About Monster Mapping®!
Miss Emma spent ten years in Australia. supporting parents and teachers, and has returned to the UK to further spread the word about reading for pleasure, and play based learning.
She has launched the Early Years Steps to Reading Program using the Speech Sound Monsters!
Phonemic awareness refers to the specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual speech sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Phonemes are the smallest units comprising spoken language. For example, the word 'hip' has three phonemes and 3 graphemes : /h/ /i/ /p/. The word 'chip' also has three phonemes, even though there are 4 letters. ch/i/p - the h is now part of a new phoneme and grapheme.
There are only 26 letters of the alphabet but there are at least 44 phonemes in the English language, and those are mapped on paper with these 26 letters, in different combinations.
A 'print to speech' approach is tricky as letters or strings of letters can represent multiple phonemes.
Think of the letter 'a' - does it really 'say' a as in ant'? Always?
So how reliable is 'sound it out' when a child comes to a word they are unfamiliar with?
Being able to speak is something most humans learn to do fairly naturally. The same cannot be said for learning to read and spell.
So a 'Speech to Print' approach is the one we take when Monster Mapping.
Students explore words, and see how phonemes and graphemes 'map'. (Code Mapping) They explore how we 'talk on paper'
Acquiring phonemic awareness is important because it is the foundation for spelling and word recognition skills. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction.Predictive studies show that when children enter kindergarten with the ability to manipulate phonemes and identify letters, they progress at a faster pace in learning to read. It is VITAL that we take an early intervention approach.
Watch this 2 year old using her finger to segment the speech sounds in words (the free SSP Spelling Piano app) Hear how quickly she identifies that there are 2 speech sounds in the word 'key'. This is SSP 'Phase 1'. As she links the speech sounds with a Speech Sound Monster she can also 'read' even before looking at the graphemes that represent those speech sounds. She is understanding what reading and spelling IS even before learning how to represent those speech sounds. That she can do this shows she is not dyslexic, and is unlikely to struggle to read and spell when she attends school.
The monsters are a visual representation of something that children cannot see- they make a speech sound (phoneme) into something meaningful. They enable us to focus on phase 1 (phonemic awareness and oral language) and create an easier transition into phase 2, when the Speech Sound Monsters are mapped with graphemes, while learning phonics.
This approach also means the children UNDERSTAND the one phoneme can be represented in numerous ways, from day, and that one grapheme can represent numerous speech sounds ! Code Mapping and Monster Mapping is intergral to our teacher training workshops, and help even the most experienced teachers find more effective ways to teach reading and spelling so that MORE students learn to read and spell EARLIER than ever before. They all come away saying 'it just makes sense!' They love it, and their students love it. Teaching children becomes so much fun, and the focus becomes on reading and writing for pleasure.
The Speech Sound Monsters prevent children from associating one spelling choice with a phoneme. This is a tricky thing to explain to parents as they see this on resources everywhere ! They make sense to adults as they can make those connections. This 'blinds' them to the issues they can cause. When using Monster Mapping issues are removed.
Phonics means, in basic terms, the mapping of speech sounds (phonemes) to graphemes. Every speech sound maps with a letter or string of letters. There cannot be a 'silent' letter. All but two words in the English language can be 'code mapped' ie they are decodable. This means only those two words need to be taught by 'sight'. Yes, they will recognise them quickly, but also spell and use them correctly in their writing. The Speech Sound Monsters are an amazing prompt for children, as they can work out all words if 'Monster Mapped'! As we show the Monsters on or above words this can be called 'Visual' as well as 'Linguistic' phonics. But do not confuse this with phonics programs that use a picture clue linked with a specific graphic eg 'a' for apple' or 'a' for 'ant'.
Think of the 'a' in the word 'any, another, was, father...'
The reason these 'generic' monsters were used, that link to a speech sound (and not one grapheme representation) is because I work with students with learning challenges. My Masters Degree is Special Educational Needs, with a focus on Dyslexia. When working with my students there can be huge issues teaching 'sounds' with a picture clue, especially if they do not speak English as a first language, if they are dyslexic or have poor working memory etc. They have to recall the right word, then think of what 'sound' is supposed to be associated with it, and then apply. But what if it doesn't apply? What if they see 's' and think of a snake and remember it says 'ssssss', and that the 'a' 'says' a as in ant or apple.
Will they work out that 'She put salt in her tea instead of sugar'
It's too much for too many children. Think of the phonics program that shows a train for the /ch/ digraph. They see a 'train' and say 'ch ch ch ch or 'choo choo'? The connection, easily understood by adults, can be misunderstood by children who can't yet read and spell (and why learning phonics). A great example is when I was working with some children who had used this program, at the end of October. Most were writing that they went 'chrick or chreating' on Halloween, rather than 'trick or treating'!. The pronunciation of /t/ in the word, the same letter used in the word 'train' sounds like 'ch'. And they were used to associating a train with 'ch' within their daily songs and actions.The children can also be confused about the term 'sounds' because the train makes a sound, but we want them to think of the first speech sound they use in the word eg the 't' in train. They are also, in the same program, asked to say 'nnnn' and look at an airplane. Does an airplane make this sound? And where does the 'n' come into it?
Some children learn what they are told - eg a phrase to say when they see a letter ! I have seen children trying to work out the word 'cat' by actually saying 'Clever Cat, Annie Apple, Talking Tess' The children have remembered the phrase for the letter, not understanding the piece of information that matters when decoding words. They aren't saying the phonemes, or blending them.
There are far too many opportunities for children to be confused, and this prevents learning and causes anxiety. They can also prevent parents and teachers from identifying underlying issues eg poor phonemic awareness skills.
Children with poor phonemic awareness can't easily identity the speech sounds in words anyway. That's around 10 - 30% of the children in pre-school, regardless of intelligence, socio economic area, parental engagement or oral language skills. So if asked to look at a 'bee' and think of 'buh' they are always going to struggle, and have to memorise. They are learning to say a 'sound', that they can't hear, and then have to use that as a prompt for spelling. And they need to understand that it's not the sound a bee makes (zzz) - it's the speech sound we produce when we say the whole word. And that's an issue is there are words they pronounce differently...and in this case as there is a letter of the alphabet called 'b' that sounds like the word!
With some of these they have to think of the word and then the first 'sound'. Can you imagine the issue is the child thinks the 'rabbit' is a 'bunny' and then choose the wrong sound. They have to spend a lot of time learning the word, and applying the sound.
They look at tennis racket, apple, pencil. They then have to think 'which sound for tennis racket...etc - then blend. And many of these use middle sounds. They see 'bird' and think of the 'er' sound. 'But a bird goes 'tweet tweet' Mummy?'
Keep it simple. Avoid using 'picture prompts' that mean students have to remember things, or have to go through lots of steps to arrive at the answer. They see the monster, and know the speech sound. That's it. No more steps. They can then 'follow the monster sounds to say the word' (decoding) or identify the speech sounds they want to use, in order, and put the monsters on the speech sound lines (encoding/ spelling)
The Speech Sound Monsters are a break through in teaching ALL children to read and spell quickly and easily, and they love it ! Monster Mapping in pre-school is an early intervention for difficulties and creates new pathways in the brains of dyslexic learners. Miss Emma X