Don't you think they're a bit weird? An odd distraction. Unrealistic. Nothing to do with real reading, writing or spelling. An overused scaffold.
Let me bust the myth for you right now...
'YOU DON'T NEED SOUND BUTTONS AND DASHES!'
What are sound buttons and dashes?
Sound buttons and dashes provide children with a scaffold. They help to remind them that when they read the word 'goat' the letters 'o' and 'a' go together as 'oa' to represent the sound /oa/.
Admittedly some young learners struggle with this concept *for a moment in time*. You might recognise the beginner reader who looks nervously at the word goat and sounds out, "g - o - a - t".
"Very good," you say, "but look (pointing), when we see the o and a together like this, we say /oa/. g - oa - t."
The beginner reader nods their head eagerly at you then tries again, "g - o - a - t".
The theory then, is that if the reader saw dots under the g and t, and a dash under the oa, they would be prompted to remember to say /oa/ and not /o/ /a/.
My experience (from teaching swaths of beginner readers) is that very few children struggle with this, and even when they do it only takes a matter of days before they've conquered it. I distinctly remember one child that seemed to be held back from making progress for a couple of weeks because he just couldn't get his head around digraphs (two letters together representing one sound) so I did use a pencil to underline the digraphs in his reading book. I then rubbed the lines out again after a few days.
I don't want children's eyes looking at dots and dashes - I want them focusing on the letter shapes through the word.
Scarily I see activities like the third picture above - where children draw sound buttons and dashes under words - used in lessons all the time. It's depressing, a real waste of time in my opinion. Even worse if you're calling them sausages and beans, and talking about pressing sound buttons. Excuse me while I puke.
So if you are going to use sound buttons and dashes please remember the purpose of them and that they should only be useful as a scaffold for a brief moment in time. Move on from them as soon as you can.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think of sound buttons and dashes in the comments below :-)
Abigail Steel is an Education Consultant for Early Years (EYFS) and Primary (KS1 & 2) Language and Literacy. Her specialist area is Synthetic Phonics.
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