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Phonics and the Early Reading Chronicles.

September 23rd 2020| Hannah Johnson

Phonics and the Early Reading Chronicles.

Having been a Phonics Lead in my last school and taught phonics in many different ways throughout my teaching career, I can truly say that I know phonics and early reading inside out. It became my passion and my pleasure. I loved teaching it and seeing children make progress from their starting points. With lockdown, I have also had the chance to teach my 5 year old son daily phonics at home and feel proud when he reads with confidence and skill. I understand the power of Phonics and why it is essential that we, the teaching community, place great importance on it.

Phonics – the method for teaching reading and writing of an alphabetic language.

So where does it all begin? And why is the teaching of Phonics so important?

Phonics begins with discriminating sounds. This actually starts while a baby is in the womb. They are beginning to tell the difference between their mother’s voice or another ‘outside noise’. The skill of discriminating sounds is essential for early reading, as it is the building blocks for being able to blend sounds.

Phase 1 from Letters and Sounds gives practical and sound advice on how to attune young children to sounds in their environment and begins to teach oral blending and segmenting skills. I cannot stress the importance of this early phonics. It is increasingly the responsibility for private day nurseries, child minders and school run nurseries to get children ready to read in Reception. Having been a Reception teacher for many years, I could tell instantly if phase 1 phonics had been taught and taught well to a child. In Nurseries, it is now equally important to keep the Phase1 phonics spinning and teach individual letter sounds at the same time. All this practise also develops listening, speaking, understanding and concentration skills. All of this needs to be embedded into nursery practise, so that every child can be ready to read in Reception.

It should be part of daily teaching and provision and can be done over short sharp bursts of learning. From my experience, doing little BIG things every day like alliteration and oral blending make a massive difference. Set the expectation that all staff in your provision will use certain techniques consistently. For example, I used to give instructions to the children, “Put on your c-oa-t, coat. Sit down on the m-a-t, mat,” or choose children to carry out an action , “If your name begins with the sound d then line up.”

Children need to be able to do the following consistently to be ready to read in Reception:

  • hear and say initial sounds in words
  • orally blend and segment sounds
  • read single letter sounds
  • focus on the adult and understand simple instructions

It is important to embed these skills and not rush on to being able to blend sounds.

Reception is a very influential year for the teaching of reading. Teachers are teaching children how to read sounds and decode and blend at its most basic form. It is so important to get this right, as if its taught badly it can have huge consequences for progress. This happens from Phase 2 of Letters and Sounds onwards. Reading should be an integral part of the provision and curriculum.

Consistency of approach across your school is vital. There are so many different phonics programs out there to choose from… Read Write Inc, Letters and Sounds, Jolly Phonics, Phonics International, Sounds-Write to name a few. I remember the Playing with Sounds publication that I used when I began teaching. The understanding of phonics and the pedagogy of how children learn has moved on so much from then.

Whichever program you choose, make sure that it is in line with the Ofsted guidance, as seen in the School Inspection Handbook, and that it is delivered consistently and to a high standard. As phonics lead, I used to support my phonics teachers by going out into phonics sessions every week, to coach and offer ‘quick wins’ to improve teaching and learning outcomes. This bespoke continual professional development made an immediate impact.

Every phonics program is different and teaches sounds in different orders and in different ways. Essentially, these are the steps needed in any type of phonics teaching:

  • recall sounds already learnt
  • teach new sounds or review sounds
  • model how to decode and blend sounds to read new words
  • review words already taught by reading them and increase speed/fluency with these words
  • read nonsense/pseudo words
  • model how to read multi-syllabic and tricky words
  • practise reading tricky words and sentences
  • model hot to and then practise writing words with the new sound and previously taught sounds

Assessment is a fundamental part of phonics. It should be a natural and implicit part of your everyday teaching (formative assessment) when you listen to children read or join in with the phonics session. I suggest completing assessments every half term so that you can track the progress children (summative assessment). You will need to find out what each child knows in terms of sounds and word reading and at what level.

The following steps can be applied to Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

  • Complete a baseline assessment on day 1 of the new school year – teach from day 2!
  • group your children – try not to spread the groups out of your class or year group. Decide which teachers will tech which groups and where.
  • plan your interventions – which children will you need to boost so that they keep up with the age related expectations? What will you need to teach them next?
  • Re-assess at the end of the half term and then every half term to track progress.

Interventions play a vital part in helping those slower progress children to keep up. They need to be planned, delivered and reviewed to make sure children are on track to achieve by the end of the year or in time for the Phonics Screening test. Ideally, the stronger phonics teachers would be with the slowest progress groups; however, it is the class teacher who is responsible for the progress and attainment of all children.

Data is an important part of school life. It is what every school is measured on and phonics has an important part in it. The following breaks down expectations in year groups Reception to Year 2. It is important to remember that Phonics needs to happen beyond Year 2. I am a firm believer in ‘use it or lose it’ so keep the sounds spinning in Key Stage 2!

Reception – The new early learning goal is defined as word reading.

Year 1

Year 2

Most of this will be able to be covered in phonics sessions but some of the content needs to be taught as a specific grammar lesson, for example contractions and word endings. Pointing these out when reading whole class texts is a great way to reinforce their meaning.

What is the Phonics Screening Check for?

The Phonics Screening Check (PSC) was piloted in 2011 and became part of statutory assessments for all Year 1 children in June 2012. Any children who do not pass the check in Year 1 resit it in Year 2. The purpose of the check is to assess whether children can decode familiar, real words and unfamiliar pseudo/nonsense words using the 44 sounds/phonemes, and includes multi-syllabic words as well. The pass mark has historically been 32 out of a possible 40, 80%. The DfE provides specific guidance on how to administer the check and how to report assessments.

The national average for the 2019 PSC for Year 1 was 82%. There is a broadly stable gender gap, with girls (85%) continuing to outperform boys (78%), and the gap between disadvantaged children is slowly decreasing. 43% of SEND children passed. Of those re-taking the test in Year 2, 91% passed and it is showing that phonics skills are converting to reading outcomes in Year 2. These are really encouraging results.

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Getting parents on board with reading can be quite a task. They will need to know how to say sounds purely, the process of reading (decoding and blending) and how to read tricky words. I held workshops, delivered training and did class assemblies to engage with parents. I created weekly phonics home learning and always set an expectation for parents to read 4 times a week with their child. It is so important to send books home that match the children’s phonic knowledge so that children are confident about reading at home.

In today’s curriculum everything is about reading and vocabulary. Reading should be prioritised so that every child has strong foundations for future success. The curriculum relies upon children being able to read and understand what they have read. Phonics is the starting point for all reading and as children get more experience of reading they develop fluency. At Year 2, it is expected that children can read 90 words per minute. Introducing new vocabulary and explaining word meanings should be part of daily planning, teaching and provision. I believe that young children can read words better when they know what they mean and of course this is essential for comprehension. I used to have key vocabulary related to the topic or subject displayed along with their meanings. Ofsted loved this!

Teacher’s Pet are in the process of designing and producing phonics resources to enable you to be the most prepared and best phonics teacher that you can be! Have a look at what they already have available and keep a look out for any new resources in the near future!

View all posts by: Hannah Johnson
Categories: Classroom Environment
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