A Learner-Oriented Philosophy
The Teen and Adult Phonics—or TAP—Library is an iPad app offering a series of novels written for teenagers and adults with dyslexia and other reading challenges. First and foremost, these novels are intended to be high-quality literature that appeals to, and creates a response in, a mature reader. The themes are sophisticated, edgy and thought provoking and should elicit discussion from readers.
The decision to make these readers into an app was an easy one. On one level, apps are quickly accessible, cheap to buy in small numbers and don’t require the commitment of an entire series of real books that have to be shipped. However, the most significant reason for making these books available in an app was the format. Young people and adults who have struggled over many years to read, or to hide their reading struggles, are often resentful towards the paper book. Therefore, the app is a perfect solution.
Although this app is not a game, it has the interactive and multisensory elements that many will associate with games. For a struggling dyslexic student, memories of these positive and fun experiences will aid the psychology of reading and take away some of the anxiety and negative connotations that the opening of a regular book can cause.
Designed to Support Concentration
The design of the TAP Library app has been kept purposely simple. A student who is working hard to decode text needs a little visual interest but any movement or sound would distract and make reading harder. For this reason, there is music only in the title page and clicking noises are nice and gratifying but few in number. In addition, the option to play white noise in the background whilst reading with headphones is a function that would be particularly useful in a school setting where environmental noise can very easily cause a student to lose their place or forget the phonic sounds they are blending.
The TAP Library is heavily structured but the app is designed to be able to show this or not, depending upon the needs of an individual learner. It was important to present an app that seemed to be “just a regular ebook” because much of the target audience will be used to the humiliation of being handed a non-age-appropriate levelled text. Therefore, a small amount of support material in the form of a reading grid and breakdown of phonic progression is to be found via buttons on the “cover page” of each novel but nowhere within the text itself.
Resources for Practice Where It’s Needed
Level 2 of the TAP Library meet a need that we are particularly aware of. There are many older students who know their initial alphabetic code sounds and can blend up to CCVCC words. Many dyslexic students and others who struggle to read fluently get lost and left behind at this stage. A mixture of limited evidence-based instruction and poor phonological awareness, working memory and RAN (Rapid Automatic Naming) abilities cause this demographic to give up. What results is that these students never get enough practice at decoding, never progress, and age-appropriate texts begin to evaporate. Level 2 of TAP seeks to fill this need in phonics for teens and adults.
When the level 1 TAP novels are complete, they will provide a structured reading experience for teens and adults from VC words through to CVC and CCVC.
Support Materials for Teachers and Tutors
Each of the Level 2 TAP novels has its own list containing the phonics covered within that book and also those “weird words” (irregular words or very common “not yet” decodable words) contained in the book. These may be consulted via the homepage of each book. Each book also has a grid that contains selected words that utilise elements from its phonic list and “weird word” list. These elements are useful for teachers and tutors to use as preparation, or to use when deciding whether a student has covered enough phonic material to enable them to access the novel.
TAP readers at the level 2 stage only contain single syllable words and a very few hyphenated compound words, which feel like single syllables to the reader. Multisyllabic words are not necessarily that hard to decode once the correct tuition has been given and students know how to divide syllables. However, students who over the years have struggled to recall phonic sounds quickly or hold and blend those sounds in working memory have felt a lot of failure. Single syllable words in these books provide no more than five phonemes and are mostly made up of 3-4 phonemes. Therefore, TAP level 2 novels in this series are intended for students to consolidate words with mostly short vowel sounds up to the level of CCVCC.
Success Builds Confidence; Confidence Leads to Progress
By the end of the TAP level 2 novels, a reader should have gained fluency with words with a structure of up to CCVCC. They should also have learned to read initial open syllables with long vowel sounds, consonant digraphs ch, sh, th/th and wh and a splattering of “weird words”. In particular, readers should have gained confidence whilst reading a series of age-appropriate novels that have gritty issues about situations and characters that appeal to them. What we wish more than anything is that these motivated readers will want to go on to read TAP level 3 novels and those at still higher phonics levels in the series.