Won’t the Students Be Confused?
It is not unusual for a teacher or administrator to ask this question during a Visual Phonics training, workshop, or class: “Won’t students get confused by the Visual Phonics written symbols when they are trying to learn their letters?” This line of reasoning appears to come from the observation that learning the letter names is not always easy for students and that the letters of the Alphabet are also “symbols” . . so if they are unsure or confused by letters, why wouldn’t they be further confused by Visual Phonics written symbols? At first glance, that would be a logical conclusion . . . however, with a closer look at the characteristics of letters and the characteristics of the Visual Phonics written symbols, a different picture appears.
Consider this – a symbol is consistent in what it represents – it represents the same meaning no matter where it shows up. Letters can be described as “squiggly lines” which are not consistent in what they represent. Sometimes they represent their “default” sound(s) (the typical sounds that are taught in preschool and Kindergarten) and sometimes they don’t. For example, the letter A can sound long in “ate”, short in “apple”, like a short U in “again”, and when combined with another vowel, can sound like a short E in “said”. The letter O can be long in “rope” or “boat”, short in “hot”, sound like “aw” in “log” or like short U in “son”. Variability with consonants also occurs – C in “cat” is not the same as C in “ice” and changes again when combined with H to make “ch” . . which is also variable in “chin”, “Chicago” and “Chloe”. The student’s perception of inconsistency in the sounds some letters represent is one of the primary interfering factors in a their inability to proficiently map (associate letters & sounds) sound-to-print during decoding and encoding (spelling & writing).
When letters are consistent in the sound they represent, a language is said to be “transparent”, or predicable. Some languages are more transparent than others. Italian, for example is one of the most transparent of the European languages. Since English is a compilation of all of the European “Romantic” languages, it is not a particularly transparent language, a fact which is evidenced by the examples of variable letter-sound representation in the previous paragraph, and by the knowledge that the sound of long OO is represented by over 10 different letter combinations (spelling patterns)!
Visual Phonics written symbols meet “muster” as symbols because they each consistently represent one sound of English . . . and only that sound . . . no matter what letters may appear above them. For example, the Visual Phonics written symbol for long OO would appear under the vowels in the following words: do, two, shoe, cool, glue, group, cruise, crude, movie, and crucial, resulting in a consistent representation of the sound those vowels are going to make. This representational consistency facilitates the foundation literacy skill known as mapping, removes/prevents confusion, and sets the stage for print being “concrete” instead of “abstract”. For the brain, the result are a “thumbs up”, since the cognitive load that comes from confusion and guessing is no longer a factor. For students whose primary reading challenge is decoding, the result is increased reading fluency.
© 2010 Dave Krupke All Rights Reserved