Even as we rolled out SpellingCity, teachers and literacy coaches asked us to do more with helping students with sounds. They asked us to convert the games to focus not just on spelling practice but on practice activities for recognizing and working with sounds. They wanted help not just with the spelling of words but with learning phonics and building phonological skills. So we focused on building the tools needed for games to help students with the sounds and the letter combinations that represent them. The goal was to give students audio visual practice with the sounds that create words helping them connect the sounds that they hear and the letter combinations that they see.
The idea was simple: We wanted to treat words like “tooth” as three blocks of letters which correspond with the three sounds: T, OO, and TH. But, as we searched, we could NOT find a system which mapped the sounds in words to the way the words are spelled. At first, this seemed unbelievable. Surely, in some university or research center, somebody had created a mapping which connected all the common English words into their sounds and mapped those sounds to the letters used to spell the words.
We spoke to a lot of people which confirmed our initial findings. This mapping did not exist. Dictionaries, for instance, routinely have a phonetic spelling of words using various systems for writing phonics. But none of the dictionaries mapped the sounds back to the actual spelling of the words. Nobody had ever done this. Our vision came from watching endless tutors, teachers, and parents help students by pointing at a few letters in a word and having the student say the sounds that those letters created. We watched teachers help students read the sounds to decode the word and then blend them together to write them.
So, we decided to create the VocabularySpellingCity Phonics system, a novel contribution to literacy. The phonics system can be used for building a variety of prereading phonics-related skills including phonological skills, phonemic awareness, and spelling skills. Since we knew we had created something original and valuable, we started talking to lawyers. We decided in 2015 to file for a patent on our original system. We started with two provisional patent filings. Our permanent patent is number 10,387,543, issued on August 20th, 2019. It’s called a “Phoneme-to-Graphemes Mapping Patent”. It’s a utility patent covering our original method for algorithmically mapping the sounds in English words to the letters. The patent grant is both a recognition of novelty, a recognition of usefulness, and a grant of intellectual property ownership. What is Phoneme to Grapheme Mapping? Phonemes are the basic sounds of the English language. Examples of phonemes from the word “cheek”, would be: CH, EE, K.
- Some sounds are created by a single letter which almost always makes the exact same sound. For example, the T is “ten”. T almost always sounds the same (except when it’s in a combination with another letter like H).
- Some sounds such as the long E sound can be spelled a number of ways including a "ee", or "ea", or an E followed by a consonant followed by an E at the end of a word, a y at the end of the word, and an "ey" at the end of the word.
- Some letters, like the S, can make different sounds. S usually sounds one way, like in sound, and sometimes sounds quite different, like in sugar (where it makes the SH sound)