Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

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chew8
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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by chew8 » Fri Oct 01, 2010 11:30 am

I delayed further comment as I was waiting for feedback from someone with long experience of primary-school teaching who is the head of an all-through primary school where spelling standards are exceptionally high, as evidenced both by spelling test results and by the children's written work. I've now had this feedback: she tells me that phonics teaching in her school stops by the middle of Y2 and she doesn't believe in prolonging it even for spelling. The children simply take off in reading after being taught rigorous phonics for the first 2 years or so (I've visited the school and seen this with my own eyes), and she says that they then master spelling with little further explicit teaching apart from some of the more obvious rules.

I realise that you feel very passionately about the ongoing teaching of phonics, Debbie, but would ask you to accept that there are people who are at least as experienced and knowledgeable as you but who think differently.

Jenny C.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Susan Godsland » Fri Oct 01, 2010 11:48 am

Jenny, would you mind saying whether the school you describe in your message above is an independent or a state school?

chew8
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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by chew8 » Fri Oct 01, 2010 12:06 pm

The school is independent but my contact has also worked with state-school children as have some of her staff.

Jenny.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Oct 01, 2010 12:11 pm

I think it is essential that other people describe their experiences and views - and I welcome these.

The work that we are involved in, however, is surely at the cutting edge of raising standards of literacy with a view to the national picture.

I may well be wrong in my analysis of the overall picture. It could be the case that, for the most part, schools generally do not need to continue with my idea of phonics teaching beyond Year Two (which is mainly as a spelling programme at this stage). All I am saying is that in my experience, and in my view, this is not the case - yet.

Maybe when schools generally have reached the standards in the school you have mentioned, I will be more persuaded and at that point I will consider whether we need a continuum of a systematic phonics programme through into key stage two (juniors).

Why is it, then, that I hear from key stage one teachers who describe that their colleagues in key stage two do not continue with their phonics foundations?

And why is it that I hear from key stage two teachers who clearly feel that their key stage one colleagues are not teaching phonics rigorously enough for them to build on in key stage two?

These teachers themselves consider that the work needs to start in the infants and continue systematically for spelling in key stage two - and for revision as 'intervention' where needed.

This supports my own experiences.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Derrie Clark » Fri Oct 01, 2010 12:56 pm

I think one of the advantages of being an independent school is that they are not tied to the National Curriculum. This is only my opinion but they seem to be more formal as parents are keen to see their children reading and writing. The class sizes are also much smaller so there can be more teacher/pupil interaction. Teachers in State Schools are expected to cover a wide ranging curriculum with large classes. They are discouraged fom 'formal' teaching in the early years and then the curriculum starts with gusto during Year 1. Within such a context it us unlikely that phonics can be sufficiently taught by the end of Year 2 and, in my experience, isn't. I am afraid talk of discrete and time limited phonics and the Lettes and Sounds guidance has tended to muddy the waters further. Teaching practioners all appear to have their own interpretations.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by g.carter » Fri Oct 01, 2010 4:53 pm

The trouble seems to be that we have two conflicting 'scenarios'. My point is that as there is serious concern that phonics is dull (No), dry(No), mechanistic (this point has some merit but is insignificant when set against the fact that SP enables virtually all children to learn to read) and that we are much more likely to win the argument if the set aside phonics-teaching has an end point. This is what we said when we embarked on this journey?

The other point - equally legitimate - is that roll-out of synthetic phonics has been poorly conceived and inconsistent. Therefore continuing phonics is necessary.

Inner city State schools don't have to be lacking in structure, attention to detail etc. As I've said many times, the large multi-racial school that my children attended in Brixton had far higher standards than some local private schools. And the head didn't hesitate to lay into us feckless parents in his weekly newsletter.

Where there is adequate SP provision, I would much prefer children of 7 + to be doing music, singing, drama, poetry,needlework, crafts,philosophy for children, Latin (there's evidently a wonderful series of text-books for young children), nature study, rather than filling in worksheets. These will always be necessary - but with a drive for well-taught alphabetic code in the early years - there should only be a minority: 1%-5% of children. If all teachers have a basic knowledge and understanding of code, then when subject-specific words need decoding, it should be automatic for a teacher to model the words in question.

I would prefer a decoding test at 7 and 8, as well as the earlier one - this should act as a catalyst for waking up teacher training institutes, head-teachers, and all their staff.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by annwebster » Fri Oct 01, 2010 6:27 pm

For what it is worth in our (high achieving) VERY mixed intake large town school we have made a policy decision to continue explicit phonics instruction alongside a rich language curriculum/environment right through year 3. Year 3 is well known as a'dip' year in many schools and we have definitely seen an improvement in literacy standards by adopting this 'safety net' approach.
I think it is very unwise to compare state and independent schools- the size of classes and social mix alone are not comparable.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by chew8 » Sat Oct 02, 2010 9:41 am

I'm interested, Ann, that you continue phonics into Y3 - does this mean that you don't continue it beyond that?

I must reiterate that I am 100% in favour of the ongoing teaching of spelling after Y2 - I just think that it should not need to be firmly phonics-based, provided that the phonics teaching up to this point has been good.

Derrie: I agree that a lot of teaching at infant level is still sub-optimal, but Debbie is really raising a separate issue in saying that even if it's optimal it's not enough: she gave the example of children whom she herself had taught at infant level - she then taught them again in Years 5 and 6 and felt that they should have been taught more phonics in between. She is presenting the ongoing teaching of phonics for all as an ideal that we should be aiming for, whereas I think the ideal would be that explicit phonics teaching need not be ongoing except for a few children.
Debbie wrote:Why is it, then, that I hear from key stage one teachers who describe that their colleagues in key stage two do not continue with their phonics foundations?

The fact that KS1 teachers think this way does not necessarily mean that they are right. I can imagine them realising how well their teaching has worked and assuming that more of the same is needed when something different might actually be better.
Debbie wrote:And why is it that I hear from key stage two teachers who clearly feel that their key stage one colleagues are not teaching phonics rigorously enough for them to build on in key stage two?
I have no difficulty in believing that this is the case at present and therefore that KS2 teachers have to make up for what has been lacking at KS1. But this might not be necessary if infant teachers were doing a good job, and getting them to do a good job would always be my first choice.

I agree with Geraldine that there needs to be an 'end point'. This is important in the matter of winning over the phonics sceptics, but I also believe that it's desirable in its own right. I think that good teaching in the first 3 years can enable virtually all children to be 'free readers' by the end of Y2 and that once that happens, spelling instruction can proceed without an overt phonics emphasis. In the junior school where I help, 75 of this year's 93 Y3 entrants were free readers on arrival, despite the fact that much of the teaching in the 5 or more infant schools from which they come is probably sub-optimal. Some are not completely fluent, but they can nevertheless cope with ordinary storybooks which don't have a controlled vocabulary. This means that they can cope, in reading, with all or most of the grapheme-phoneme correspondences that make up Diane McG's basic and advanced codes. What they can't do, at this stage, is to spell all the words they can read, but in most cases it's not because they don't know the GPCs and/or can't segment - it's because they don't know which grapheme choices to make for particular words. The only solution is to learn the words, or at least the parts of them that can't be worked out by phonics, and to know some general spelling guidelines.

I think we all agree that word-specific learning is necessary for spelling, and it's something that my contemporaries and I were certainly required to do from an early age. My thinking is that once children reach the point of being free readers and needing to learn word-specific spellings, phonics doesn't add anything over and above the word-specific learning. I think we should be aiming for a situation where all but the 1%-5% of children mentioned by Geraldine are free readers by the end of Y2, and therefore where 95% or more can be doing word-specific learning for spelling without further systematic phonics teaching.

I have no problem, however, with the idea that the 1%-5% may still need systematic phonics, or with the idea of occasional light-touch phonics for the rest. Yesterday, for example, a Y3 free reader whose reading I was hearing read the word 'sergeant' with the first syllable pronounced (understandably) as 'sir', so I said this was an excellent attempt, told him the conventional pronunciation, commented on the very unusual sounding of the 'er', and suggested that he add the word to those which he could spell correctly.

Jenny C.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sat Oct 02, 2010 11:27 am

It could be that our different perspectives on the duration of phonics teaching amounts to the difference in the way that we would teach spelling. We agree that the main job of phonics-for-reading is accomplished by Year Two. Regarding the teaching of spelling however:

1) Your spelling route beyond Year Two is about 'word specific' spelling...

whereas...

mine focuses on 'word bank' teaching and learning:

My teaching about spelling methods beyond Year Two (and from the beginning of the SP programme) is about a continuation of looking at the relationships between identified sounds in words and the code for those sounds (the correspondences) involving both blending and segmenting activities.

For example: - providing banks of printed words with the focus correspondence which can be studied both as a blending routine, but which is simultaneously a 'word analysis' exercise; followed by a direct spelling route whereby the students are provided with words with that spelling variation to spell (-from the provided word bank and sometimes also from other words not previously seen in print during the lesson);

mnemonic spelling stories: - followed by a grapheme search of a page of text which includes characters and a little story theme, which can then be read and has comprehension questions (for written or oral work); an accompanying illustration (shown after the reading) provides a visual memory jogger with further word bank assocation activities like acting out the words to recall the word bank where this is suitable such as the 'mb', 'wr', 'kn', /k/ 'ch' words and so on. This includes studying some specific words which are extra unusual or challenging.

2) That your approach relies on highly effective synthetic phonics teaching in Reception, Year One and Year Two and is optimistic enough to pre-suppose we're not that far off that stage...

whereas...

I think we are a long way off that stage universally.

Also, my phonics teaching guidance involves the three core skills of blending, spelling and handwriting in continuously close and reversible links - so that all of these things continue even after children CAN read well, they still continue for the spelling word bank activities, and dictation, involving increasingly fluent and fast handwriting.

For example, the one page of text (for every focus correspondence) provides a cumulative word resource to practise blending when children cannot read but which becomes a 'spelling story mnemonic' to associate certain words and spellings together in memory when children can read, and it also provides a piece of text for dictation. It can be used creatively so that faster children can write story extensions for example (what happens next?) -all helping to make the theme memorable.

This is a very proactive approach to spelling and keeps the teaching and learning of spelling high profile.

I suggest that many key stage two teachers may provide more discovery learning type activities, not progressing and teaching actively what students need to know in embedded memory. There is often a much greater emphasis on Look, Cover, Write, Check type spelling in key stage two - which is not to say that children do not need to 'look' and observe the details of the words, but I suspect the mainly oral segmenting and knowing which spelling alternatives to use diminishes over the years in many classes because this has never been embedded in key stage two and key stage teacher training.

Only the children who are the most natural spellers will make good progress without a continued high-profile on phonics and word banks - but I believe even these children will benefit from a close look at word banks.

The key stage two teachers need to be knowledgeable and proficient about spelling variations (and pronunciation variations) and they need to be proficient at the processes of blending and segmenting. This is the kind of continuity which we need to guarantee as professional responsibility. Continuing with my type of phonics teaching trains the teachers and teaching assistants as they are following the programme of work.

I have also seen a situation where the teacher tries to draw out existing knowledge of words spelled in a particular way with their students to build up a word bank for particular spelling patterns, but this does not teach the able students anything extra and it is a significant time waster. We need to 'put in' to the children and get on with it. Time is of the essence.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by chew8 » Sat Oct 02, 2010 1:39 pm

In talking about word-specific spellings I would not exclude the use of word-banks - after all, I helped to compile the ones in Letters and Sounds.

Jenny C.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sat Oct 02, 2010 3:42 pm

You did, Jenny.

And then what teachers need are purpose-designed resources to know how to support both the teaching processes and the learning processes of the word banks in appropriate multi-sensory enjoyable and memorable ways - to embed them in long term memory.

This, in effect, is part of the criteria that makes a 'full programme' distinctive from 'guidance with some details'.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by maizie » Sat Oct 02, 2010 9:46 pm

Debbie Hepplewhite wrote:There is often a much greater emphasis on Look, Cover, Write, Check type spelling in key stage two - which is not to say that children do not need to 'look' and observe the details of the words, but I suspect the mainly oral segmenting and knowing which spelling alternatives to use diminishes over the years in many classes because this has never been embedded in key stage two and key stage teacher training.

....

The key stage two teachers need to be knowledgeable and proficient about spelling variations (and pronunciation variations) and they need to be proficient at the processes of blending and segmenting. This is the kind of continuity which we need to guarantee as professional responsibility. Continuing with my type of phonics teaching trains the teachers and teaching assistants as they are following the programme of work.
You have put into words just what I was thinking about the idea of phonics teaching stopping in KS2. It's not that the teaching of correspondences and the basic skills of reading and spelling need to be continued; it is that the principles of SP teaching should continue to inform the way KS2 (and KS3 & 4!) teachers approach reading and spelling tasks.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Kiki » Sat Oct 02, 2010 11:45 pm

maizie wrote: You have put into words just what I was thinking about the idea of phonics teaching stopping in KS2. It's not that the teaching of correspondences and the basic skills of reading and spelling need to be continued; it is that the principles of SP teaching should continue to inform the way KS2 (and KS3 & 4!) teachers approach reading and spelling tasks.
Hear hear Maizie!

Jenny: I am not sure that I understand why you think that the teaching of spelling after Y2 "should not need to be firmly phonics based".
Surely it makes sense to build the learning of advanced spelling onto the foundations built by the logic taught by SP? Isn't that the whole point of SP, to explicitly teach the reversible nature of the alphabetic code? It strikes me that this would be much more effective and efficient to maintain a consistent approach - I certainly can't see any disadvantages, and haven't read any offered here - although I may have missed something? Why should we be worried about spelling instruction that has an 'overt phonics emphasis'.

And, Geraldine, please forgive me if I have this wrong but are you really saying we should advocate finishing SP by Y2 just to make it more palatable to it's detractors? :eek:

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by chew8 » Sun Oct 03, 2010 8:51 am

Kiki and Maizie:

I'm certainly not suggesting that the teaching of spelling after Year 2 should be inconsistent with the phonics teaching up to that point. I'm just saying that if the teaching up to that point has been good, there shouldn't need to be a constant and explicit emphasis on the phonics aspect thereafter, though I'm all in favour of occasional light-touch phonics. This was what happened when I was a child. The teaching of spelling continued after the systematic teaching of phonics had stopped but this didn't mean that we stopped using our phonic knowledge in spelling - we just didn't need constant reminding because it was firmly ingrained by then.

It's worth bearing in mind that synthetic phonics was brought to prominence in the UK by the work of Johnston and Watson - they based their approach on the Austrian approach, but included segmenting for spelling as well as blending for reading, whereas the Austrians didn't. On several previous occasions, I've quoted an article by Wimmer and Mayringer (University of Salzburg) which contains the following, where 'backward regularity' means symbol-sound predictability in the spelling direction:
Wimmer and Mayringer wrote:German's low backward regularity has the effect that, in contrast to reading, a phonetic approach is not encouraged for writing in German schools. "Write it as you hear it" is considered bad advice. Spelling instruction is to some extent based on rote learning of specific spellings. Regularities are demonstrated by word families sharing syllables, rhymes, or onsets, and considerations of morphemes play a major role in spelling instruction. Spelling is a major focus of teaching for several years in school, and children's progress is frequently checked. In contrast, systematic reading instruction of the synthetic phonics type takes place in the first year of school, and then children are expected to gain fluency by practice. (Journal of Educational Psychology 2002, 94/2).
So although the Austrians use systematic synthetic phonics for reading instruction, they don't teach spelling by phonics even at the equivalent of our infant level, and yet their children still learn to spell very well. I myself am fully in favour of teaching reading and spelling reversibly in the early stages (as happened when I was a young child), but I don't think that an explicit emphasis on phonics should need to continue for spelling once children are free readers, which nearly all children can be by the end of Y2 if the teaching up until then has been good. I realise that not all RRFers accept this view, but it's one which is both academically respectable and held by at least some very experienced and successful teachers. If someone produces proof that an ongoing explicit emphasis on phonics throughout primary school makes children better spellers, I'll happily accept it, but as far as I know there is no such proof as yet.

Jenny C.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by g.carter » Sun Oct 03, 2010 10:28 am

Kiki -
And, Geraldine, please forgive me if I have this wrong but are you really saying we should advocate finishing SP by Y2 just to make it more palatable to it's detractors? :eek:
No, no, no, not JUST to make it more palatable to its detractors! I believe that SP should be firmly in place in the first years of school, with virtually all children reading fluently. With the forthcoming decoding test, the vastly increased concentration on training student teachers,more transparency both from Ofsted reports and on a school's own website, better training for heads etc. I believe that spelling development can take place after this with light-touch phonics.

A South African college student told me a few years ago that they spent a year in college on phonics instruction. This is the background that Jenny is coming from.

The backlash is certainly a problem that has to be taken seriously especially when we consider the history of the last 40+ years. And so is the problem we have at this moment - poorly implemented initial SP instruction.
If we focus on best implementation during the 'infant' years, then we should look at both the pros and the cons of insisting on a strict SP approach in year 3 onwards. It is not just that most private schools have smaller classes, it is the fact that their environment is likely to be book-rich and conversation rich. It is this that drives reading and spelling standards. By creating a stimulating book- rich, music- rich, poetry- rich environment, especially during the dip (often boring) year 3, the gap can be significantly closed.

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