In case the video above does not work, click HERE to see this new video on the crucial place of explicit instruction about grapheme-phoneme correspondences in structured word inquiry (SWI) in general, but particularly in early literacy instruction, and for students struggling in literacy.
The interest in and awareness of SWI has seen a rapid growth with practitioners and researchers in the last couple of years. More and more people are hearing about it, but most of those who hear about it have not studied it carefully themselves with myself or the many other excellent people now providing workshops and courses related to SWI.
The topic of reading instruction has long been a particularly polarizing topic. People who first encounter SWI who have developed their views on literacy instruction in the context of the phonics vs whole language “reading wars” naturally expect this initiative to be on one of those two “sides” or like “balanced literacy” instruction which defines itself by being somewhere between those sides.
I totally understand why people would assume SWI fits somwhere within this frame of debate -- but that doesn’t make that assumption true.
A statement I often repeat is that SWI is not a response to whole language or phonics. It is a response to the proposition that we should do our best to ensure that literacy instruction is guided by and reflects our best current understanding of how our orthography system works, and that we should do so from the very start of formal schooling.
But this argument makes little sense to anyone who has not had the opportunity to study the interrelation of morphology, etymology and phonology themselves -- or to people who have no image of what such instruction could possibly look like in the early years.
In the last couple months, I’ve received a number of emails from colleagues sharing what they are hearing from people at conferences and on social networks about SWI.
Here’s an example that represents a common misunderstanding:
“Well, it’s fine for older kids but it doesn’t work with our younger students who need phonemic awareness and and explicit instruction of letter-sound correspondences.”
Notice the assumption here is that children learning in an SWI context from the beginning would not get instruction in phonemic awareness or explicit instruction of grapheme-phoneme correspondences - or at least that these aspects of literacy instruction would be significantly under emphasized.
Here is another example passed on from another colleague who was talking to someone at a recent conference when SWI came up. That person stated:
“I hear that Pete Bowers doesn’t even think you need to teach grapheme-phoneme correspondences.”
This statement made me realize just how far characterizations of SWI have veered away from any sense of reality.
Whoever heard that, certainly has never studied anything I’ve ever written or published. Such extreme mischaracterizations of SWI being passed around from people with no direct experience with SWI is too serious a problem to be left uncontested. People whose first encounter with SWI is through such misinformation have reason to biased against anything to do with SWI, and are likely to share that misinformation themselves.
Regardless of how clear I think I’ve been on this topic so far, my efforts to counter this misunderstanding have apparently not been very successful! I am happy for people to criticize SWI -- as they should any instructional approach. I regularly learn from critical analysis of my current understanding and practice. But that is only true if those criticisms are actually about what SWI actually proposes regarding instruction. I’m happy for people to reject SWI -- but they should do so based on what it is -- not based on demonstrably false statements being passed around conversations at conferences and through social media.
This video - that I hope will be the first in a series of videos addressing this topic - is part of a new attempt to address this issue as clearly as I can manage.
It has at least two purposes.
Firstly, I hope is effective conveying the essential nature of grapheme-phoneme correspondence from the start -- and what such instruction can look like.
Secondly, I hope that when people interested in SWI hear others make claims like those above, they have a link to this video they can pass on. The explanation of the role of grapheme-phoneme correspondences in SWI is crucial, but that doesn’t mean that it is easy to articulate. This video attempts provide a direct illustration of how grapheme-phoneme correspondences are addressed from the beginning of formal instruction in SWI.
But even this video is only a brief introduction. In preparing for this video, I received an email from someone new to SWI that I think conveys just how difficult it can be to understand this aspect of SWI until you actually see it in action. Kate wrote:
“...as someone who has come to SWI very recently (I just discovered it this summer and have thrown myself into it rather whole heartedly), it wasn’t until I was able to watch you teach a group of students, Pete, that I came to understand just how (and how much) the grapheme/phoneme relationships can be a part of SWI.
We were watching you teach [a Grade 1 class in the “classroom embedded” portion of] the workshop at [my school] in Toronto and I remember turning to the woman who was an ECE expert from York university and both of us said “Oh, that’s how you work the phonological knowledge into the lesson.” As we watched you using the tapping and spelling out loud, as you explained digraphs and trigraphs, we could see how much of that phoneme/grapheme awareness could be just naturally built into the discussion.
I’d seen the phoneme/grapheme charts that you and other teachers had built with their students as part of their investigations but I didn’t really understand how all that fit with the word sums and the matrices and looking up words on Etymonline until I saw you in action with a group of kids.”
Kate is relatively new to SWI, but she had been studying for a while before she saw me teach Grade 1 students at her school. As she notes, she had to see it in person with kids to really start to get this aspect of SWI. In the video above, you don’t get to see me teach students, but you do see me apply exactly the strategies and tools she describes such as “tapping out graphemes” and “spelling-out” digraphs and trigraphs, the use of grapheme-phoneme charts and more. In future videos I hope to include examples of students engaging in this instruction. In some of the resources linked below that have been around for years, you can see students engaging in exactly these processes.
This message from Kate was extremely important for me to hear -- and I think it is important for people new to SWI to hear before they draw their own conclusions.
Here is someone interested in SWI. She’s been working at it, and she still needed to see it in action to really understand how SWI integrates and emphasizes the instruction of grapheme-phoneme correspondence from the start. If Kate needed this kind of practical exposure to get this point, people with less initial interest are even less likely to "get it" wihtout a clear enough window on what SWI really is. This video, the resources below and future videos on this topic represent a renewed effort on my part to help make this aspect of SWI clearer for anyone who is interested. If what I’m currently doing is not doing the job, clearly it is time to try another way to do it!
I have included many links to resources and examples of the crucial nature of grapheme-phoneme correspondence in the description on the YouTube video. I will include those below as well.
For more examples of instruction about orthographic phonology in SWI and resources to support understanding of grapheme-phoneme correspondences and how they operate in English, see additional links below:
1) See a video (from 2012!) in which I address the grapheme-phoneme correspondence of the <s> in the words "chicks" and "eggs" within the context of introducting them to word sums and the matrix for the first time.
See a short 2.5 minute version of that video HERE. (This one only gets to word sums, not the matrix)
See the full 15 min video HERE. (This one has more examples and does get to introducing word sums, and introduces the matrix)
2) Resources on the process of "spelling-out-loud" and "writing-out-loud" word structure including announcing graphemes and orthographic markers in the base.
Click HERE for the page on my website with a detailed reference and resources to guide the use of "spelling-out-loud" word structure which requires identifying graphemes and phonemes as a basic everyday practice in SWI lessons.
3) The LEX grapheme deck (Click HERE to learn more and to order from LEX)
I recommend Gina Cooke's grapheme deck at every workshop I ever give. The process of "spelling-out-loud" and "writing-out-loud" is one that forces teachers to discover when they themselves are not sure of what the graphemes are in a word that they are attempting to teach. Central to on-going learning is a process that keeps identifying what the learner does not yet know! But that process requires a reliable reference to draw on. I know of no other reference for grapheme-phoneme correspondences that is so rigorously accurate linguistically, and which provides so much detail on morphological and etymological influences. I cannot recommend this resource enough. This is why I point to it at every workshop I ever give. The crucial nature of this resource to SWI is just futher evidence that grapheme-phoneme correspondences are central to SWI.
3) Click HERE for a video from 2011 in Skot Caldwell's public school classroom where he takes students through a lesson integrating morphology and phonology with a whole wall of grapheme-phoneme correspondences they are exploring scientifically.
4) Click HERE for a grade 2 teacher at Nueva walks us through structures in his classroom for investigating words including a chart on grapheme-phoneme correspondences they are studying including their positional constraints.
There are countless other places to point to where SWI emphasizes grapheme-phoneme correspondences, but this is a start.