Ask Miss Emma!

Post your question and she may answer it on the SSP facebook page

Note that the question will be posted anonymously She just likes to know who she is talking to!

Also see the 'What I wish teachers had been taught at college' page


About ten years ago Miss Emma arrived in Australia from the UK. Initially, she spent some time sharing the 'science of reading' but soon realised teachers couldn't see how to put this research into practice. Initially, she tried to show how to adapt a phonics program many were using, but soon recognised how often she kept saying 'but don't do that'...and she wrote to the program developer and gave her list of 'recommended changes' to fill the gaps. It is only now that they are mapping phonemes to graphemes when teaching their 'tricky words' (rather than teaching as whole words) They may still use the terms 'silent letters' etc, but baby steps... She became obsessed with orthographic mapping after reading the work of Dianne McGuiness during her Masters degree in the UK (Special Educational Needs) and realised that the missing piece of the puzzle was the ability to isolate, segment, blend and manipulate phonemes (phonemic awareness) and apply this to ALL words, using a scaffolded, systematic and fully differentiated approach with FUN, multisensory and engaging resources.
She also soon realised that children would learn to recognise high frequency graphemes more easily using technology, and the 'Brain Training' videos were initially created. These are now referred to as Code Level Videos.  

 Miss Emma realised that all the available programs had huge gaps, especially if the child was dyslexic; teachers were teaching a basic set of graphemes within their phonics program (often taking a 'print to speech' approach ie what sound does this letter make) and ignoring the rest, or covering a few as 'alternative' sounds.  Miss Emma was perhaps just way ahead of her time, and even had to create her own decodable readers, resources to show high frequency words 'code mapped' etc. Her biggest challenge at first was the application, and showing teachers how to teach using a differentiated approach. She started sharing what she was doing on the 'Read Australia' web site and now thousands of teachers are using her techniques and resources. Pretty amazing what teachers do to meet the needs of their students and to teach as if all dyslexic from day 1! Also amazing that this was called 'controversial' but some, even though every element aligns with the science of reading. But Reading Recovery was being hailed as the 'gold standard' and 'running records' considered essential. When she spoke out about the programs and approaches that she felt not only didn't meet the needs of around 30% of students but actually made the 'learning to read and spell' process HARDER, she faced huge push back from a community of educators who did not understand her views. 'How can she go against the science? Look at the research behind Reading Recovery? Research based and research backed!' She was even threatened with legal action if she did not stop questioning the 'levelled' reading system, and the likelyhood that children will be taught to use the three cueing systen if these books introduced during the initial 'beginning' reader' stage. She continued to speak out.     

Team SSP even tracked data and over the past five years and found a correlation between the SSP ‘code levels’ and the benchmarking system, tracking over 100 schools. We’re action researchers!
We can SHOW that teaching phonemic awareness and phonics systematically, within a rich language and literacy learning environment, leads to HIGHER benchmarking 'levels' within the academic year; even if the students are not ready for this testing in terms 1 and 2.  Ground breaking work, really; again, ahead of its time.    
Now most understand the science - but even just 5 years ago what we created was called 'controversial' and many teachers told not to use the activities in their classrooms; not even to SHOW the spelling choices using the Spelling Clouds as a Sound Wall rather than Word Wall. They understood 'Word Walls' and Miss Emma seemed to be talking a different language. She was seen screening 135 kindergarten children for poor phonemic awareness in 45 minutes to show that this is something all teachers can (and should) do, and yet was met with scepticism from certain 'dyslexia awareness' groups. Was often a confusing learning journey for those of us using the approach. Many who have attended training had never mapped phonemes to graphemes before, or even explored the schwa. So it may have been the first time teachers were being exposed to orthographic mapping, and to understand phonetic symbols, used within the IPA.   

So we focused on the students, and ignored the accusations, as teachers hear about it, and start trying our activities and techniques. Its a program, but more or an approach to teaching and learning (less teaching, more learning) It's up to you if you want to use an 'evidence based' approach or just choose those that are 'researched' - as you would have when choosing to use Reading Recovery, or not. In time researchers will study it; but we don't chase that. We are teachers sharing what we do, and that will never change. Our bottom line is 'what works for OUR students'. But we do also have the data to back it up.

Contact Miss Emma

Should we teach less commonly used grapheme (spelling choices) or just stick to the high frequency graphemes and a few alternative spelling choices?


What do you think about PM and F&P Benchmarking?

We have a small multi-level school and are inconsistent in our approach. We've added decodable readers but everything is not coming together. How would SSP help?'

What do we do? It's an uncomfortable discussion to have, I know.

We've got to tackle this problem without shaming, and without parents needing to pay extra for something that should be happening in schools. Why isnt it? No teacher I know chooses to fail kids. They'd be mortified if they knew they were. They tend to think there is something wrong with the child, as they aren't learning, and that they need MORE of the same teaching, or have been told 'they will learn in their own time' (whoever told them that doesnt understand the learning to read process) What if it's the teaching that needs to change? What if no-one is supporting the teacher, no-one who has the knowledge and experience to best help? Suppose the people supporting them don't understand why the child is struggling either? Why are so many being failed and what can we do? This teacher is using a program recommended by the gov, and has had training. They have done everything recommended by those who shame teachers. But this child is not learning. So now what? Without blame, now what?

Miss Emma X

When they get the spelling of a 'sight word' wrong what should I do?'

Ask them to Code Map the word and then show the word and they can self-edit (and record in their Spelling Discoveries Diary - which you use for random long term learning checks) and also make use of 'Shall I show your brain'? Give the words 3 times, with one having the correct grapheme.
They write 'sed' and you might write
So it's just the incorrect grapheme that changes. It does represent that speech sound, just not in this word. See if their brains can tell you which 'looks right'. You'll be amazed at how much info is stored, and they can retrieve. 
They also develop this skill during 'Speedy Code Mapping' which they do at the beginning of every day in pairs - or solo, in groups. One (who can read the words) 'follows the sounds' while the partner points. The pointer is able to use unfamiliar graphemes, and blend, and the student 'following the sounds' is practising their spelling! The activity is designed to force the brain to recognise the phoneme to grapheme mapping ( Code Mapping)         

Help ! The 'sounds' we use can conflict with the sounds we use when we say the words ! 

How do we use 'nonsense words'?

I have a student who can't remember the 'sounds'. I show them the letter 'c' and they can't remember to say /k/


Letters are meaningless unless in a word. So kids may learn the letter name, but if teaching phonics the kids need to know that they can represent a speech sound, but the 'sound' it represents depends on the word!

So linking it to words is always vital (not just a flashcard showing a letter, and expecting them to say 1 of the sounds eg c and they say /k/)
I do an exercise with teachers in training where I change the letters of the alphabet to symbols. I then ask them to learn them and tell me the sounds. They can all read and spell but they struggle to remember which is supposed to represent which speech sound; until I start with just 6, and we start to build words. They then quickly (although all are different) remember the associated sounds, and can read and spell words using them, and we build up. Its often hard for us to think why a child would struggle to remember something - until we are given the same situation, with symbols used we don't know. Teachers get really stressed out (and are a lot more empathetic with the kids)

Code Mapping

The main issue for educators is often the teaching sequence, so that it aligns with the way brains learn most effectively eg WHEN to introduce letters as representations of speech sounds (presuming the starting point is phonemic awareness) WHEN to teach letter names within the teaching sequence, what grapheme order to follow when teaching so that they learn as many skills and concepts as possible as they progress (not just to recognise graphemes) ...and so forth. 

When teachers want a specific learning outcome to be achieved by a student they do need to be very clear about WHY they want them to do this, and what the steps are to get there (regarding student understanding - a lot of children can learn to bark '/k/' when they see the letter c k or ck - but if they have poor phonemic awareness they have no awareness that they say this sound because it is representing the sound on paper! - and of course they can't then work out the word is c/a/t as they can't blend)

We have a 'speech sound monster' for every phoneme, so aligned with the phonetic symbols of the IPA. They learn the 'monster sounds' really quickly, and it means they know the associated 'sound' when they look at the letters. Because they use 'spaced repetition' every day to learn the HF graphemes, it also means they learn to look at 'c' and think of the 'sound' but also understand why, and how used !

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© 2020 Wiring Brains for Literacy using SSP

The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach. Wiring Brains® for Literacy. Code Mapping® and Monster Mapping®
Build a Speech Sound Wall with the SSP Spelling Clouds