Year 1 Phonics Check

The following is taken from the Department for Education website:

A new, statutory phonics screening check for all pupils will be introduced in Year 1 this academic year. The check will be administered during the week commencing 18 June. The purpose of the Year 1 phonics screening check is to confirm whether individual pupils have learnt phonic decoding to an appropriate standard.

Pupils who have not reached this standard at the end of Year 1, should receive support from their school to ensure they can improve their phonic decoding skills. Pupils will then have the opportunity to retake the screening check.

For parents who want to help their children prepare for the phonics check, Oxford University Press have published ‘Read With Biff, Chip and Kipper: My Phonics Kit.

The pack includes:

* Three phonics workbooks to provide lots of practice in this early reading skill. Each workbook includes tips for doing the activities together, and all of the sounds are included on the CD-ROM for your reference.

* Six carefully levelled interactive ebooks and activities on a CD-ROM.

* A colourful reward chart with stickers to build confidence.

* Advice from phonics expert Laura Sharp, providing answers to questions such as ‘What is phonics?’ ‘How do I say the sounds?’, ‘How can I support my child with phonics and the phonics check?’.

Details can be found here on the website.

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abc PocketPhonics app

I had the opportunity recently to review a phonics product called PocketPhonics, and I have to say I was impressed.

PocketPhonics is an educational app that works with both the iPhone and iPad and is designed to teach children:

  • letter sounds
  • how to write letters
  • how to blend letter sounds together to read simple words

The app mainly covers the ‘simple alphabetic code’ (the most common spelling for each of the 44 phonemes or letter sounds) plus a few alternative spelling variations:

s, a, t, p, i, n

m, d, g, o, c, k

ck, e, u, r, h, b

f, ff, l, ll, ss, j

v, w, x, y, z, zz

qu, ch, sh, th, th, ng

ai, ee, igh, oa, oo, oo

ar, or, ur, ow, oi, ear

air, ure, er, ou, ue, ay

ou, wh, ir, ph, ie, ew

ea, aw, oe, au

What is really clever about this app, is that the parent / teacher can set the level so that the child can progress through the sounds at their own individual pace. The word games they play are based on the sounds they have already learnt.

The sounds are very pure and there are various fonts and writing styles to choose from (including upper and lower case letters).

There is also a free guide that can be requested that explains very clearly why children should learn to read with synthetic phonics.

A lot of research and thought has gone into producing PocketPhonics – if you are looking for a way to help your child learn their letter sounds in a fun and engaging way (and you happen to own either an iPhone or an iPad) then I think this is a great app to go for.

Details of the app can be found on You Tube

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New Phonics Reading Test For Six-year-olds

The government has announced plans to introduce a phonics progress check in all schools throughout England for children in Year 1. A pilot will take place in 2011, with the aim of rolling it out nationally in the summer of 2012.

The purpose will be to identify those children who have gaps in their knowledge of letter-sounds and difficulties with blending them to read words. It will therefore enable the school to target those in need of extra support.

The proposed test will include ‘non-words’ so that children will have to decode the word to read it, rather than relying on their visual memory of known whole words or using clues such as pictures or context to guess the words.

Inevitably, this has already led to criticism from anti-phonics lobbyists, who believe that phonics should be taught alongside other methods, rather than on its own – they argue that it will not test other reading skills such as overall vocabulary or comprehension of what they are reading.

Yes – these critics are correct – it will only test whether the child has reached the required level of phonics decoding – that is the point. Once children can decode properly with phonics early on, they can then move on to higher order reading skills.

Currently, one in six 7-year-olds and one in five 11-year-olds still fail to reach the standard expected of them in reading. Some time ago I read this analogy that sums this up very well:

‘There is an education bus and it stops to pick up passengers all the way to Year Three. After this, the bus accelerates and it gets much more difficult to get on. Unfortunately, many children never manage to get a seat on this bus and get left behind, unable to access the school curriculum properly.’

I think this new test could be an important bus stop to help make sure all our young children get a seat on that bus.

More information on the proposed test can be found on the Reading Reform Foundation (RRF) website and the DfE website.

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High Frequency and Tricky Words

High Frequency Words (HFWs) are the words that appear most often in printed materials.

Schools used to expect children to learn 45 HFWs by the end of their first year of school. These have now been replaced by a list of 100 most common words that are taught during Reception Year and Year 1:

1 the 21 that 41 not 61 look 81 put
2 and 22 with 42 then 62 don’t 82 could
3 a 23 all 43 were 63 come 83 house
4 to 24 we 44 go 64 will 84 old
5 said 25 can 45 little 65 into 85 too
6 in 26 are 46 as 66 back 86 by
7 he 27 up 47 no 67 from 87 day
8 I 28 had 48 mum 68 children 88 made
9 of 29 my 49 one 69 him 89 time
10 it 30 her 50 them 70 Mr 90 I’m
11 was 31 what 51 do 71 get 91 if
12 you 32 there 52 me 72 just 92 help
13 they 33 out 53 down 73 now 93 Mrs
14 on 34 this 54 dad 74 came 94 called
15 she 35 have 55 big 75 oh 95 here
16 is 36 went 56 when 76 about 96 off
17 for 37 be 57 It’s 77 got 97 asked
18 at 38 like 58 see 78 their 98 saw
19 his 39 some 59 looked 79 people 99 make
20 but 40 so 60 very 80 your 100 an

The problem is that many of these common words have complex spellings, so that children will not be able to read them in the early stages of reading by using their phonic decoding skills learnt, so they have to learn them by heart.

Tricky words
A ‘tricky’ word either contains letters (or letter combinations) that the child has not yet been taught (and will become fully decodable for them later on) or contains an irregular part that does not follow phonic rules (such as ‘here’, does’, ‘one’). Children do have to learn these words, but even with these words, an understanding of letter sounds helps, as it is only part of the word that is irregular.

A lot of words that are said to be ‘irregular’, or ‘not decodable’ are in fact perfectly decodable – they just have to be introduced at an appropriate stage. The majority of HFWs do follow decoding rules and can be sounded out once children have knowledge of how the sounds are represented in alternative ways.

Reading schemes such as the Oxford Reading Tree (Biff, Chip and Kipper stories) are written deliberately to include and ‘learn’ the HFWs. Good decodable reading schemes keep the HFWs to an absolute minimum in the early stages, giving children a chance to practise their blending skills using the sounds they have been taught.

If your child is following a good synthetic phonics programme, you will be very pleased to hear that they should not be bringing home lists of random, complex words that need to be learned by memory – a nightmare for both children and their parents! This is because phonic skills are established with regular words before trickier words are introduced slowly and systematically. These skills allow them to READ any word they come across (and understand it if it is in their spoken vocabulary).

Of course English is not a simple phonetic
language, it’s very complex – that’s the problem –
but it does have a code. It has to be taught step by
step, gradually adding the irregularities. English has
a million words and you can’t teach them all one by
one (Ruth Miskin).

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Decodable Reading Books

 

Why are good decodable reading books so important for early readers?

Decodable reading books are books used in the early stages of teaching children to read with phonics. They contain only (or mainly) text that can be ‘decoded’ (or sounded out) based on the letter-sounds the child has already been taught. This encourages children to sound out words and blend sounds to read words, rather than guessing words from pictures or context.

This recent thread on Mumsnet is a good example of how frustrating it can be for children who are given the wrong sort of reading books when they are in the early stages of learning to read with phonics.

If a school is teaching a certain phonics programme such as Jolly Phonics, Read Write Inc., or Letters and Sounds, then in an ideal world the children would all be given decodable reading books that follow the same sequence as that particular scheme. Unfortunately, many schools still have large stocks of the Oxford Reading Tree ‘Biff and Chip’ style books. These use predictable, repetitive text with illustrations that are deliberately designed to provide clues to the text content. They also use many ‘sight words’ that cannot be decoded so the child who has been learning phonics gets very frustrated when presented with lots of words that contradict what they have been taught.

Children using these books soon develop a bad habit of guessing what the words might be rather than reading them. This may not be a problem whilst their reading books contain lots of pictures but eventually their memory for sight words will reach overload and if they haven’t learnt how to read the alphabetic code properly they will struggle to read more complex texts as they move on in school.

If your child brings home books that they are unable to read based on the phonic sounds they already know, the best advice is to share the book with them and help with any words they are unable to work out, to avoid them struggling and guessing words.

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Interactive websites for children

There are many websites providing free interactive games and activities for children – some better than others! Here are some that I think are worth a visit:

Poisson Rouge
A treasure chest of activities for young children to explore – they can develop their ICT skills without the need to read any text or follow any instructions.
(For parents who want to understand what the site has to offer before allowing their child to roam it freely, there is a user guide – click on the Union Jack symbol at the bottom of the home page, then ‘User Guide’)

NGfL Cymru
This site has a useful page for seeing how to write letters correctly and hear the sounds. The first page has the letter names – click on the arrow on the bottom right of the page to go to the letter formation page.

Family Learning
A selection of links to free phonics games

Starfall
This is a popular site with many schools and parents (the American accent is not to everyone’s taste though).

BBC Words and Pictures
Games and activities that focus on a different areas of phonics work.

School websites
A number of schools have created their own websites – these are the best I have come across so far. I have linked to the Literacy pages but they also have lots of activities covering other areas of learning:

Woodlands Junior School,Kent

Northwood Primary School, Kent

If you come across another great website, or one of these links is broken, please let us know.

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Blending Sounds

Blending is one of the skills children need to develop when learning to read with phonics. They need to be able to look at the letters in a word, say the sounds (all through the word) and hear the word.

Blending needs practice – some children grasp the skill straight away and others can take much longer. The two main reasons why children struggle to hear the word when they have said the sounds are that they don’t know the letter sounds well enough (so they pause to think between letters) or the letter sounds are not being pronounced correctly.

If you are not sure how to pronounce the letter sounds correctly, take a look at our Hear the Sounds page on the website.

Children can start blending sounds into words as soon as they know a small group of letters well. The words chosen to start with will therefore depend on the letter-sounds already known. Jolly Phonics starts with the group of letters ‘s’, ‘a’, ‘t’, ‘p’, ‘i’, ‘n’ because they make more simple 3-letter words than any other group of six letters. Read Write Inc. starts with the group ‘m’, ‘a’, ‘s’, ‘d’, ‘t’.

If your child knows the letter-sounds well but is finding it difficult to blend them to read words, there are a number of tactics you can try to help them:

*Using pictures or objects, ask your child to find the ‘c-a-t’ or ‘p-i-g’ for example – if they can put the spoken sounds together, they will eventually learn to do the same with written sounds.

*Try using Magnetic letters or letters on cards to make simple words.

*Start with 2-sound words like ‘is’, ‘in’, ‘it’ to gain confidence, then move on to simple 3-sound words (CVC words or consonant-vowel-consonant) such as ‘sit’, ‘pin’.

*If your child is adding ‘uh’ onto the consonant sounds, try getting them to whisper the sound as this tends to keep it ‘pure’ this will make it easier to hear the target word.

*Get your child to slide sounds together more quickly until they are literally saying the word.

* Use very simple decodable sentences or books – it may be that your child doesn’t understand why they are sounding out and blending – Decodable Reading Books

* Use finger tracking under the letters to read the word.

*Having a picture on the back of the word card is good so that the child can turn it over and see if they have read the word correctly.

*Make sure your child is reading the letter-sounds – not saying them and looking away trying to remember them. Also, make sure they are reading all through the word – not reading the first sound then guessing the rest.

A useful video showing how to blend sounds into words can be found on a great website Mr Thorne Does Phonics

If you own an iPhone or iPod, then you might want to look at this great app called abc PocketPhonics
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6UBp6rKJ_g&feature=player_embedded

This makes the most of 21st century technology to provide an engaging and interactive way to help your child learn their letter sounds and how to blend them into words.

The thing to remember is that learning to blend will click eventually – if you have any other good suggestions for how you have helped your child learn to blend, do let us know!

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How Important is Phonemic Awareness?

What is phonemic awareness and how important is it when learning to read?

Phonemic awareness is the basis for learning phonics – it is the ability to identify individual sounds within words so that later on, the printed letters can be matched up with their proper sounds.

So phonemic awareness is not about asking children to name letters or know which letters represent which sounds – it is being aware of the sounds in spoken language.

There is some debate as to how important it is for children to have good phonemic awareness before being introduced to letters. General consensus is that whilst it is not a pre-requisite to learning to read, it is recognised that children who can hear phonemes in words and sound them out accurately are generally well prepared to make a good start in reading and writing.

Young children need to be given every opportunity for speaking and listening and lots of games to help develop phonemic awareness both before and whilst learning letter/sounds. This is an area where parents/carers can play such a vital role in their child’s development and give them the best preparation before formal phonics teaching begins in school.

• Tell stories as well as reading from books – this will encourage your child to listen.
• Play I-Spy
• Play lots of oral blending games –“It’s time for b-e-d”, “Could you go and fetch your c-oa-t”
• Sing lots of Nursery Rhymes
• Play rhyming word games such as rhyming bingo
• Play listening games

We have recently added some great new resources on for developing speaking and listening – visit the website to find out.

You might also like to know that is not only children that can have difficulty with oral blending, as this very funny YouTube video shows.

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