What is Visual Phonics?

“See The Sound/Visual Phonics” is the official name of what I will be referring to as Visual Phonics (VP) on this web site. Visual Phonics is a system of hand shape cues and written symbols based on how sounds are produced in the mouth. Its use as a multisensory strategy to represent all of the sounds of English with hand shape cues and corresponding written symbols makes sound visible and concrete. Visual Phonics (VP) was recently coined as “sound language”.

Who uses Visual Phonics?

Visual Phonics is used in both regular (PK-3) and special education (PK-secondary) settings. Since it is a strategy that can be used by both teachers and students, VP can be implemented into almost any Language Arts, Reading, or Phonics program. VP is especially beneficial with skill instruction for Phonological Awareness, Phonemic Awareness, and the Alphabetic Principle, and can be an integral part of Differentiated Instruction and RTI (Response to Intervention). VP is also used in DHH (deaf/hard of hearing), Speech/Language, and ELL programs. Parents can use VP at home when working with their children on basic literacy skills (such as learning letters and sounds & rhyming), decoding, and spelling.

How does Visual Phonics work?

The hand shapes and written symbols make it very clear what sound(s) letters represent, helping to break the “code” of English. Visual Phonics makes letter sounds visible and concrete, which reduces confusion when reading and spelling. Since VP is a multisensory strategy, our brains are more actively engaged in learning and remembering letter names, letter sounds, and words. All 3 learning modes – auditory, visual & kinesthetic – are activated by the Visual Phonics strategy, making learning more accessible to all mixtures of learning styles and creating a visual/kinesthetic “bridge” between sounds and letters.

Who created Visual Phonics?

See the Sound/Visual Phonics was the brainchild of the mother of a deaf child in the late 1970s. Her created hand shape cues helped her son to improve both speech and reading skills. She subsequently became acquainted with Millie Snow, Administrator of the Osmond Foundation, who had similar concepts about making the sounds of English “visible”, and their collaboration resulted in the basis of the Visual Phonics system as we know it today. Millie Snow founded ICLI (International Communication Learning Institute), the non-profit organization that oversees Visual Phonics Resource Specialist/Traniers in North America in 1981.

What is the difference between Visual Phonics and the Manual Alphabet (referred to by some teachers as “sign language”)?

The manual alphabet is a set of hand signs that represent the letters of the alphabet. Visual Phonics is a system of hand shape cues and written symbols that represent the sounds that individual letters or combinations of letters represent. There is a hand shape cue and corresponding written symbol for every sound of the English language.

Is Visual Phonics just for DHH (dear/hard of hearing) students?

No. Although Visual Phonics was initially created for students who were deaf or were hearing impaired, it soon became apparent that VP also helped hearing students to improve reading and speech skills.

Is there research or evidence-based data that shows the impact of Visual Phonics?

Yes.  Initial research in the early 1980s supported the effectiveness of the Visual Phonics system, and recent research and evidence-based data is providing strong evidence of its impact on both DHH and hearing students.

Should I be worried if my students get it faster than I do?

No. Children, especially young children, learn the VP system quickly and intuitively because their brains have more plasticity than adult brains, and they tend to be more open-minded about “new” learning. In addition to that, childrens’ learning is often facilitated when movement is involved. Most children love using Visual Phonics and want “more” because it is fun, novel and engaging.

Do I need a lesson for VP during the day?

Separate lessons are not necessary, as Visual Phonics is most effective when implemented throughout the teaching day. Anytime the opportunity to connect sound and print occurs, hand shape cues and/or written symbols can teach and reinforce the sound-letter connections.

Do I have to teach the whole system before I use it?

No, it is better to introduce the system gradually as letters  or word families are being taught, or to introduce hand shape cues and/or written symbols whenever confusion exists. Associational learning is best established within the context of a learning opportunity rather than attempting to teach a concept in “isolation” and hoping for generalization.

If I become trained sometime during the school year, should I wait until the next school year to begin implementation?

If Visual Phonics was a program, implementation at the beginning of the school year would facilitate alignment with the scope and sequence of the curriculum. However, Visual Phonics is not a program – it is a strategy. As such, it can be “plugged in” whenever and wherever needed to meet the learning needs of students of all ages, and can be integrated into existing programs for regular and special education students. Visual Phonics can and should be used right away!

How can I get trained?

Visual Phonics training is available through staff development in some states or by special arrangement with licensed Visual Phonics Resource Specialist/Trainers across the US. Contact ICLI (International Communication Learning Institute) at www.icli.org, or Linda Yonce, National Director of Training at ljy@charter.net , for the name and contact information of a certified trainer in your area or state.

In Iowa and west-central Illinois, contact Dave Krupke (sound4liteacy@yahoo.com).