Explicit Phonographic Instruction – The Ultimate Tool for Learners with Dyslexia

Written by Denyse Ritchie

All research points to phonemic awareness and phonics playing a critical role in written language acquisition. Most teachers agree that difficulty with phonic decoding is a hallmark characteristic of dyslexia. 

Phonics is essential and non-negotiable in building the foundations of literacy acquisition but how phonics is taught will determine its effectiveness as a decoding and encoding tool. Although many schools/educators say they teach phonics using recommended early years phonics teaching programs, the failure rate in teaching effective reading and writing skills continues to remain largely constant.  

Many people give the impression that dyslexia is a reason to struggle to read but the meaning of the word dyslexia can be simply defined as, ‘struggles with reading and is at a lower level than their general cognitive ability, education, age and peers’. These learners are often capable of learning complex concepts in other curriculum areas but struggle with reading and spelling. As reading and writing are the cornerstones of formal learning, the inability of dyslexic learners to become literate, manifests itself in frustration and/or disengagement in the learning process. 


We know that intelligence and ability are not essential factors in reading acquisition. Why then is it that for the majority of learners, reading seems like a natural development and they just ‘get it’? Why then do a core group of learners struggle with the English code? Why is it that some children can learn ‘sight words’ and yet for others these words are totally confusing? Why is it that for some learners reading is not a problem but they struggle with spelling? 

For many learners, even simple two and three letter words, such as: my, was, of, is, so, has and to area struggle to decode. For others, trying to write these words brings its own unique problem, as they use plausible phonic spellings such as: woz, ov, wen, wot, cum, mI, wE, hav, plA, poot and so on. These misspellings show phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition but why do they spell these words this way? I believe, after many years of working with dyslexic and struggling readers and spellers that the learning and application of Graphophonics is the root cause of these issues. 

Graphophonic teaching, often referred to as letter-sounds teaching, initial sounds teaching or SATPIN phonics, starts by assigning a sound to each letter of the alphabet. This starting point for literacy teaching used by thousands of schools in Australia is the point at which many learners, including those with dyslexia, are left behind.

In addition, the downfalls of Graphophonics have also been the catalyst for many educators to dismiss the teaching of phonics as being unsustainable and misleading for their students. Phonographics however provides a sustainable phonics approach to orthographic mapping. 

Phonemic awareness, the undisputed predictor of early literacy success, is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the sounds of a language and allows for a fluid progression into teaching phonics and the orthographic mapping of speech to print. This phoneme to grapheme correspondence process is called Phonographics. Phonographics provides for the foundational understanding of the Alphabetic Principle and the phonics code of English. 

Join me in my session in the Free Seminar Program at the National Education Summit to compare and contrast these two teaching processes and explore why teaching phonographics is the superior approach, especially for learners at risk. Studies conducted in Australian schools provide evidence of the value of teaching Phonographics over Graphophonics. From my own teaching experience phonographics can help with both orthographic dyslexia and dysgraphia. 

Reading and writing are the cornerstones of formal learning and the acquisition of these skills determines a learner’s ability to achieve their goals and fully achieve their potential. As literacy teaching is our core business, it is imperative that all teachers critically asses the literacy teaching practices they employ.