How Smart Words helps dyslexic children to read and spell

Many teachers ask us why and how Smart Words helps dyslexic children to read and spell. People wonder what makes Smart Words different from other programs that promote synthetic phonics as their focus.
We see synthetic phonics as a part of a strong word study program.  We recognise that English is not a pure language and, if all parts are not addressed, learners become confused and lose confidence in their ability to read and write.
The link between sounds and letters is an important part of this knowledge.  We use letters to represent the sounds (phonics) in words.  Knowing which letters to use to represent the sounds in the words we are writing is imperative as there are many different ways of writing the same sound in English words.  That is because English comes from so many different languages.  It is fascinating…
Smart Words is structured to adhere to:
  • phonology: a sequenced introduction, revision and mastery of the most common to least common representation of a sound, from the simplest to hardest representations as ordered by Orton Gillingham, with minor modifications
  • morphology: extending on from base words with affixes to change their meaning and/or structure
  • orthography: supporting the introduction of phonograms with the rules and the knowledge that determines their usage
  • etymology: the determination of the spelling of a word from its etymology (the history of the evolution of the word to today’s representation)

Phonics is only one part of a strong word study program. Any program can make claim to the label of a synthetic phonics program, it is not owned or awarded. A recent study by Canberra University (Misty Adoniou, What should teachers know about spelling? Literacy UKLA, 2013, UK & USA) confirms that spelling should not be taught in a hierarchical form but all four of the above-listed forms should be taught concurrently. This article helps us to understand why Australia has dropped to 49/51 countries in Literacy. We currently have third world countries ahead of us.  Phonics or sight words alone do not teach spelling.

An assessment of Dyslexia can only be conducted after 6 months of formal, structured intervention. It is not restricted to synthetic phonics but should include it. Phonics is a part of Smart Words Word Study, along with the reference to letter names. As one sound can have many representations we must link the sound to the letters that are making the sound in the word we are reading/writing.

I would suggest parents use an independent Educational Psychologist for an assessment. Yes, intervention should be evident for at least 6 months. The quality of the intervention is imperative. We see many students coming in to our tutoring centre with a questionable diagnosis. Once many struggling children are taught the English code in a systematic organised manner with lots of repetition, and all of the above four areas emphasized, progress is possible.

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