Synthetic phonics is back in the limelight as a method of teaching reading.
POPAT teaches analysis and synthesis – breakdown and blending – very thoroughly indeed, followed quickly and easily by letter sounds. No child will leave POPAT unable to break down and blend written words and they will be able to do this much more quickly than with any other phonics approach
In the days of the Dame school and Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie), perhaps up to the late 1950s/early 1960s, children learnt the alphabet and chanted – A is for apple – B is for bat, etc. They sounded out and blended carefully chosen words and sentences in ‘primers’ … ‘the cat sat on the mat’. But this, of course, isn’t real reading. Eight out of ten English words can’t be decoded that way, so Look and Say and Real Books and inculcating the love of books came in.
Unfortunately, 20% or so of children were not and are not able to infer the individuality of speech sounds from the traditional method of teaching letter sound association and some of them are not able to blend discrete sounds into words. These children struggle to learn to read and write and their difficulty could take up to two years to manifest itself.
Look and Say works up to a point and is a useful tool, but the average five year old has an expressive vocabulary of 661 words, rising to 1,349 words at seven – an impossible Look and Say task. (Source: Words Your Children Use, Edwards and Gibbon.)
Children still need ‘word attack’ skills to decode words that they are likely to have in their comprehension vocabulary, but which haven’t been covered by Look and Say. So we come back to analysis and synthesis: skills they need so that 98% rather than 75% as at present can enjoy the richness of ‘real’ books and perhaps increase their comprehension vocabulary.
Analysis and synthesis are essential tools to learning to read and they will be used far beyond the classroom and infancy to decode unfamiliar words. POPAT gives them those tools at an early age, accelerating many children along the road to literacy and obviating the risk of failure for some.