How PAT differs from traditional phonics teaching


Traditional phonic programmes usually follow an order of instruction which start with single sounds for individual letters building up to simple consonant-vowel-consonant words (c-v-c) and progressing through initial consonant blends; silent "e" words; vowel digraphs and so on.  Whilst some children appear to take this progression in their stride, others find particular difficulty with the "magic 'e'" stage, whilst other children don't seem to be able to progress beyond the single letter/sound stage.  Word endings feature at a later stage within the traditional phonics teaching framework and it may be that children with severe literacy difficulties could take a long time - if ever, to reach these.


Research into the development of phonological awareness (Treiman 1991; Goswami 1990) suggests that children's development of phonological awareness follows a rather different pattern to that outlined in traditional phonics programmes.  From first developingan awareness of utterances being made up of a sequence of separate words, the child then becomes aware of syllables in words.  The next step would appear to be onsets and rimes, where the onset is the first phoneme in a single syllable word (e.g. s, tr, str) and the rime is the remainder of the syllable.


Finally the stage of individual phonemes is achieved.  Although children will learn about single sound/letter relationships through the early stages of writing and spelling, their ability to be able to hear individual sounds in words is a long way down the developmental pathway.


There now seems to be an overwhelming argument for ensuring that children are not only aware of onset-rimes at an early stage, but also that they learn to use these for learning to read and spell.  There appear to be many advantages in this approach:

  • It limits all one syllable words to one blend only
  • It avoids a great deal of confusion over vowel sounds which are the most difficult for early readers to discriminate
  • It can avoid many of the problems associated with the "majic 'e'" rule - e.g. "in" and "ine" can be treated as two completely separate units of sound without the child having to adapt or modify any earlier knowledge

Marilyn Jager Adams writes that "the key to phonic awareness seems to lie more in training than in age or maturation".  The purpose of this programme is to help children to develop that awareness by a route which follows a developmental progression rather than the traditional phonic teaching order of the past.