By Olubusola Eshiet
“In your PhD thesis I was struck by your references to teenage and adult non-readers.” He continued, “I would be very interested in taking this further with a proposal.” And Chris Jolly’s proposal?
“We would take a group of non-reading older pupils and train them to be 1:1 mentors of children in the middle/late primary school who are themselves struggling to read. This will give dignity to the older pupils, a reason to get to grips with the teaching in the Jolly Phonics Extra, and it will overcome the younger illustration style. The overall effect expected is that both older and younger pupils will learn to read.”
Is this an offer or a challenge? Whichever way, I couldn’t resist this. Yes, this should work. We have trialled several projects and often, even the seeming impossible became possible. Surely, I was up for this new adventure. We went about seeking a school where they will allow us try this new resource. That didn’t take long; the Jolly Phonics Extra Kit is fun and full of adventure. Who wouldn’t want to try it? What school head would say ‘no’ to a programme that would raise the reading level of their struggling readers? Besides, we had introduced Jolly Phonics to the school several years ago. This brought much improvement to the pupils and was an additional selling point for the school.
Approvals received, we set to work immediately. Keen to know what effect the JP Extra Kit will have, we started off with Burt tests of 20 selected pupils- selected by their teachers as being struggling readers. Tests done, we selected the poorest 5 in the higher classes and the same number in the lower classes. As none of them knew the sounds of the English language, it was fair to give the older ones training in the sounds so using Jolly Phonics extra Kit, we taught them the first five groups of sounds as rapidly as possible. And as for the ‘childish materials’, they were not really for these senior pupils, no, the pupils were learning to use them more importantly so that they can assist the teacher in teaching some little ones who didn’t know how to read. The older pupils set to work with great excitement. They had fun discovering all that the talking pen could do. They loved listening to the stories, searching for answers to the questions, blending and reading along with the pen and thoroughly enjoyed singing along. Before long, they were attempting to read the Readers and they found out that they were reading!
It was then time to introduce the younger buddies to the older ones. The older ones were very happy to become teachers and they immediately assumed responsibility for teaching the younger pupils how to read. It became a bonding experience for them. You would find the buddies sitting together on one chair even though there were enough seats for each person. The older ones became not only teachers but also friends. They would hold the hands of the younger ones over the talking pen and guide them through the exercises. The younger ones also soon began to read. Their joy was apparent.
After 3 months of learning with the Jolly Phonics Extra Kit, it was time to fold up the study and of course, time for an exit test. The average gain in reading age was 14 months with one of the pupils making a gain of 43 months in a 3-month long intervention!
The Buddies are the envy of other pupils. The class teacher for the younger pupils wished all her pupils were part of the trial. Parents begged us to allow their children into the class. The pupils are now happier and more confident readers.
Here are some comments from pupils, parents and teachers:
“I am happy I can now read long words” (Pupil who made the greatest gain)
”My neighbour’s son who could not read at all is reading very well now. Can my son join too or could you come to my house to teach him.” (A Parent whose child is in the secondary school)”
“I will like all my pupils to be part of the learning so that they can be at the same reading pace in the class. (Class teacher primary 2)
“I will like to buy this pack for teaching my children. My pupils in class have improved in reading.”(Class teacher)
JP Extra kit has a lot of benefits for teachers and pupils. Studying independently for pupils becomes easier and their understanding of blending skills becomes faster. Teacher explains less. Also, it gives room for the pupils who lag behind to catch up with the others without much teacher input. This means ‘catch up’ activities require much less time from the teacher.
There is rapid improvement when poor readers use the Jolly Phonics Extra Kit.
“I have learned everything I know from Sara, Sue and the children that I have taught over the past 15 years and I desperately wanted other teachers to experience what I did first hand: that light-bulb moment when you think “Aha!” now I know what all the fuss is about. Jolly Grammar…where have you been all my life?!”
Beki Wilson – Jolly Phonics Professional Trainer in Spain
“Beki and I have spent the last 15 years teaching Jolly Phonics and Grammar to young children in Spain. Here English is taught in most schools with many classrooms following bilingual curriculums. One of the first well-known projects was the British Council/MEC Bilingual programme, which pioneered in Spain and Europe in 1996.
“Over the past few years we have been working especially hard with schools, academies, Universities and some very dedicated and enthusiastic teachers. We all have one thing in common. We want to make learning English fun.
“With Sara here, it gives people the chance to learn about Jolly Grammar years from the person who actually wrote the course: in other words, “right from the horses mouth”! Beki assures me that there is really nothing more inspiring than training with the fantastic, amazing, wonderful Sara (I am the Adjective Snake after all!)”
Over the past few months, many teachers from all over Spain had written to us in order to be able to join this amazing event. The majority of them already had some prior knowledge of Jolly Phonics and Grammar as many schools and teachers now use the programme.
It is now well known in Spain for the positive results that it gets when teaching English as a second language. Although Jolly Phonics is a literacy programme aimed at native English speakers, the multi-sensory approach to teaching young children how to read and write is extremely effective. It can be adapted for any age group and within any education setting, and now many language schools and academies are also using Jolly Phonics as a complimentary part of their English classes. As Jolly Phonics helps children to be able to recognize, read, write and say different letter sounds correctly, this also helps non-native English speakers with their pronunciation skills. This is especially important here in Spain as many young children are expected to do external English language exams (such as Cambridge and Trinity). Other subjects, such as Art and Science, are also taught in English in Primary.
Teachers, parents and students travelled from all over Spain in order to attend the Training Seminar with Sara, who had arrived the Wednesday before in Madrid! The course content during the day was based on Jolly Grammar 1 & 2; these are the next two years following on from Jolly Phonics. Sara took us on a wonderful journey on how to make spelling, punctuation and grammar fun for young children, sharing many simple games and activities which any busy teacher or parent can do or make. Sentence structure was made fun with the use of a washing line and we did a Make and Take Kite activity for Magic “e”. Vocabulary, nouns and comprehension activities were demonstrated through letter sound sorting boxes and picture cards. Sara also discussed creative ways to improve and adapt lessons in order to improve punctuation; for example, long and short vowels were demonstrated by using a rubber glove!
The Seminar was a success with lots of smiles at the end of the day and positive feedback. The most important part of this has been to expose teachers and parents to how a multi-sensory approach to teaching can work in any context, with children from all over the world regardless of their educational background. I, as always, continue to learn many new things from Sara, which I find both motivating and invaluable when teaching and training.
The four little children sitting on tiny chairs in front of me looked surprised. They were at the front of the class whilst their teachers sat at the student desks behind them. Perhaps more strangely, I was stood in front of them, talking in broken French (which is their second language anyway) about snakes and sounds and Jolly!
I was training in the Comoros, which is based in the Indian Ocean east of Mozambique. With the locals speaking a mix of Comorian, French, Arabic and Kibushi to varying levels, the Comoros is an unique jumble of cultures – the last place you would think needs another language!
However, I was in the Comoros because I have been trying to reach widely with Jolly Phonics by providing the first year of the programme philanthropically to state schools in Africa. This has been made possible by working with excellent NGO partners, such as Universal Learning Solutions. These schools typically have the greatest need yet are the most difficult to access. The Comoros islands was part of my latest tour through Africa, and this was how I ended up in front of these four pupils.
Unfortunately I had not been able to make contact with the Ministry of Education before I arrived in the Comoros, but a quick Google led me to contact Nouzlat, who was from the islands but now runs a Comoros social centre in Manchester: she was just wonderful, and she put me in contact with multiple private schools in the state!
Through sporadic emails and phone calls, all in my static French, the arrangements were made. I managed to secure a headteacher of a local private school, Mr Moussa, who was there at the airport to meet me and who had agreed to let me train in his school.
True to his word, prior to my arrival Mr Moussa had sent around our flyer and invited teachers from 12 other private schools to his school. Because of the intense heat we began the training at 8am and finished at noon. The teachers were keen enough to teach English, and although they might reasonably have been sceptical of me turning up with an entirely new programme, the demand to learn English was there. These teachers, like my Mancunian acquaintance, told me how important the learning of English is for their pupils, and explained how they would need it in the future for work, and for engaging with the professional world in general. They said how the parents too want it for their children, even though there is little use of English in the country, allaying my previous concerns.
The four children in front of me had to be poked gently by the teachers to pay attention. I began telling them the story for sss. I told them how I was going for a walk, how I then discovered un serpent dans l’herbe, which hissed at me ‘sss…sss…sss’. I waved my arm across my body as I did so. I introduced two more letter sounds in the Jolly formula: story, sound and action. I then asked the teachers to have a go with other sounds in the first group. Before long I had the children waving their hands at the flash cards for these sounds, and drawing their chairs up closer to see the book. I was surprised by how quickly they became engaged with it, particularly with so little environmental English knowledge. By the end one boy had even progressed so far that he was able to blend the word ‘spoon’. It was just wonderful to see their progress, and of course it was inspiring to the teachers to see the immediate progress of the children.
After a shorter second morning of training, I moved on, leaving the teachers to take away teaching materials for their schools so they could get continue with the programme. I have since had email contact (and photos, see below) to say it is going really well, which is very encouraging! So it has been a good beginning, reaching further in Africa to help in the teaching of English.
Claire, one of our newest recruits, attends The BETT Show for the first time this year…
There were more reasons than usual to attend the British Educational Training and Technology Show this January, with six new products being released by our team since Bett 2014!
This was my first year at Bett, and I was excited. For those unfamiliar with the exhibition, the Bett show is to education what Paris fashion week is to seasonal trends: industry experts displaying their latest products in a truly cavernous hall playing (slightly questionable) chart music. When I arrived, I found a steady supply of decent coffee, free stationary at every turn, and an IT company masquerading as a cocktail bar. It was an educator’s paradise.
With exhibition stands that looked more like post-modernist sculptures, the theme for this year was definitely ‘innovative’. Several products were about multi-functional immersive education: a kind of wiki-vision, if you will. Next door to our stand (F421, if you missed us) was an interactive floor and three walls: an Imax-style environment for children with different scenes controlled by apps on an iPad. You could have an oral french class ‘outside’ l’Arc de Triomphe. My shaky translation of ‘mushrooms’ into ‘champignons’ was apprehended by the voice recognition software. You could also play in a ‘snowstorm’, where your feet made ‘footprints’ in the floor and when you held your hand against the screen you could ‘collect’ virtual snowflakes, confirming a lot of recent blog chatter: ‘edutainment’ is officially a thing. Other futuristic gems included a literal ‘desktop’, by which I mean a virtual classroom desk for group work, thumbprint recognition software for buying your school dinner, and I definitely spotted at least one 3D printer.
With interactive education clearly the tone for 2015, it is no surprise that our Jolly Phonics Letter Sounds app was our star-player during the week. A recent finalist of the Early Years category in the BETT 2015 awards, as well as a finalist in UX UK User Experience Awards 2014, ‘Bee’ introduces you to the 42 letter sounds through various games on letter formation, sound recognition, blending and simple segmentation/spelling. This made it very popular amongst Reception and Pre-School teachers, as did the 50% volume discount purchase from the Apple Store!
It was very reassuring how well our whole digital software range was well-received; the Interactive Whiteboard Software was as popular as ever for its abundance of teaching content, whilst the Grammar Games also made a popular debut.
Our expanded range of grammar, spelling and punctuation content now going up to The Grammar 5 Handbook was also a pleasant revelation for those familiar to Jolly Phonics. The richness of its content, going above and beyond the national curriculum standard, was well-noted, with one teacher telling me he’d be astounded if his Year 10’s could grasp the more complex grammar concepts! Accompanying resources, such as Grammar Songs and the Blends Wheels, were subsequently popular. The Jolly Extra (plus one illustrious talking pen) maintained its popularity with specialist educationalists, from home-schoolers, SEN teachers, or those teaching ESL.
All in all, my first ‘Bettperience’ was a positive start to a busy year, with The Grammar 6 Handbook being released and allowing us to cover all of the primary school years. We are finally producing the Android-friendly Jolly Phonics Letter Sounds App in early spring, as well as annual phonics, grammar, spelling and punctuation training is also set to run during back to school season in Autumn.
If you would like more information about the expanded Jolly Phonics programme, finding a Jolly Phonics trainer or attending one of our national workshops in London, Cardiff, Aberdeen and Glasgow, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Click here to read the full summary of Santina DiMauro’s training in Malaysia covering Jolly Phonics, Grammar and Spelling, Reading with Phonics, Comprehension and for the first time in Malaysia, Jolly Phonics for the Interactive Whiteboard.
“Grammar is fun because we dance all the time!”
Jolly student, Grade 2
Professional learning in Malaysia has always been a successful and rewarding experience. This year was no exception as the interest about Jolly Phonics has continued to build momentum throughout schools, Kindergartens and Learning Centres….
During the Jolly Phonics workshop, all participants joined in with the number of planned activities demonstrating the fun and multi-sensory approach to phonics. The activities were also designed to show the Jolly Phonics skills in action.
Over 100 teachers spent the day not only learning how to pronounce the 42 sounds of the English language but also practised the skills of blending and segmenting sounds. Teachers and parents demonstrated the effectiveness of ‘phoneme fingers’ as they determined the sounds in sequence in words. This was such a powerful activity especially for those new to synthetic phonics.
The Reading with Phonics workshop provided teachers with an important message: we must show children how to transfer all this wonderful knowledge of Jolly Phonics to reading and writing.
The best part of this day was co-ordinating the rotation of over 100 teachers around phonics based activities. However, watching teachers attempt to play Hop Scotch with tricky words was fun too.
Why is it that one in five children fails to learn to be functionally literate in English? This has long been so, in both the UK and US, for this proportion of children as they go to secondary school, and as adults.
By contrast, children do not have this difficulty in learning to read in other European languages. In Spanish and Italian, for instance, there is no word for dyslexia.
It is an important issue as English increasingly becomes the global language with every more children learning it. So what causes this problem, and can it be solved?
If we look way back, we see that English lost its genders for objects that it had before the Norman Conquest. At that time, in Old English, the moon was masculine, for instance. It also lost the inflections for nominative, accusative, etc, at the end of words. These went in the period after 1066, but when English came to be written again, three hundred years later, they had gone.
There seem to be two ways in which English can be difficult for learners, as shown in a study by Philip Seymour of Dundee University. The first is the ‘syllabic structure’ where English is complex because it has so many consonant blends (such as str- in strong, and –mp in lamp), unlike languages such as Italian and Japanese, which mostly have just CV (consonant-vowel) syllables. This syllabic complexity can be taught, of course, and teachers do not talk of it being a major problem.
The other difficulty for learners is referred to as ‘orthographic depth’. This refers to the irregularity of the spelling, with complex rules and no rules. Three languages stand out for irregular spelling: Danish, French and English, with English being the worst of all. It is largely a result of the mongrel heritage of the English language, with the language of the early Anglo-Saxons added to from Scandinavian, French, Greek and Latin, and others, along with their different spelling rules.
It does seem as if it is the irregular spelling of English that is the main cause of failure in learning to read. Not only is learning to read much easier in languages with simpler spellings but also learning to read is also easier when English is taught with reformed and simpler spelling. This was true with the initial teaching of the alphabet, a method taught in up to 10% of UK primary schools in the 60’s and 70’s.
It is not just the difficulty in learning to read that is the problem; it also takes longer. The simplest European language, for both of the factors mentioned earlier, was found to be Finnish. Children there make remarkably swift progress, which is often put down to their education system, but which may also be due to the simpler spelling of Finnish.
At the same time, there does seem to have been progress in mitigating for the irregularity of English spelling. This can be seen in the changes from 30 years ago. Looking at academic papers from that time, and a high proportion of English words were classified as irregular, based on the limited view of one letter describing one sound, and so accepting only short vowel spellings as regular. At that time children were taught the sounds of the language from chanting the alphabet. Mostly, letters were taught by their names, although some textbooks, and some teaching also taught the short vowels.
Nowadays the teaching of digraphs is seen as essential, as is the teaching of the sound of each letter, rather than just its name. This is key to synthetic phonics teaching. Such teaching does seem to be having a profound effect on illiteracy levels, although no definitive research has been seen as yet. However it is known that such teaching lifts all children, whatever their social background, and whether English is their first language, with boys doing as well as girls. It is common now for teachers to find they have no children at the end of their first year at school who have a reading age below their actual age.
The increasing teaching of grammar and spelling in the primary years is very likely to enable further improvements, through the teaching of more spelling rules and patterns. Such teaching is now part of the national curriculum in the UK, and the Common Core State Standards in the US. It will never overcome the illogical legacy of English spelling, but it does mean that we can expect far fewer children to fail.
Theresa Reynolds – September 2014
When the Jolly Music online course launched in Ireland on 1st July, we waited with excitement to see what the reactions of teachers would be. Would teachers find the audio and video footage helpful? Would they ‘get’ Jolly Music?
The majority of the course has been written by the Jolly Music co-authors, Cyrilla Rowsell and David Vinden, but we also invited contributions from experts in the impact of music in early childhood, music and special needs, and music for learners of English as an additional language. Many teachers were bowled over to discover that the benefits of music are both broad and deep. One teacher of deaf children commented:
‘Who could have guessed that a music course would be the one that I have found most applicable to my children?’
The responses have been overwhelmingly positive. The inclusion of a copy of The Music Handbook: Beginners has proved hugely popular, as it makes it easy for teachers to take what they have learned into the classroom with immediate effect.
Many teachers were relieved to find that teaching improvisation skills is not as scary as they thought, and that they could start work on improvisation in a simple and straightforward way even with four-year-olds. The skill of ‘inner hearing’ came as a revelation to many, as did the strategy of using a single short, simple song in innumerable ways to teach a whole range of skills, and the emphasis on constant repetition and consolidation rather than constant novelty.
But the one word that cropped up in almost all teacher reactions was ‘confidence’. What this course offers them is the ability to give the very best music teaching to their pupils, and the confidence that they can deliver it effectively.
Over 170 teachers took the course in Ireland in July and August. Those teachers are now back at school, enthused and empowered, and with the course now available internationally, we look forward with unabated excitement to the responses of the next wave of teachers.
Being a Jolly Phonics trainer often means that you get to explore the world and meet passionate teachers while giving training in different countries. One of our trainers, Marj Newbury, recently went to Russia to introduce Jolly Phonics to local teachers.
Marj: ‘An invitation from Russia for Jolly Phonics training is exciting enough but the reality was even better. My Russian contact was Svetlana Golubeva, who along with her husband and a wonderful band of Jolly workers, have set up Jolly English (jollyenglish.org) in St Petersburg. They arranged 2 days of free training, one in St Peterburg and one in Moscow, and approximately 50 teachers attended each day.
Although Jolly Phonics is at a very early stage in Russia, there was an enormous amount of enthusiasm. The training was a huge success and the teachers were not only so open to understanding the main principles behind synthetic phonics, but also hugely enthusiastic about trialling it in their very different settings.’
Svetlana, the founder of Jolly English, said: ‘Once we decided to run training in Russia, I thought that we would have to start by explaining to teachers what Jolly Phonics is all about. However, I was very surprised to find out that some schools had already been using the programme. Although there were some supporters of the synthetic phonics method, many teachers were hard to persuade to give the methodology a try as they were used to their own teaching methods. At the start of the training those teachers kept asking Marj about the alphabet. In the end, everyone was enthusiastically participating in all activities.’
Marj: ‘I have definitely learnt something about Jolly phonics and that is, behind a request like this, there is always someone whose passion for Jolly Phonics teaching outweighs any obstacles in their way. Here’s one quote from the end of the day in Moscow, ‘I can’t wait to go to school tomorrow!’ You don’t often hear that from all teachers around the world – just Jolly Phonics ones!’
The report on the effect of the Phonics Screening Check published last week revealed an example of ‘the law of unintended consequences’. The Phonics Check was supposed to ensure that children received good quality phonic instruction. It has undoubtedly increased the amount of phonics teaching in schools, although how much of that is’ good quality’ is open to debate. According to the latest report the main consequence of the Phonics Check has been an increased teaching of ‘nonsense words’.
The inclusion of ‘nonsense words’ in the phonics check was supposed to be a way of ensuring that blending had been taught properly and that children were not relying on a sight vocabulary. It was supposed to be a very small part of the whole thing; instead like Topsy it just grew and grew. ‘Nonsense words’ have somehow assumed a far greater importance than was ever envisaged and taken up a disproportionate amount of teaching time.
Any word you do not have in your vocabulary is in essence a ‘nonsense word’. Any word you read and do not know the meaning of is a ‘nonsense word’. We all need a strategy for dealing with these words. Before the publication of the Harry Potter series the word ‘quidditch’ was a nonsense word, as were many others such as Hufflepuff, Ravensclaw, butterbeer and muggle. They have been given a meaning and legitimacy by their inclusion within the story.
Many place names do not have any obvious meaning today but we need to be able to read them. Names such as Affpuddle, Fazakerley and Goosnargh could well be nonsense words, if not for the fact they are the names of places in the UK.
The simple fact is we do not only read words that we already know. Therefore, we need to be able to decode and blend words which do not make any sense to us. Saying three or four sounds and blending them together should not be a big issue for children or for teachers. And the fact that it has become so is in itself a nonsense!
Sara Wernham is a co-author of Jolly Phonics Grammar series. Phonics screening check and evaluation report by DfE can be accessed here.
As a part of on-going educational trials in India, a group of Jolly Learning trainers from different parts of India gathered in the state of Meghalaya to give training to local teachers. Sarasa from Chennai, Ritu from Delhi, Gomathi from Hyderabad and me, Shainaz, from Mumbai, spent two weeks in West Khasi Hills District of Meghalaya holding sessions on synthetic phonics in order to help local government schools with English language teaching.
Meghalaya, one of the most scenic hilly states in India and one that gets the highest rainfall in the world, has, unfortunately, some of the most under-funded schools. The educational trials programme is the result of the co-operation between the Education Ministry of Meghalaya, Absolute Return for Kids, Stones2Milestones and Jolly Learning.
Although the trainings were spread across four regions within the state (for which we had to travel for hours on dusty roads), many teachers had to travel several kilometres to reach training venues. But after a fun-filled, yet gruelling Jolly Phonics session, the participants went back happy and feeling lucky they had the opportunity to discover a new teaching method, as well as to receive the Jolly Phonics Certificate of Attendance.
The training sessions were held not only inside classrooms, but also out under the spring sun of Meghalaya. One of the highlights was that among the participants there were 200 male primary teachers, who found it exciting to get trained by female trainers (which is rare in India). In general, all participating teachers showed a great amount of enthusiasm to use this teaching method in their classrooms, which will help more than 25,000 children from poor backgrounds develop their reading and writing skills.
While we, trainers, had an opportunity to see a variety of beautiful flora during our stay in Meghalaya, it was the hope, innocence and thankfulness in the eyes of the participants that truly stole our hearts!
Click here to view more pictures from Jolly Phonics trainings in Meghalaya.
Want to find out more? Of course you do – click here!
All our hugely popular songs from Jolly Phonics are now available in one fun app for iPad/iPhones and Android devices, which includes the actions and all for £2.99.
We are delighted to announce that the Jolly Phonics Lessons app is now available to download for both Apple and Android phones and tablets and, for a limited time only, is completely free! Download it now whilst you can!