You know that feeling of waiting for the bus? You wait for ages and then two arrive at the same time! Here at Primary English HQ we’ve had a similar experience with phonics training over the past few weeks. We hadn’t done any for what seemed like an age, and then in the past few weeks it’s been the most popular request coming into the Primary English office. We’re not complaining: we love phonics and recognise the significant role that good phonics teaching plays in teaching young children to read. As we’re holding our autumn term #FocusOnReading, it seems appropriate that our recent flurry of phonic activity should prompt a blog post on the subject.
At Primary English we like to deliver training that meets the needs of each of the schools with which we work. This means every training package, including our phonics training, is unique. Yet whilst different, each phonics course holds true to the principles of good phonics teaching; some of which we share here.
Teachers, you’re busy people and I hate the thought of you wasting your time but poor pronunciation of phonemes does just that. If phonemes are accompanied by the ‘uh’ schwa vowel, all too quickly b-u-t becomes a dairy-based spread rather than a useful co-ordinating conjunction. This video from the Letter and Sounds Phonics Programme is an invaluable for checking the purity of your pronunciation.
When teaching phonics your diction needs to be delightfully divine. The beginning, middle and end of every word needs to be enunciated with clarity and precision. Slurring sounds or relying on glottal stops can negatively impact on the ability of your children to hear each sound you pronounce.
When training, I sometimes include a dictation activity using nonsense words. On one level this activity puts colleagues in the shoes of children where they must rely on their phonemic knowledge to choose which graphemes to use to spell the dictated nonsense words. What it also highlights is: the importance of my own diction; the need to repeat the word more than once; the requirement for colleagues to look closely at my mouth movements in order to discern what they have heard; and the need for both the teachers and me to make eye contact throughout the activity. What is clear is that colleagues need to face forward so that they can both hear and see what I am saying. If teachers need to do this then we must also ensure that this is the case when teaching children.
Begin at the end.
Phonics should be taught systematically and at pace. Whichever phase or section of your school’s phonics programme you are teaching you need to be aware of the assessment requirements and the amount of time allowed for getting children to that point. Without knowing which phonemes children should be able to read and/or write; whether blending should be oral or written; and which high frequency words they are required to read, makes it challenging to ensure that every lesson acts as a small stepping stone towards the final outcome. I would also advise that everyone teaching phonics in school is fully aware of the requirements of the Y1 phonics screening check so that all children are adequately prepared for this statutory requirement.
Know which words are tricky and teach them
Whilst phonic knowledge unlocks most decoding, there are some words that defy the rules of phonics. These words need to be learnt. Most are simply ‘tricky for now’. That is, they are tricky at the specific point of phonics learning but will soon be decodable once more is learnt: to, so and do being examples. What we should do though is point out the parts that are decodable – the t, s and d in to, so and do and learn the tricky bits.
My final tip is to be relentless in your approach to phonics. All children have an entitlement to read and therefore an entitlement to be successful in phonics. Some children acquire phonemes effortlessly, some children require a little practise: and some require us to provide opportunities for them to encounter phonemes regularly, persistently and relentlessly. With such children find opportunities to reinforce phonics learning throughout the day. When playing, lining up, getting coats, and when playing on the playground…
Contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org to book your phonics INSET.
Rachel Clarke: Director – Primary English
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