Fun, effective phonics – a teacher’s perspective
Adam Saye – June 2013
I’ve been at the Thomas Buxton Primary School in Tower Hamlets for two years. When I joined the school we didn’t have a phonics programme we followed, so I implemented Jolly Phonics in the Nursery and Reception. I split the classes into three groupings: high, middle, and lower ability and streamed the children according to their phonics ability. This provided the opportunity to work intensively at the particular groups’ required pace.
In Early Years, we have a number of children on the SEN register; we have children with autism, ASD, children with dyslexia and children with speech and language difficulties who have the use of a speech therapist . We also have a high number of children with English as an additional language (EAL) at the school. Children with EAL do not have a statement of special education needs but they do need help when they enter nursery to help with aural and verbal comprehension of English. Typically 95% of our children enter nursery under their age-expected level of ability. We teach intensively using Jolly Phonics and track the children every half term rather than every term (as practiced in many schools). By the time children leave us to go into year 1, 80% are working at age-expected level and above.
We use the Essex Target Tracker to track pupils every half term, so we’re very aware of the progress they’re making. If they’re not making progress we are able to ask why, and work to rectify it. Monitoring progress is a great way of recognising the children’s individual needs. If a pupil is making good progress in the lower group, then we move them up; there is a fluidity to the practice.
Children need to have a good grasp of phonics in order to learn to read and write. They need to know their letter sounds and how to segment and blend. When I have a child who has a statement I know I need to make the phonics more fun and interactive; in fact I make it as interactive as possible. I use games such as ‘What’s in the bag?”: I use a bag that contains objects starting with the letter sound of the day; I sing songs about the objects, ask what noises they make etc.
When I was at school I learned to read using Jolly Phonics, I enjoyed it and learned all my letter sounds quickly. I sing a lot of songs with the children; singing songs makes retention of information a lot easier. The children may just think you’re singing them a song, but we sing the Jolly Phonics songs with the letter sounds embedded in them. We always teach the songs first in Nursery, then afterwards we introduce flash cards that correspond with the letter sounds from the songs; and we put the two together. We sing a song about ‘ants’ with the sound ‘a’ emphasised within the song, then when the children see the ‘a’/ant’ flashcard they already know the sound from the song. We’ll say; “We know a song about ants/a, don’t we?” and launch into the song. This enjoyable way of learning really helps the children to remember their letters and sounds.
We send home a special book which contains the letters the children have learned that day. We include letter sound sheets within the book so parents can go over what the children have learned that day. We also provide the curriculum map for parents so they know what we’re doing that term. Revisiting what the children are doing is the best way to help children, especially children with SEN, and making it fun stops the children (and teachers) from getting bored.
Adam Saye is Assisstant Headteacher at Thomas Buxton Primary School, Tower Hamlets (London) – June 2013