Maximizing Success with Sound Blending
The skill of blending sounds to form words is critical for achievement in phonics, or phonetic decoding (of one syllable words or multisyllables within words). As reported in my November blog, experts suggest that to maximize success in this area, students should be trained in successive blending techniques (Bond, Tinker, and Wasson, 1989; Harris and Sipay, 1990; Ekwall and Shanker, 1988). These requires individuals to say each phoneme (unit of sound) in an uninterrupted manner until the next is pronounced, as in “mmmmmaaaaaad”. Too often though, children rely on a separated sound approach in which they pronounce each sound separately, with breaks in between (m-a-d). The latter leads to poorer results among those who struggle (O’Connor, Jenkins, Leicester, Slocum, 1993). It increases the likelihood that students will insert, omit, or confuse the order of letter sounds.
Here’s the caveat: Although continuous blending leads to greater overall success, individuals who have difficulty with blending may need to be eased into this approach. I suggest starting with only 2 letter words. When children are ready for 3 letters, require students to practice saying only the first two sounds (mmmaaaa) at least 2 times until they are able to begin again and successfully fuse the last phoneme (mmmaaad). Experts such as Harris and Sipay (1990) believe that this kind of reverse onset rime technique is necessary because it reduces the amount of information that must be held in the short term memory at one time. Over the course of 3 decades, I have witnessed how this form of chunking has enabled countless students to progress to more complex blending and to master this skill.
It is important to note that the successive blending methods described above are not meant to replace training in onset rime (m-ad). The latter is necessary for phonemic awareness, and it is another approach to blending that children can employ.
Bond, G. L., Tinker, M. A., & Wasson, B. B. (1989). Reading difficulties: Their diagnosis and correction (6th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Ekwall, E. E., & Shanker, J. L. (Eds.). (1988). Diagnosis and remediation of the disabled reader (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Incorporated.
Harris, A. J., & Sipay, E. R. (1990). How to increase reading ability: A guide to developmental and remedial methods. New York: Longman.