Print-to-speech vs speech-to-print discussions are causing a commotion in reading instruction circles. The terms are often unclear and the discussion can become divisive. Yet both refer to teaching methods needed for reading and spelling.
When we talk about the key skills required for spelling and reading (at the word level), let’s clear the confusion around these terms.
Print-to-speech vs speech-to-print
Print to speech means translating graphemes (letters and letter combinations) into speech sounds, (phonemes) and blending them to produce spoken words. On the other hand, speech-to-print skills are focusing on encoding instruction. Here, we focus on breaking spoken words down into phonemes and translating them into written letters.
Phonics as a Path to Literacy
Research says for best practice, teaching literacy involves two important skills: phonics and phonemic awareness. Phonics is the understanding of how phonemes correspond to written letters. For a well-rounded approach to literacy instruction, research confirms that it is crucial to offer explicit instruction in phonics, along with fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. As a teacher, mastering these skills will help your students become confident and successful readers.
Is there a dichotomy between Print-to-speech vs speech-to-print
Research has shown that reading is best taught through the structured literacy approach. However, it can be tricky because there are different ways to teach reading and spelling. Unfortunately, some categorize instruction as either print-to-speech or speech-to-print in opposition to one another. But is this true?
Print-to-speech vs speech-to-print Defined
Print-to-speech teaching methods:
We start to teach with the written symbol. These methods begin by teaching students the graphemes of English and how they correspond to sounds. A structured lesson plan covers over 70 phonograms and common spelling rules.
These approaches usually start with single letters before advancing to more complex printed words. It also covers phonics rules and syllable types to help organize instruction.
Linguistic Phonics methods begin by focusing on the 44 sounds or phonemes of the English language and help students understand how each one corresponds to a variety of different written letters or graphemes.
This process can be divided into stages, tackling more common graphemes first and revisiting less common ones later, or it can be introduced all at once. These methods also involve teaching spelling patterns to enhance learning.
Modern synthetic phonics instruction techniques can be traced back to the 1930s and 40s. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham were pioneers in this field to teach phonics, moving away from the whole words approach that teachers used.
During the 1960s, phonics instruction made a comeback in U.S. reading programs, replacing the whole language method. This led to different OG approaches, based on the work of Orton and Gillingham.
All those Orton Gillingham structured literacy methods emphasized synthetic phonics instruction and taught phonics rules. This phonics instruction is currently recommended by the international dyslexia association.
Unfortunately, the wheel of education turned away from reading research and a phonics program back to whole language and away from the structured literacy approach with the advent of “balanced literacy.” In this method, the phonics instruction was less structured depending on the program and focused more on reading based on guessing based on context.
But with an emphasis on educational research in the past few years literacy instruction is becoming more focused on structured literacy again.
The importance of phonemic awareness in Print-to-speech vs speech-to-print
Print-to-speech approaches build instruction around a structured sequence of graphemes, and generalizations about written words. Phonemic awareness activities are typically included to help kids recognize speech sounds in words.
It’s important to note that in this approach, learners don’t just focus on decoding; they also tackle reading and spelling. When doing dictation students are encouraged to say the sounds of letters as they write and read them.
Theory of Speech-to-Print Approaches
The theory behind proponents of speech-to-print instruction also known as linguistic phonics is that since speech comes before writing, putting spoken language first makes it easier for children to learn new information when it’s connected to what they already know.
So, starting with speech and adding print is more effective and natural for students. The focus is not on letter names or individual letters but sounds. However, keep in mind that children are not aware of all speech sounds. Children have to be taught how to segment phonemes as they write words.
Designing a Speech-to-Print Sequence
Designing a speech-to-print sequence for phonics instruction is not necessarily simple, however. Just think about teaching 44 phonemes in the right order. It’s tempting to start with sounds that are very different from each other. For example, if both the voiced and voiceless consonants are taught in quick succession can help children’s understanding. (examples: <b>, <p>, <t,
But some choices don’t make sense. Take the short /i/ sound and the low, back, rounded /aw/ sound. Their sounds and formation in the mouth are quite different, but if they are taught one after the other could confuse kids.
Instead, we need to look at how letters and letter combinations make sounds in words. We need to choose what to teach based on how commonly these patterns are found in words.
Avoiding Student Overwhelm
As a teacher, you may come across the speech-to-print approach that teaches all possible graphemes or many spellings for a phoneme when introducing it to children. While this seems comprehensive, it can lead to information overload and be overwhelming to elementary students. For instance, teaching all six ways to read or spell the sound /aw/ may not be immediately useful to them.
Being Sensitive to Developmental Vocabulary
Some spelling choices are infrequent, and some may occur in sophisticated words outside their experience. For example, teaching the letter ‘y’ to represent the /i/ sound in words such as ‘crystal’, ‘symbol’, ‘oxygen’ and other Greek origin words might not catch the attention of 5-year-olds. As a teacher, one must consider the usefulness and comprehension of those words to a child just learning to read and determine what should be taught.
Simple to Complex
Louisa Moats suggests a simple yet effective approach. In her book Speech to Print (2020), Moats recommends introducing common correspondences and patterns before moving on to less common ones. For example, start with teaching the /s/ sound using the letter ‘s’ before moving on to words like ‘celery’, ‘circle’, and ‘cymbal’ where the /s/ sound is represented by the letter ‘c’. This sequential approach can help children better grasp phonics and improve their reading skills.
Print-to-Speech vs Speech-to-Print Concepts We Agree On
Both frameworks agree that teaching a sequence of sound-grapheme correspondences is essential and should be done explicitly and systematically. It’s important to consider both speech and print when determining this sequence.
- Firstly, introduce single letter spellings that represent continuous speech sounds for example <l>, <s>, and <m> early on. This facilitates blending for young learners.
- Secondly, Teach kids simpler letters and letter combinations and work your way up to more complex spellings. In addition, prioritize teaching more frequently occurring spellings.
- When possible, focus on letters that represent speech sounds that are easily distinguishable from one another.
Importance of Exposure to Connected Text
Another aspect of teaching reading that should be emphasized is that children need to be spending more time reading connected text. By doing so, we can foster the development of self-teaching skills that are necessary for automatic reading proficiency and language essentials.
Significance of Accelerating the Scope and Sequence
It is essential to help students make efficient progress in reading by using a program that has a scope and sequence that facilitates reading authentic texts as soon as possible. Introducing concepts of silent e and vowel teams fairly early is advisable so children will be able to go beyond decodable books only to more authentic texts.
Some OG programs wait a long time to introduce these concepts because they feel they will confuse students but if you decide to do this be aware your students will have extremely limited choices for reading materials for quite a while.
We want to practice mastery of new concepts with decodable text but we don’t want to stifle development by not introducing concepts soon enough or by not giving readers the chance to be exposed to some more challenging texts.
Value of Simultaneous Processing
Engaging children in phonemic awareness activities with simultaneous processing and orthographic mapping by saying the sounds as they write the letters is essential in any reading program either synthetic phonics or linguistic phonics approach.
This aspect of multisensory teaching is the best way to help children connect sounds and symbols for more fluent reading and writing because it helps establish the alphabetic principle.
Children should practice reading single words, sentences, and passages, and building, spelling, and writing words in short sentences and passages. Research shows that instruction in one supports the other, making these reciprocal skills crucial for reading and writing success.
Recent research shows that there’s a connection in the brain for reading, involving both visual and phonological areas. This supports the idea that teaching children how letters map to speech sounds in both directions.
Thus, teachers need to incorporate both print-to-speech and speech-to-print activities in their instruction. Combining these techniques will provide children with the language skills they need to become successful readers.
Print-to-Speech vs Speech-to-Print Avoiding Divisiveness
As a certified academic language therapist, I have successfully used the Orton Gillingham (OG) method for over twenty years to teach so many children to read. I vary my instruction based on my students and their needs. The way I teach combines both print-to-speech and speech-to-print methods. I don’t think it needs to be an either-or argument.
Issues to be aware of with Print To Speech Approach
- Cognitive Load- Many children with speech and language issues and other literacy difficulties are overwhelmed with too many rules and generalizations. Too many rules confuse them and it is better to use a reading simplified approach.
- Slow Progress Speed due to too much emphasis on mastery- Struggling readers need a lot of practice but if they are taught too slowly they become discouraged. I don’t support staying in the same unit or lesson too long you can always circle back but allow your students to move on so they don’t become stuck. I have found that some children struggle with CVC words more than more complicated patterns so don’t camp on them forever. Add in other patterns as well.
- Too much work with letter tiles for word building and not enough writing with simultaneous processing saying the sounds as you write. Letter tiles are fine, but they can’t replace the kinesthetic aspect of writing the written word is powerful.
- Not enough time with connected text. Readers need to practice reading with decodable texts but also with authentic texts with copious support from the teacher. (I am not encouraging guessing here.)
Issues to be aware of with Speech To Print Approach
- Exposing the developing readers to too many sounds at once. It is not bad to show a student the many choices for sound spelling. But especially for struggling readers, we need to be aware that they may not be able to process all of that information so we need to limit the number of spelling choices they practice with depending on their age and disability level.
- Pacing may be too quick- Be sensitive to the cues of your student. You always want to go as quickly as you can but as slowly as they need you to go.
- Don’t throw out all the generalizations “rules”. Make sure to give your readers some structure as you talk about spelling because many kids benefit from knowing more about how language generalizations and patterns work in English.
Print-to-speech vs speech-to-print should not be an issue of divisiveness. No matter which approach is used will help children with reading and spelling performances. Do some great speech to print practice with some free wordlists below. Make sure to have your students say the sounds as they write the words.