How Jolly Phonics started has turned out to be quite a long story. This first part is about how the method of teaching evolved.
In 1975 I joined the staff at Woods Loke Primary School as a reception teacher. The method of teaching reading, at the school, was the typical ‘look and say’ method, as well as using the initial teaching alphabet orthography. Our standards were considered good. The average score on the 6+ Young’s Reading Test was a quotient of 102. However, our Head of Infants, Joan Dorr, was not happy about the group of children who did not do so well. She looked carefully at these children and realised that, even though they were supposed to, they did not know their letter sounds by the end of Year 1. She then introduced our first change of method. From then on, we always taught the children the letter sounds first, before asking them to try to read books for themselves. Immediately there was a huge improvement and the test scores rose to an average quotient of 108.
Our second change of method came through the influence of the late Dr. Douglas Pidgeon. He asked us to do his research project: the main philosophy being that the children should be taught to hear all the sounds in words before trying to read books for themselves. Looking back on this, I can see that this was the start of our understanding of phonemic awareness. The effect was like the cherry on the cake. All the children became better at reading and writing. By the end of the reception year, we felt that the children had made a year’s improvement and were performing as though they were at the end of Year 1. On the reading test the average quotient score was always 110 or over. Best of all, there were far fewer children scoring below 90. The children wrote independently at a much earlier age. They listened for the sounds in words and wrote letters to represent the sounds. The teachers were able to read their work and the children developed great confidence through understanding that there was a code to English.
For me, this experience was a great eye opener. It taught me that the method of teaching did matter. In fact it made all the difference, and, at this stage, it looked as though the most effective way to teach children to read and write was by using systematic phonics from the beginning.
In the next edition of the RRF newsletter I shall write about the response, by the LEA advisers, to our improved reading test scores.