SSP Coded Readers? What is a
Coded Reader, or Code Level?
Australian schools: SSP Blue Code Level means you can start them on around PM Level 20 for
As children who have used SSP since day 1 of Prep are working at SSP Blue by term 4 these children
will ALL benchmark at above Level 15 (the lowest will be on around Level 15 - not the highest in the
class- as is usually the case in AU Prep classes)
Any child/ teen/ adult can learn to read and spell confidently and efficiently within less than 4
academic terms (on average, less than 18 weeks) when you use SSP daily.
When teaching 90 or so of the most commonly used phonemes/ graphemes (sound pics) - out of the
total 150 or so used to build every word in the English language (bar one and once) we teach in
groups. Within SSP this goes Green- Purple- Yellow- Blue
Orange is the first stage- which is phonemic awareness and no phonics- so they understand SSP
Green. Some can more or less skip Orange, but at least 2 in every Prep class need this before starting
on Phonics. Dyslexic students MUST have this first (at any age).
Green Code Level includes s,a,t,p,i,n as with many 'phonics programs' as you can build a lot of words
using these sound pics.
This gives children a chance to actually spell and read words created using the sound pics they are
learning. There is no point moving on from this group until they can do so. They also need to know
how to form them correctly (although less important in pre-school)
So even with this group of 6 phonemes, plus some Coded Sight Words (see Duck Levels 1- 7 to show
440 high frequency words- already coded) the children can read and write real sentences. They use
the SSP Spelling Strategy (which further develops phonemic awareness) to spell unfamiliar words,
built using sound pics outside of their current code level.
They understand WHY they are learning the representations of speech sounds. Speech sounds,
blended together, form whole words- orally and also in print.
They also need, even when on this level, to understand what reading is - and to NOT start thinking
they need to guess from picture clues, memorise, predict, miss out words to get the 'context', guess
from first 'letter sound' etc. It is a code. A code that gives children access to knowing what the word
is, and this gives them a chance to say the words aloud (and to themselves) in a sequence from left
to right, that enables them to 'read' the whole sentence- and paragraph - and book. As they do not
need to keep slowing down, to work out unfamiliar sound pics and words all the time, they retain
fluency, can read it aloud without a robot voice, and their lovely little brains are free to also visualise
the story, and understand it.
So before moving past s,a,t,p,i,n they are already feeling like readers and writers. Imagine if you
don't let them do that- and instead keep adding more and more meaningless sound pics...eg
teaching 1 a day for 42 or so days - and THEN starting to read (which is an argument I had with the
Jolly Phonics developers) The gap between those who pick it up all fairly effortlessly, and those who
dont, becomes wider. Especially if you dont first ascertain who has poor phonemic awareness (at
least 20% of any new Prep class) and who therefore arent even ready for this Green Code Level
(s,a,t,p,i,n) They need more Orange - just phonemic awareness. No print. No phonics.
Phonemic awareness activity in Pre-School using SSP Visual Prompts for Spelling-
So let's look at an SSP Purple Code Level reader. Click on link below. Even with JUST these 2 groups
of phonemes and some high frequency words (in red) they are actually reading a story - something
that has a beginning, a middle and an end. They are turning pages from left to right, know where to
start, and what 'book reading' feels like.
Please note that these are all being updated – to code the readers in Green and Purple Levels,
including high frequency words.
This carries on within the next 2 Code Levels- so that the children are then reading and writing with
90 or so phonemes quickly and easily. Not 42 in 42 days- 90 in as quick or as long a time as each child
needs. In a class of 25 you can have all working at different Code Levels, all reading from their CODE
level, not 'Book Band' or Reading Level. You can’t have a 'Reading Level' until they can read. You can
have a Coding Level- and THEN check comprehension when they have reached a certain Code Level
(even though we are checking comprehension all the time).
… attention should be focused on decoding words rather than the use of unreliable strategies such as
looking at the illustrations, rereading the sentence, saying the first sound or guessing what might
‘fit’. Although these strategies might result in intelligent guesses, none of them is sufficiently reliable
and they can hinder the acquisition and application of phonic knowledge and skills, prolonging the
word recognition process and lessening children’s overall understanding. Children who routinely
adopt alternative cues for reading unknown words, instead of learning to decode them, later find
themselves stranded when texts become more demanding and meanings less predictable. The best
route for children to become fluent and independent readers lies in securing phonics as the prime
approach to decoding unfamiliar words (Primary National Strategy, 2006b, p.9).”
So we should have Code Levels - and also know their Reading Age - using standardised testing such
as Probe (anything reputable that checks their coding and comprehension- without picture clues)
However, the more people use SSP the more people can simply refer to their Code Level. This covers
reading AND spelling levels - and when at Blue use PM Benchmarking if you want to, but not until
then. You can then actually start them at around PM 20+ - as this is where they will be when on SSP
Blue. However there are much more effective ways to check reading comprehension levels than PM
Benchmarking, now that we know so much about the reading brain, and the many individual skills
needed, to read with fluency and comprehension.
Emma Hartnell-Baker BEd Hons. MA Special Educational Needs
The Reading Whisperer