there is greater opportunity for that information to be encoded in the long term memory store. In other words, if a student is learning a new sound they should be able to hear the sound, repeat the sound, look at the visual symbol (grapheme) of the sound, trace the grapheme in the air and write the sound.
2. Overlearning – Dyslexic children need substantial opportunities for rehearsal to acquire a language-based skill. However, it is important that the teaching methods are varied even if the learning focus is the same – a student will quickly become disengaged if the same teaching methods are used to learn the same target sound over and over again; if a child is learning the sounds ‘a, s, t, p, I’ over a number of weeks, ensure that a variety of activities are used to teach these sounds.
3. Personalised and cumulative learning – Always plan the teaching according to the child’s need, not age expectations. If a child is aged 11, but is not yet fluent at reading CVC words then he or she will need to start learning letter sounds and build on this learning, even if this starting point is below age related expectations. Even adults may need to start at a very early stage of literacy acquisition, if this has not happened previously.
4. Structure – If you are using a valid, published programme of intervention, a teaching structure should be ‘built into’ the programme. If a teacher is mapping out the teaching and learning focus, then this must be planned to follow a cumulative order. The structure of Phonics teaching in Primary schools follows a clear structure that could be reciprocated in intervention, for example.
5. Brief, but regular – it is preferable that phonological intervention is implemented very often and for a brief amount of time. Ten minutes on a daily basis is preferable to 1 hour a week.
These principles above are often referred to as the ‘Orton Gillingham’ approach and refer to the first structured intervention programme developed in the early 20th century by the Psychologist Anna Gillingham and Tomey Orton, a neuropsychiatrist. The video link below is a good example of the five principles above in action.
Deciding on what to teach and how
Every child will be at a different stage of learning and will have different weaknesses and strengths particular to them. However, it is possible to broadly generalise the stages of word decoding that a child may be at and use this information when choosing a published programme to follow or a structure for Precision teaching.
- The student may be able to decode some CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words, but will find it challenging to read words with adjacent consonants, eg. stamp, without transposing or omitting letters.
- The student may need to review simple letter sounds (phase 2 and phase 3 letter sounds).
- The child’s knowledge of Phase 3 vowel sounds will be very insecure.
Teaching may roughly follow this structure:
1. Letter sounds
2. Consonant digraphs: ch, sh, th, ng
3. Vowel digraphs and trighraphs: ai, ee, oa, oo, igh, ar, or, ur, oi, ear, air, ure, er
4. Adjacent consonants
5. Short and long vowels (magic e)
- The student may be able to read CVC words and some CCVC, CVCC, CCVCC words with occasional errors.
- The child may still need to ‘sound out’ polysyllabic words and hence does not yet read these fluently. In addition, they may not be familiar with alternative vowel digraphs.
1. The child will need to review phase 5 alternative spellings and phoneme graphemes – follow this link for details of the Phonics phase 5 stage: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/190599/Letters_and_Sounds_-_DFES-00281-2007.pdf
- The student may be able to decode many phonological words with phase 2 to phase 5 phoneme grapheme correspondence, but easily confuses the spelling used and may use incorrect vowel graphs, so ‘cough’ might be read as ‘caught’, for example.
1. The child will need teaching of phonics phase 5 and phase 6 spelling patterns.
What published programmes should be used?
What published programme you use may depend on a number of factors, such as affordability and level of training required. A SENDsuccess specialist will be able to offer further advice if required.
The link below provides a list of Interventions which are on the market and have been quantitatively evaluated in the UK:
- Precision Teaching – please follow this link for further information: