Letters and sounds enhance childrens acquisition

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This assignment will discuss how a multi-sensory approach to teaching and learning can enhance children's acquisition of speaking and listening skills and phonic knowledge and skills. It will be referring to the key findings from the Rose Review and the advantages of using the Letters and Sounds programme as well as one example of phonics teaching undertaken during Autumn attachment.

The multisensory learning of phonics was first promoted in educational settings by Maria Montessori (Winsor Learning, 2010). In the 1930's Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham came up with a system of teaching structured and systematic rule-based phonics using a multi-sensory approach in order to cement new learning into long-term memory. Their approach encouraged learners to trace letters in order to reinforce shapes, names and sounds. Research done by the National Institutes of Health suggests that successful reading programmes incorporate a spelling component and that they involve multisensory reinforcement.

When children are taught using a multisensory approach they have the advantage of learning alphabetic patterns and words by using three pathways, eyes, ears and touch. Orton suggested that by teaching the "fundamentals of phonic association with letter forms both visually presented and reproduced in writing, until the correct associations were built up" it would be beneficial to children of all ages and abilities (International Dyslexia Association, 2000).

Research also indicates that multisensory reinforcement is one of the key components in successful reading programmes. During a multisensory activity children see the letter(s), hear the sound and feel how it is formed as they say it and/or write.

"We remember 20% of what we read, 30% of what we hear, 40% 0f what we see, 50% of what we say, 60% of what we do and 90% of what we see, hear, say and do." (Axis Hands on, 2009)

It is not always possible to offer all elements, such as sight, touch and speech but it would be useful to review teaching approaches and think about how many of them there are offered.

Pass the parcel:

During Autumn attachment I led a multi-sensory phonics session using the Jolly phonics programme. The activity was based on the game pass the parcel (Appendix 1). The children were asked to pass the box around the group whilst singing a familiar song. When the song was finished the child left holding the box would pick out a letter. First the child who picked out the letter would sound it out then all the children would do it together, reinforcing it with the action. The child who picked out the letter would then be asked to choose an object from the middle of the group that began with that letter, if they had difficulty at any time the rest of the group would be encouraged to help.

I chose to do this activity as it was physical and interactive. I felt it would be an activity that would engage the children instantly as it is based on a familiar party game that many of the children recognised. It was not too complicated and it was a fun way of reinforcing the letters and sounds that the children had already learnt. Some key findings of the Rose review state that "the phonic work done with young children should be multi-sensory in order to capture their interest, sustain their motivation and to reinforce learning in imaginative and exciting ways" (Rose Review, 2006). This was the aim for this particular activity. Some of the children within the class showed very little interest in books and were not always keen to do their rainbow writing, which was another part of their phonics lessons to practice the formation of the letters. This activity, however, was designed to engage all of the children by offering an element of surprise and offering objects that most children would have an interest in.

One particular study done to look into the multisensory approach to the teaching of phonics was carried out in London. The teachers used a programme teaching related spelling rules using a multisensory approach. The teachers used a range of resources to teach the children the spelling rules such as power point presentations and talking puppets. The children were expected to learn 40 new words and the rules they needed to know in order to spell them correctly. Each word was presented to the children by either a dinosaur puppet or a boy puppet. The 40 words were split into blocks of ten and so that each child was given the chance to try and spell each word they were given coloured cards to hold up depending on how they thought the word was spelled. To gain a good understanding of the impact this approach had on the children their spelling ability was assessed by the teachers before the study, immediately after and a few weeks after. The children were found to have made good progress. Using the multisensory approach allowed the children to be involved in the learning task and was an important way of reinforcing what the children had already learned. They found the power point presentation stimulating and the children were engaged by the puppets (GTC, 2007). They were able to concentrate for large periods of time on tasks that required careful listening and concentration. By using this method the children became encouraged to put effort into their work that meant some real achievements were made.

This study showed that by using a more stimulating approach to teaching phonics that children became more engaged. They were offered stimulating resources that they could relate to. The children wanted to learn due to the exciting way in which these new spelling rules were presented to them. It enhanced their listening skills as they became more engaged and it improved their involvement within the learning of phonics as they were all asked to spell each of the words using a method that encourage all children to have a go without singling any children out. This was an aspect of phonics teaching that I myself wanted to get across in the pass the parcel activity. By offering the children a new way to practice their sounds and learn new ones they became more involved and more excited. As they recognised the game it took very little time for the children to pick the game up and become engrossed in it. They also developed their own strategies for always getting the toy they wanted. As they recognised which letter their favourite toy began with, they deliberately picked that letter from the box.

Other studies have revealed that young children that are immersed in a structured, sequential, multisensory programs, made great progress in decoding skills. These multisensory approaches used clear and direct teaching of letter-sound relationships. Studies that have been carried out in clinical settings have displayed similar results for large range of abilities.

For the pass the parcel activity the jolly phonics programme was used as it was the system that the school had taken on board. This was a good system and the children had taken to it. It did; however seem to promote some confusion with some of the letters. For the letter 'i', the children are shown a picture of a mouse, whose name is 'inky', this is however, confusing for the children as when they picked out the letter 'i' from the box, the majority of them picked up the toy mouse. When asked, they knew it began with an 'm' but they instinctively went for that toy, perhaps influenced by the image of 'inky' the mouse. The Letters and Sounds, another phonics programme, avoids this issue and does not use pictures or 'actions' in the same way that the Jolly phonics system does.

Letters and Sounds is a programme used by many educational settings for the teaching of phonics. It gives a lot of guidance on how to teach the letters. The main idea is to teach the letters in a multisensory way. That letter formation should be taught from the start and as children learn a new letter sound they should also learn how to form it, starting by making movements in the air and then attempting it on a whiteboard or paper. By learning the visual appearance of the letter, the movement used when writing it and the sound of the letter all at the same time, it helps the child to remember it. The Letters and Sounds: Notes of Guidance says that mnemonics have proved to be beneficial in helping children to remember letters. It also says that teachers need to take care that children understand that the mnemonic and multisensory activities are not an end to learning letters or reading. It is important that they stay focussed on the role of letters in reading and spelling words (Letters and Sounds).

The Letters and Sounds system offers further advantages. Due to the way the document is laid out it is very easy to use. It shows a break down of each of the phonics phases and what stage of reading and forming letters children should be at for each phase. Letters and Sounds is also a very multisensory programme and offers a large range of ideas and activities to do for each phase. The activities are interactive in order to keep the children motivated and engaged.

Due to the layout of Letters and Sounds it offers great continuity and progression throughout the teaching of phonics from phase one, which can be used in the foundation stages to phase 6, which is used in the top end of primary education.


By using a multisensory system to teach phonics the children are able to gain a more solid learning experience. Some people feel that the multisensory approach is only useful when teaching children who have special educational needs. Research has shown, however, that nearly all students are able to gain some benefits from this style of teaching. Research has also shown that by meeting the needs of all the children's learning styles, through a multisensory approach, it can be ensured that all the children have been catered for. The main advantages for using a multisensory method when teaching phonics include the children being more engaged with their learning; the children being able to generate a better capacity for learning; it encourages the children to take on more knowledge; it improves the children's attitudes towards learning phonics as they are enjoying themselves and the children generally achieve more. Future implications would be that due to the results of previous studies and through some personal experience, it seems that teaching phonics through a multisensory system is the best and most enjoyable way for the children to learn their letters and sounds. Based on this multisensory teaching of phonics appears the best way forward.