The SSP  
Learning Routine

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'If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man's future.'
Maria Monstessori

You will see an abundance of ideas relating to TEACHING phonics using a routine, however I want to shift the focus to the children and their LEARNING journey. 

You can run The Learning Routine with 1 to 100 multi-aged students at the same time, as long as they have first completed step 1 - the phonemic awareness and print awareness phase used to identify which children do not come to you with brains wired for reading and spelling, and to overcome deficits. 

To undertake phase 1 you will ensure that the children can Duck Hand® (and ideally use 'Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers' to Monster Map) words, and can 'follow the Monster Sounds to Say the Words' using the monsters they know. This means that they can segment spoken words, and also blend speech sounds together. These are the essential skills needed to be ABLE to learn phonics (and be able to read and spell without huge difficulties)

During The Learning Routine all are working on the same Code Mapping® activity but at their pace. Code Mapping® relates to the mapping of phonemes to graphemes, and also describes a patented technique we use to SHOW children how words are segmented into graphames.   

Letters represent speech sounds, but English is not straight forward ...although there are 26 letters of the alphabet, there are 44+ speech sounds and over 350 grapheme to speech sound combinations. 
To read for pleasure by 6 - which is the aim of the ICRWY project - children must be given the opportunity to learn at least the most commonly used 100 or so graphemes, before the end of their first year in school. It is because the Phonics Routines focus on TEACHING the children these graphemes in the same way and at the same pace, that some children are not challenged and some children struggle to keep up. It is why children are tested at the end of their second year in school (see Phonics Screening Test) and why so many children are still unable to read a book of their choice even by Grade 2. It saddens me for a wide range of reasons - because the system is set up to make TEACHING (and classroom organisation) easier, rather than to meet the needs of each child. 
What should happen, if the routine is about the individual LEARNING needs of each child is that you would see something like my ICRWY Learning Routine.

This Learning Routine enables children to complete 'Phase 2' when they are ready - not when a curriculum dictates that they are ready. Unless there is an Intellectual Impairment (or the child doesn't attend sessions regularly) the children I work with are out of the 'systematic phonics' LEARNING phase before the end of reception (4 year olds I mentor can be there before they start school) 

'Phonics programs' have been marketed to death over the past few years, and yet
the amount of explicit instruction in alphabetic coding skills needed to initiate the process of inducing letter-sound relationships varies considerably across children.
Some beginning readers seem to grasp the idea after having had only a few spelling-sound correspondences explicitly taught to them, whereas other children require a fairly structured and teacher-supported introduction to reading (Connor, Morrison, & Katch, 2004; Juel & Minden-Cupp, 2000; Snow & Juel, 2005; Tunmer & Nicholson, 2011).


Traditional phonics programs have been used to explicitly teach alphabetic coding skills
to beginning readers. However, these programs generally suffer from two major shortcomings.
First, they tend to be strongly teacher-centered and have curricula that are rigid,
fixed, and lock-step, with the same skill-and-drill lesson given to every child in the same
sequence. Such an approach to teaching beginning reading conflicts with the basic principles
of differentiated instruction because it fails to recognize that the individual literary
learning needs of children vary greatly depending on their specific levels of development
across the set of reading component skills shown in Figure 1. Second, most phonics
programs incorrectly assume that children can only acquire knowledge of letter-sound
patterns through direct instruction in which the teaching of letter-sound correspondences
is explicit and systematic. The difficulty with this assumption, however, is that there are
simply too many letter-sound relationships in English orthography for children to acquire by
direct instruction, probably between 300 and 400 (Gough & Hillinger, 1980).

Much, if not most, of what children learning to read in English come to know about its
written orthography is acquired through implicit learning, especially knowledge of context
sensitive letter-sound correspondences that depend on position-specific constraints or the
presence of other letters (Bryant, 2002; Tunmer & Nicholson, 2011; Venezky, 1999). In
contrast, letter-sound correspondences acquired by direct phonics instruction are fewer in
number and are largely context free, involving one-to-one correspondences between single
letters or digraphs and single phonemes.

As the reading attempts of beginning readers who have acquired basic alphabetic coding skills become more successful, the orthographic representations of more words become established in lexical memory from which additional spelling-sound relationships can be induced without explicit instruction. As children continue to develop in reading, they begin making greater independent use of letter-sound
information to identify novel printed words in text. Once this point is reached, the most
effective way that children can achieve further progress in learning to read is through print
exposure, as reading itself can provide practice opportunities for building fluency and for
facilitating implicit learning of additional letter-sound patterns (Tunmer & Nicholson, 2011).

So 'The Learning Routine' is what the Science of Reading actually tells us the optimum learning environment would look like; the problem is that most commercial phonics programs focus more on the TEACHING and less on the LEARNING. Many school leaders choose programs that are heavily scripted, and seem to ignore the magic of good old-fashioned 'teaching'. They may choose one-size-fits-all (Week 1 we teach these 'letter sounds', Week 2 we teach...) programs because they want consistency. They want all teachers to teach in the same way, at the same time - even though teachers are all different too. Eric Hanushek (2011) says that teacher effect dwarfs school effect and that students are better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than the inverse.
The benefits of investing in teachers, and supporting them to be the best they can be are HUGE. Instead, most schools tend to invest in programs.

I have spent about ten years in Australia sharing strategies that not only enable children to learn to read and spell quickly and easily, but that help the adults around them to understand oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge, and comprehension. The 'Speech Sound Pics' (SSP) Approach was developed to ensure that teachers become empowered, and become more self-aware and confident. I have not been 'teaching teachers to teach a program', I have been focused on helping teachers to LEARN... so that they can help their students to learn....and every day, every week, every term the teachers are learning and growing WITH their students.

YOU can access the training needed to get you started, using the SSP ICRWY app.

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The ICRWY Learning Routine Leader is likely to be demonstrating this... !

The Sutton Trust

A 2014 Sutton Trust report, What makes great teaching? (Coe et al, 2014) identifies six common components that constitute good quality teaching. In order of effectiveness, they are:

  1. Pedagogical content knowledge – teachers who have a deep knowledge of their subject (strong evidence of impact on outcomes).

  2. Quality of instruction – effective teaching and assessment methods (strong evidence of impact).

  3. Classroom climate – creating a classroom that stretches students while recognising their self-worth (moderate evidence of impact).

  4. Classroom management – a teacher’s ability to make use of lesson time and resources (moderate evidence of impact).

  5. Teacher beliefs – why teachers adopt particular practices and the purposes they aim for (some evidence of impact).

  6. Professional behaviours – how teachers reflect on their own development, supporting colleagues, and engaging with parents (some evidence of impact).


The Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation categorises the practices likely to improve student learning in its report What works best (CESE, 2015). It identifies seven key areas with a summary of why each one matters, what the evidence says, and implications for teachers. The seven are:

  1. High expectations.

  2. Explicit teaching.

  3. Effective feedback.

  4. Use of data to inform practice.

  5. Classroom management.

  6. Wellbeing.

  7. Collaboration.

The CESE points out that this is not an exhaustive list of effective practices, but a useful framework for us to consider when “deciding how to challenge the status quo and tackle student improvement”. The seven areas overlap and connect with one another in complex ways and the report reminds us that great teachers learn from other teachers.



The Learning Routine. 

(Some of our ICRWY 4 year olds will also show you how it's done)

They start transitioning into this routine by around week 3 of an early years program (4-6 year olds).
Follow the step by step lessons in the SSP ICRWY app.

They have already gone through Step 1 - Print Awareness and Phonemic Awareness
More videos here!


Speedy Solo, Paired or Group Code Mapping
10 Minutes


Coding Poster Video (5/6 mins) and Coding Poster (10 mins)

During The Learning Routine they watch their Code Level lesson and then do it themselves using their Coding Poster.  So you just need 1 per child. Children as young as 3 and 4 are learning the high-frequency graphemes included in phonics programs without a teacher - they just need a guide (far easier for adults who are cooking dinner, or who have 25 kids to manage!)

Adults become 'guides' (conDUCKtors) after Step 1 (monster kit handbooks activities) and the children take over their own learning, becoming increasingly independent. It's really only Step 1 where the adult has to 'teach as such - and organise the learning. But the kit handbook activities are pretty self-explanatory to the children. The adults are there in case there is a phonemic awareness issue, and that needs addressing (building the brain's 'reading house' foundations)

Spencer (4) has just started the monster (spelling) routine and you can hear that he wants to do it on his own. Many get frustrated with the way phonics is traditionally taught (teacher in front of the class when all have to listen and then fill in worksheets - all doing the same thing at the same time. This SSP Approach is fully differentiated, personalised learning. We utilise 'spaced repetition' - ie only 60 seconds every day for each activity, so they are motivated, and can measure their progress - each day they can do more. The condDUCKtor can see when they are really confident with a Code Level and tells them to START at the next code level for grapheme recognition and drawing, code level word blending etc....and all of this ties in with what Hattie found brought about best-learning outcomes for kids (See Visible Learning) So its not just WHAT they learn but HOW they learn it, that makes the difference.

So Spencer is just starting out with The Learning Routine activities and already feeling empowered and independent at 4 years of age! Pretty soon, Mum can just set the timer and leave him. Some teachers set the timer to end the activity, and the timer for 'rub it off' time (they can write on the Coding Poster and board) and timer for them to start the next activity. In term 2 of Prep / Reception the children can watch their own Coding Poster lesson (4 levels, use splitters on ipads/ tablets etc) and then get on - the whole class is following the timer/ buzzer, and the teacher is just walking around checking each child (and ticking off skills observed from the phonics skills assessment tool- this means assessment is ongoing and doesn't add to work load) This is how 80+% of SSP kids can pass the UK 'end of year 1' phonics test before the end of Reception.

Watch the Coding Poster (at your Code Level) to reinforce and learn new concepts... 

Now DO it yourself, and check what you retained! Every day you will be faster, and learn more.

The Speedy Six Spelling Activities
You could just do 3 activities per day (alternating 
Activity 1, 3 and 5 with Activity 2,4 and 6)


Make sure you are prepared! Spelling Code in a Box and the Monster Spelling Bank!
You might refer to the Spelling Cloud Poems! They link to the Speech Sound Wall. 

Snap and Crack (Cracking Comprehension) and Rapid Writing/ Writing for a Purpose - Alternate


Grammar and Punctuation Focus
(including Naughty Frog Antics)


Sight Words Done Differently (Speedy Sight Words)
Check these once a week!


We are also reading Code Level (phonics) readers and the new ICRWY.com readers in the SSP I Can Read Without You (ICRWY) Project app.

I Can Read Without You (ICRWY) Project with The Village With Three Corners