Phonemes and graphemes or sounds and spellings: it depends on the context.
Yesterday, I published ‘This and that’, a short blog post on the importance of maintaining consistency in the language we use when training teachers in how to teach phonics and teaching children phonics.
After publishing, another example of the way in which we distinguish between the language we use on our training courses and the language of the classroom occurred to me. On our courses, we quite happily talk about ‘phoneme and graphemes’; paradoxically, we urge teachers not to use the terms ‘phonemes and graphemes’ with children in the classroom but to use ‘sounds and spellings’.
We don’t do this because children can’t understand the jargon of phonics: we know perfectly well that they can both understand the terminology and learn to use it with ease. The rub comes when they go home and talk to their parents/carers. Although it’s true that are parents/careers who understand very well the terms ‘phonemes’ and ‘graphemes’, many, if not the vast majority, have no idea what phonemes or graphemes are. In fact, at parents’ evenings and parents’ meetings, their eyes sometimes glaze over when this kind of terminology is used. Some, I’m guessing, probably think that that we’re using this jargon to keep the gate against them.
I’m sure that not every parent/carer will understand the terminology ‘sounds and spellings’ but the term is much more likely to be understood than ‘phonemes and graphemes’ and, for that reason is, I would suggest, this much more inclusive language.
Sounds-Write is quite radical in its sound to print orientation and we feel that using transparent language descriptors helps not only to make clear the direction of the code – sounds are the basis for the writing system – but also enables many children to show their parents/carers at home what the relationship is in the real-life context of reading and writing.
If you have a young child starting school for the first time or even a child that has fallen behind a bit, to get them off to a good start and one with the correct orientation, take a look at our two free, online courses for parents and carers ‘Help your child to read and write’, parts 1 and 2. They come with all the downloadable resources needed to use them and you can find them here and here.