Frequently Asked Questions

What's the purpose of the FruitPhonics site?

Essentially the FruitPhonics site is a simple prototype primarily designed to help teachers and parents support the early stage reading and (later) writing skills of 4-7 year olds. It is meant to be a pathfinder to a much larger online resource.

What kind of phonics does FruitPhonics support?

It's designed to achieve the first objectives of what are known as 'synthetic phonics' based teaching. We don't really like this term as it lacks precision due to the varied literacy schemes in use and so the jargon can seem a little loaded.

First, we have designed the content to be fun and support many different phonics based learning schemes. Despite that, we think that it will be most useful to the 'synthetic phonics' type schemes' upon which it is loosely based. The emphasis of the design is really on fun and simplicity of use.

Why Phonics?

Because phonics based learning, particularly 'synthetic phonics' has proved to be by far the most effective route to early literacy - although we subscribe to no particular 'school of thought' and are agnostic on specific 'schemes of work.'

In the case of slower learners and the socially disadvantaged, these methodologies have been shown to virtually eliminate the need for intervention teaching.  Although this is a huge immediate economic benefit to the schools system, more pertinently, it has massive compounding effect on medium term educational outcomes.  It is also a particularly salient point for international children who do not have the advantage of a professional class English language cultural experience - the primary determinant of early literacy progress - so this type of teaching is very effective for learning English as a foreign language.

Why 3D animation

Because it works on multiple levels.  The primary objective is to educate.  This requires motivation and emotional engagement to promote retention (memory) and assimilation - information committed to memory and transformed into knowledge as a platform to higher level thinking skills.  3D has remarkable powers of emotional engagement.  High quality animation is a powerful tool.

Animation alone is insufficient. The content requires energy and music.  It must work on an entertainment level.  We are creating characters that are, essentially tutors and friends with whom learners can engage and 'escape'.  Fortunately 3D animation is well proven in this regard, especially when combined with effective sound design, particularly music, and a little mayhem. 

Text is also critical. Rhythm and rhyme support memory and help to maintain the 'musical element' to words and their expression.  This is an important consideration throughout the design process.

Why the Web?

A browser environment and related internet technologies allows powerful non linear learning strategies to be developed. Delivery and structure are very important for learning and entertainment experiences. Web technologies allow us to restructure and re characterise information in powerful ways, transforming the efficiency of information delivery and retention.  The mobile web has even greater potential for reach and convenience.

Why Target Parents?

Because small difference can have very large outcomes. Phonics schemes are most effective when the basic phonemes and high frequency words are acquired rapidly. This requires sustained effort on the part of children and their teachers. Support at home is very important in terms of maintaining motivation and progress.

Also, in an age of increasingly hectic lifestyles, the collective learning experience may be one of the few intense sustained relationship development processes left to families.

Why Phonics to Go? Is it just a Gimmick?

Learning is primarily about interaction and engagement.  We seek to provide parents and teachers with a set of learning materials, in a flexible delivery environment that supports learning in the classroom, at home and wherever the child may be engaged.  So the multi platform delivery is an interesting aspect of modern parenting and lifestyles.

Also, the learning - teaching process is a very powerful parent child development activity.  Supporting and encouraging such engagement is a primary objective of the design and delivery.  As every parent knows, such engagement does have self reinforcing outcomes in terms of attainment, although it can be hard work. That's where we come in, with materials and delivery that makes the learning process fun for the child while being easier to manage and more constructive for parents.

Once engaged, children immerse themselves according to their own timing and rhythm.  Supporting them on a whole life basis is important, and it does work.  For example, once they begin 'sounding out words' they can easily be supported to rapidly explore new words in many environments. For example in a restaurant to help with those new words as they wrestle with sounding out their first menu's. To be honest, having a few clips on the phone or PDA can be a very convenient pacifier - the animations are designed to be engaging and amusing - and immediately deployable.

It's a world of text and as the keys to decoding it all begin to register, the idea is to support their exploration of that new dimension of their reality. Of course it may make them even more demanding of attention, but like everything esle about this project, we don't know until you try, and tell us about it.

What are our objectives?

Initially they are very simple. 44 phonemes, 61 total phonetic sounds (including blends)  and 100 most familiar words.  This is sufficient (according to a comprehensive and long running research programme in the UK) for children to embark on their literacy journey.

The basic skills  need to be  acquired  quickly.  This requires relatively intensive engagement and practice.  So repetition is necessary, requiring a balance of both session time-scales and material characteristics.

So we aim, in the first instance, to provide a flexible collection the basic 'flashcard' style tuition materials for children to reach that stage.  Usable by parents, teachers or children in peer groups or alone.

What are your plans for the site? 

Expand the vocabulary, add interactive student input based activities, extend the reading materials, develop character blogs - animated 'video blogs' and written stories and children's 'writing elements' (related to the social elements).  Plus an interactive 3D content component that allows engagement and exploration of the 'Glade.'

The Website Help

As it stands the site is designed to promote these first two objectives  - the acquisition  and assimilation of the phonetic alphabet and the development of decoding and spelling skills, with the addition of some interactive activities for reinforcement kinaesthetic activity based learning. (Learning by doing helps sustain concentration and interest as well as reinforce learning objectives).  These are the Phonics Fundamentals. 

Content elements are also designed to be short.  Children's attention span's are not long, fifteen minutes maximum, and lessons need to be snappy and so does the delivery.  Children also require a degree of control for self, and peer learning.  Parents are often the key here.   We want to develop a simple interface and delivery strategy that allows parents to fully engage and children to reach animations within two clicks.

Student input and interactivity are very important.  To this end, games and exercises will be added to form another strand of learning and development.

Everything on the site is designed to be integrated into the learning process, from character biographies and blogs (to be added) to parent documentation and the expanding narratives and character development. 

What is the Glade?

The Glade is where the fruit characters and letters live. It is also the name we have given to the section of the site that will have the interactive 3D demonstration. It is designed to be explored. As the children's skills develop, more material in the glade opens up to them.  From an ability to read the simple biographies of the  characters, to beginning to explore the developing narratives within the glade itself. 

Is the Glade like Second Life?

At this point it is not, simply because we are focussed on specific learning activities, although we envisage the possibility of the whole of FruitPhonics evolving into a complete interactive 3D world with avatar driven social networking and learning.

All of this material is targeted at both parents and teachers as well as children.  The 3D world is no exception, except that it takes the potential for social interaction and learning to another level.