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Monster Mapping - An Early Intervention for Dyslexia

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Monster Mapping ® - An Immunisation Against Illiteracy

Monster Mapping®; An Immunisation Against Illiteracy.

Presented by Miss Emma BEd Hons. MA Special Education (Dyslexia Focus)


The cost of illiteracy, worldwide, is huge. The findings of the report from the World Literacy Foundation conclude that:

• The cost of illiteracy to the global economy is estimated at USD $1.2 trillion.

• The effects of illiteracy are very similar in developing and developed countries.

This includes illiterates trapped in a cycle of poverty with limited opportunities for employment or income generation and higher chances of poor health, turning to crime and dependence on social welfare or charity (if available).

It is no surprise that around 50% of prisoners in the UK, and 60- 75% of prisoners in the USA, are functionally illiterate. 1 in 3 Australians have literacy skills low enough to make them vulnerable to unemployment and social exclusion.


Despite wide-ranging and extensive research, and countless different research-based systems and methods on offer, there is still a widespread international problem with illiteracy, even in the richest countries of the world.


There is an abundance of research, including three national inquiries into the teaching of reading, that show the basics of what is needed, regardless of learning differences, such as dyslexia. The teaching of reading could be the most extensively researched area of education. In 2000, the NRP identified five key components of effective instruction - phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. The report is still widely cited, despite being almost 20 years old.


The Australian lecturer Deslea Konza (Edith Cowan University) suggests that there be 6 distinct areas, and to include 'oral language'.

Abstract: The Report of the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) identified five key elements that were critical to the development of reading, and these have been widely accepted by educational jurisdictions as providing definitive guidelines for early reading instruction. This paper presents a case for the inclusion of oral language and early literacy experiences as an additional and foundational element. The pervasive influence of a child’s early experiences on future reading achievement must be understood if teachers are to mamaximise the opportunities of all children to become independent readers.


The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) (a population measure of early childhood development completed by teachers on all children at school entry) shows that at the start of primary school, around the age of 5 years, significant SES-based disparities in language functioning are already evident.


If there is so much information available, why are we failing so many students? Why is there a disconnect between research and practice? Perhaps “the conflicting and often strongly entrenched interests of various stakeholders — educators, politicians, scientists, taxpayers, labor organizations, parent groups — make it hard to achieve meaningful change within the existing institutional structure of public

education” (Seidenberg, 2013, p.340-1).


Perhaps now, we also need to more closely examine HOW these elements are taught, and the information being conveyed to teachers. Why would ‘synthetic phonics’ be pushed by education departments, if there is no evidence that one approach is better than the other?

‘In England, the US and Australia, there have been major inquiries into reading and all have concluded

that systematic and explicit phonics teaching is a crucial part of effective reading instruction. But none have found any evidence that synthetic phonics approaches are better than analytic phonics approaches, or vice versa. All inquiries have concluded that whatever phonic instruction method is chosen, it should be one part of a suite of skills children should have when learning to read.’


And how quickly should elements be taught, for example, should teachers teach the ‘letter sound per day’ as recommended in a range of phonics programs? SSP teachers talk enthusiastically about the impact ‘spaced repetition’ and the ability for students to move through the four Code Levels at their own pace.

The four ‘code levels’ relate to high frequency graphemes introduced in a scaffolded manner, aligned with ‘decodable texts’. 


4 year old reading a Fitzroy reader

We officially launched this approach to teaching literacy in Australia in around 2013 ie the Speech Sound Pics (SSP)
Approach - it is a Speech to Print approach. 
I had spent about 3 years prior to that, figuring out how to put the core activities into a replicable program, and for a
year videoed students during their 2 hour (Phase 2 ) daily literacy sessions at Broadbeach State School, on the
Gold Coast QLD.. Teachers watched, and asked for more info, and hundreds are now using the approach in every state!

The underlying aim of the program is to excite learners, while offering a fully differentiated, playful approach.
Every day students are building on skills, and with teacher or parent input being predominantly guidance, using
explicit and inquiry learning based teaching methods, rather than delivering formal 'direct' instruction. This is what may have been difficult for some to initially embrace, as used to ‘front of the class teaching’ and the idea of the teacher as the expert, and of every child being taught in the same way, at the same time. Facilitating independence, and a love of learning, is key.

The SSP Phase 2 Routine covers every strand of the Australian Curriculum, with the two-year program geared to sending students to grade 2 no longer ‘learning to read’ and with exceptional spelling skills. Teachers are also able to use the 30 Minute Phonics program as a stand alone program to teach the high frequency graphemes used within the UK Phonics test.  


Miss Emma

With regards to the ‘teaching reading’ element of the ‘Language, Literacy and Literature’ (see ACARA) the Six Skills are used, for the reasons outlined by Dr Konza.

The ‘Speedy Six’ is one of the activities, but also used as a stand-alone spelling program for middle to upper primary grade teachers. It takes 25 – 45 minutes per day and costs just $65 per class, to display all grapheme choices


Over the past four years, thousands of schools across Australia have started to invest in the pproach, with some now taking the approach school wide. Teachers have been sharing their journeys through social media, and opening their doors so that others can see the activities for themselves. It can be difficult to understand what happens in these classrooms, for example how excited the students are, and how engaged. They also share data, and have found some interesting patterns, for example links between Code Level Readers and PM Benchmarking.


This ‘Visible Teaching’ approach to teacher training seems to be raising interest in the UK, with much of the teacher training being hands-on-learning, including in-class observation. Teachers at different stages of their own learning, visit other teachers. Although it may be watered down, and in some instances interpreted incorrectly, the online support group enables teachers to share and collaborate, and get answers from experienced SSP teachers.

A FOCUS ON SSP PHASE 1. Oral language and Phonemic Awareness in the Early Years.


Phonemic Awareness is one of the best predictors of success in reading (Atwill et al., 2007).


Even before a student learns to read, we can predict with a high level of accuracy whether that student will be a good reader or a poor reader by the end of third grade and beyond (Good, Simmons, and Kame'enui, 2001).


We can do this by testing their phonemic awareness. Readers with phonological processing weaknesses also tend to be the poorest spellers (Cassar, Treiman, Moats, Pollo, & Kessler, 2005). Over the past 30 years, there has not only been an increasing acceptance that phonemic awareness is important for early reading acquisition, but that it also plays an important role in specific reading disability or dyslexia (Hatcher, Hulme, & Ellis, 1994; Melby-Lervåg, Lyster, & Hulme, 2012; National Reading Panel, 2000; Nelson, Lindstrom, Lindstrom, & Denis, 2012; Share, 1995; Stanovich, 1986) Instruction in phonemic (speech-sound awareness) reduces and alleviates reading and spelling difficulties (NICHD, 2000; Rath, 2001).


Students who can isolate speech sounds in words, segment (order) and put them together again have the foundation skill for using the alphabetic principle (Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989; Troia,

2004). Without phoneme awareness, students will be confused by the written code, and how it represents the spoken word.


Some researchers claim phonological awareness is a by-product of alphabetic literacy learning (Castles & Coltheart, 2004) while others claim that phonological awareness precedes reading and writing ( Muter, Hulme, Snowling, & Stevenson, 2004), and there are findings which support an intermediate view: that phonological awareness and alphabetic literacy learning influence each other (Manolitsis & Tafa, 2011, p.30-31).


Is it any wonder teachers are confused, or that those managing budgets can justify their choice of programs by cherry picking the findings in line with their beliefs.


This confusion, even about phonemic awareness, impacts on policy making. Does the end of Year 1 Phonics test (mandated in the UK) really show us how well phonics is being taught? Does it need improving / re-evaluating? 

When students learn the Speech Sound Monsters

we can evaluate how effectively they can 'blend'
without even using letters.



We can separate skills,
to see which need

If they have the

phonemic awareness skills,

are they recognising

high frequency graphemes?

Can they use these skills
to read and spell? 








If phonemic awareness is causal to reading acquisition would an early phonemic awareness assessment be more useful, in addition to ongoing monitoring, so that we know they are ABLE to learn phonics?


Students with limited phonemic awareness will have trouble acquiring the alphabetic principle, which in turn will limit their ability to decode words (Blachman, 1991), and will not benefit from phonics (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986). Schools using my program in Australia are reporting that 95% of their students have already finished the explicit phonics element, within the two years.


Strategies that lead to the early development of phonemic awareness, can only be a good thing. Stanovich (1986) concluded that phonemic awareness is a more powerful predictor than nonverbal intelligence, vocabulary, and listening comprehension, and it often correlates more highly with reading acquisition than tests of general intelligence or reading readiness.


But ‘should teachers focus directly on phoneme awareness (rather than on less sophisticated phonological processes like rhymes) from the beginning (Foorman et al., 2003)?

There is a common view that to achieve phonemic awareness teachers must follow a teaching sequence, that includes rhyme, onset and rime and syllables. Not only have I found this sequence unnecessary, but also that it can prevent, or slow down the journey.  Nation and Hulme (1997) and Hulme et al. (2002) argue that it is likely to be more profitable to emphasise phoneme awareness even from the beginning reading stages.


This Immunisation Against Illiteracy program directs the focus to the smallest units, and show children where those phonemes and graphemes map (Code Mapping®)


Within Phase 1 (this last no more than 20 hours) students identify the different separate Speech Sounds in a word, using ‘Duck Hands ®’ and select the correct Speech Sound Monster to sit on the lines representing each Speech Sound. There is no link to graphemes at this stage.(Speech sound isolation, segmentation, blending and manipulation)

The addition of ‘Speech Sound Monsters ®’ was initially because it gave us a way to know if a non- verbal student was identifying the correct phonemes, but also because phonemes are so abstract. If a child has poor phonemic awareness they will not understand what we mean when we talk about the ’sounds’ in words, even if we bring their attention to our mouths and focus on the production of each phoneme. This also excites young children. Phonemes become meaningful, and have a purpose. They can even ‘read’ and ‘spell’ whole sentences with the Monsters, before Phase 2.


In Phase 1 children are able to blend phonemes without graphemes. In Phase 2 they would map the phonemes with graphemes.

H/ere   i/s     S/t/a/n



The Speech Sound Monsters ® have their own action, music and phoneme. We have footage of 2 year olds who can hear the music with their eyes closed, and find the right monster – even though they may not be able to articulate each phoneme. Parents are sending footage of their children showing the

‘Monster Moves’ (actions) when they show the Monster Cards – and finding the cards when given the phonemes.


They dress up as the Monsters, and talk about their favourites.

Even teachers love to play dress up ! 





The Monsters have been introduced to students with no trained teachers, internet or electricity using solar powered technology, and video lessons.

We are developing ‘Teacherless Teaching’ technology, as not all students are lucky enough to have the teachers they need, and we believe that every students deserves the opportunity to learn to read and spell in English.
















The children are excited by them, as they are meaningful and fun. They understand that each monster says a sound (phoneme) because they understand this concept. A dog says ‘woof’, this Monster says

‘’uh’ (phoneme). This is important, because letters do not ‘make sounds’. The Monsters do. There are stories and poems, and students think of the sound each monster produces as ‘floating in the air’. They use their Magic Speech Sound Camera, to ‘take a picture’ of the speech sound. That is when it links with a written word. We do this when the child is ready for this concept.


The pictures of the speech sounds are in order, so that when blended they can figure out the whole word, as they will do when they move to Phase 2, and start learning phonics.


Each Monster has their own Speech Sound Cloud ®, which shows all of the ‘pictures’ of their own phoneme.  The high frequency graphemes (covered in the four Code Levels) are shown on the outside of the Spelling Clouds.


c  l  ou s

Even before this stage, however, they are learning what decoding and encoding skills are. 


They can read and spell the word using the Monsters, which are in the place of graphemes. When they start using the graphemes, the concept is ‘which is the Speech Sound Pic for the Monster Sound in THIS word.  It may look very different in another word. The focus is on understanding.

Over 400 high frequency words are ‘Monster Mapped’ like this and students can practice them at home using the SSP Monster Mapping app. There are video lessons covering the 4 Phonics Code Levels and 7 Duck Levels (high frequency words –



So within ‘Monster Mapping’ Phase 1 students can spell any words using the Monsters as there is one for each phoneme. They can also ‘read’ by decoding the Monsters, rather than graphemes.

They have discovered how to ‘talk on paper’ even before using the written code. This ‘bridge’ from Phase 1 (oral language and phonemic awareness) and Phase 2 (learning to read and spell using phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) seems highly effective. This could be correlated with the facts that children are having so much fun! Parents of 2 and 3 year olds are reporting that they fall asleep with the Monster cards at night.

Children as young as three years of age can be seen reading whole stories and poems, in ‘Monsters’.


This ‘bridge’ is uncommon and worthy of investigation. We can find little research relating to phonemic awareness tasks that use unique representations for every grapheme. This is the only study we have found, and the findings are encouraging.


Here, see how the Monsters help children work out the words, even if the words are built using graphemes they do not yet know. They work out the sentence using the Monsters (phonemes), then focus on the phoneme to grapheme splits and then they see the sentences without visual aids. The illustration is simply there for enjoyment. The focus is on the words, and how decoded.


We are considering a shape that visually impaired students can feel, for each Speech Sound Monster, so that they have this ‘bridge’ also. “The Phonological-Awareness Skills of Children Who Are Blind” published in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 96(1) p. 38-49 (Jan 2002) it was found that Braille readers who had trouble reading had difficulties in phonological awareness skills at the same rate as sighted children who had difficulty reading print. If you work in this field, please do get in touch.


The Monsters have been especially interesting to Speech Pathologists across Australia, as very young children are attempting to articulate isolated phonemes, which is not part of normal speech and language development. Parents are reporting marked differences in oral language skills, especially when they have siblings who are using the Monsters. Parents from countries where the IPA is widely used, for pronunciation, are embracing it as the Monsters are more meaningful and relevant to the students than a phonetic symbol. The students use a multisensory approach, and split words using ‘Duck Hands’ from left to right. Text is also ‘Code Mapped’, an SSP Patented technique, to show how the phonemes ‘map’ with the graphemes on paper.


Could Monster Mapping not only speed up the rate at which children develop good phonemic awareness, but also the rate at which they acquire an understanding of the alphabetic principle, and can master phonics?  Byrne, Fielding-Barnsley, and Ashley (2000) report on speed of acquisition. In a longitudinal study, they noted that poor readers in fifth grade were those who, though they eventually achieved reasonable levels of phonemic awareness, were slow to grasp it. So, surely, the earlier we start, the better?


SSP students are using decoding and encoding skills before graphemes (phonics) are even introduced.  And yet some researchers claim that this is not useful. “Overall, the data suggest that there is little value in training pre-schoolers in either letter forms or sounds in isolation in advance of providing instruction on the links between the two” (Castles, Coltheart, Wilson, Valpied, & Wedgwood, 2009, p.68). Our findings as action researchers, using the Speech Sound Monsters, contradict this data.


Teachers and speech pathologists, in schools and private practice, who have now been using the Phase 1 (Phonemic Awareness) strategies for around three years, report a massive decrease in the number of children who struggle with general phonological awareness as well as phonemic awareness tasks, as evidenced when tested using SPAT-R or similar.

There is no use of onset and rime or syllables in any of the phonemic awareness or phonics activities. We challenge the assumption of a hierarchy, with regards to teaching phonological awareness, and show that the focus on the smallest units yields better results.


So, can we ‘immunise’ children against illiteracy, by giving pre-schoolers a 6 week Phase 1 program (approximately 20 hours in total) in the term prior to starting school? 

Children with high phonemic awareness are known to outperform those with low phonemic awareness on all literacy measures, whether they were taught using a traditional basal instruction or whole language (Griffith, Klesius, & Kromrey, 1992. It would seem logical to assume that if Monster Mapping® significantly increases the level of phonemic awareness for each child, that we are offering an effective safeguard, or defense, against varying levels of instruction at school.


According to Julian Elliott and Elena Grigorenko in their 2014 book The Dyslexia Debate, the phonological deficit hypothesis has been the dominant cognitive explanation of dyslexia for over four decades. According to this hypothesis, "children with dyslexia are hindered by faulty representation of speech sounds, which leads to problems involving the precise processing of spoken words." (Chapter two, Explanations at the cognitive level.) So a hands on, playful program in the early years that enables parents and teachers to identify phonemic awareness deficits even before the children start school, will also allow for a much earlier identification of dyslexia.


And, finally, a special mention of ‘Oral Language’. While learning to speak is a task for which humans are generally considered to be biologically well-prepared (Berko Gleason 1993) reading and writing skills are not. There is a clear interdependence between the transition to literacy in the early school years and oral language competence. Snowling and Hulme observe that 'literacy is parasitic on language (page 597)


Oral language skills underpin the ability to decode and understand text, as well as writing and spelling, and the ability to engage with text across the curriculum. Between 40 and 75 percent of preschoolers with early language impairments develop reading difficulties and other academic problems as they enter formal schooling (Aram & Hall, 1989; Brashir & Scavuzzo, 1992).


The ideal scenario is that all children are taught in the way that they learn best, and that all teachers understand why so many students struggle to learn to read and spell, and what to do about it. Let's assume not all children are this lucky, and offer an Immunisation Against Illiteracy to all in the early years. Please contact us to get involved, and offer the program in early years centres and playgroups around the world. Tell every parent of a pre-school child you meet about this exciting project !


If you are interested in investing, or support us in any way, please visit the following web sites. The project will be launched around the world.










Atwill,K., Blanchard, J., Gorin, J., Burstein, K. (2007). Receptive vocabulary and cross- Language of phonemic awareness in kindergarten children. The Journal of Educational Research, 100(6), 336-345,384.


Aram, D., & Hall, N. (1989). Longitudinal follow-up of children with preschool communication disorders: Treatment implications. School Psychology Review, 18, 487-501


Berko Gleason J. The development of language. 3rd ed New York: ed; McMillan, 1993.


Blachman, B. A. (1991). Getting ready to read: Learning how print maps to speech. In J. Kavanagh (Ed.), The language continuum: From infancy to literacy (pp. 1-22). Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Reprinted)


Bashir, Anthony S., & Scavuzzo, Annebelle. (1992). Children with language disorders: Natural history and academic success. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25 (1), 53-65.


Byrne, B., Fielding-Barnsley, R, & Ashley, L. (2000). Effects of preschool phoneme identity training after six years: Outcome level distinguished from rate of response. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 659-667.


Cassar M, Treiman R, Moats L, Pollo TC, Kessler B. How do the spelling of children with dyslexia compare with those of nondyslexic children? Reading and Writing. 2005;18:27-49


Castles, A., & Coltheart, M. (2004). Is there a causal link from phonological awareness to success in learning to read? Cognition, 91(1), 77-111


Ehri, L. C., Nunes, S. R., Willows, D. M., Schuster, B. V., Yaghoub-Zadeh, Z., Shanahan, T. (2001). Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel's meta- analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 250-287.



Foorman, B. R., Chen, D-T., Carlson, C., Moats, L., Francis, D. J., & Fletcher, J. M. (2003). The necessity of the alphabetic principle to phonemic awareness instruction. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 16, 289-



Good, R.H., III, Simmons, D.C., & Kame'enui, E.J. (2001). The importance of decision-making utility of a continuum of fluency-based indicators of foundational reading skills for third-grade high-stakes outcomes. Scientific Studies of Reading, 5, 257—288.

Griffith, P., & Olson, M. (1992). Phonemic awareness helps beginning readers break the code. The Reading Teacher, 45(7), 516-523. Griffith, P. L, Klesius, J. P., & Kromrey, J. D. (1992). The effect of phonemic awareness on the literacy development of first grade children in a traditional or a whole language classroom. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 6(2), 85-92.


Hatcher, P., Hulme, C., & Ellis, A. (1994). Ameliorating reading failure by integrating the teaching of reading and phonological skills: The phonological linkage hypothesis. Child Development, 65, 41-57.


Juel, C., Griffith, P., & Gough, P. (1986). Acquisition of literacy: A longitudinal study of children in first and second grade. Journal of Educational Psychology, 78, 243-255.


Melby-Lervåg, M. (2012).The relative predictive contribution and causal role of phoneme awareness, rhyme awareness, and verbal short-term memory in reading skills: A review. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research,

56(1), 101-118.

Liberman IY, Shankweiler D, Liberman AM. The alphabetic principle and learning to read. University of Michigan

Press; 1989. pp. 1–33.


Manolitsis, G., & Tafa, E. (2011). Letter-name letter-sound and phonological awareness: Evidence from Greek- speaking kindergarten children. Reading and Writing, 24, 27-53.


Muter, Hulme, Snowling, & Stevenson, 2004


Nation, K., & Hulme, C. (1997). Phonemic segmentation, not onset-rime segmentation predicts early reading and spelling skills. Reading Research Quarterly, 32, 154-167.


Nation, K., Allen, R., & Hulme, C. (2001). The limitations of orthographic analogy in early reading development: Performance on the clue-word task depends on phonological priming and elementary decoding skill, not the use of orthographic analogy. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 80, 75-94.


National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Washington, DC: NICHD.


Nelson, J.M., Lindstrom, J.H., Lindstrom, W., & Denis, D. (2012): The structure of phonological processing and its relationship to basic reading. Exceptionality: A Special Education Journal, 20(3), 179-196.


Rath, L. (2001). Phonemic awareness. In S. Brody (ed.), Teaching Reading: Language, Letters, and Thought. Milford, NH: LARC Publishing


Seidenberg, M.S. (2013). The science of reading and its educational implications. Language Learning and

Development, 9(4), 331-360


Snowling MJ, Hulme C. Annual research review: the nature and classification of reading disorders–a commentary on proposals for DSM-5. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2012;53:593–607


World Literacy Foundation ECONOMIC-REPORT.pdf