Curriculum – Early Reading & Phonics

Teaching Phonics and Early Reading

Most of our children come to school already knowing a huge amount about reading; e.g. they can recognise print in the environment and on logos (most children recognise ‘Tesco’ or ‘McDonald’s’), they know the difference between pictures and writing; and they have realised that symbols can be used to write down the things that people say – that text conveys meaning.

Reading is cultural.  Learning to read is about learning the system of symbols that your own culture uses to record its spoken language.

One of the most successful ways of doing this is by using a phonics approach.  In our Nursery, we follow the Letters and Sounds programme for phase 1 phonics teaching. As the children move into Reception class we use Read,Write,Inc. It is a fast moving complete phonics programme taking children from Reception to Year 2 and beyond.

We studied the content of a number of phonics programmes and chose to use Read Write Inc as this is a very well structured programme that we feel supports children’s early phonics learning in detail and  as a school we have made a commitment to follow it rigorously and embed it throughout school.

Children are assessed in terms of their phonic knowledge regularly ( generally this is about every 8 weeks) and then move through the phases, which are taught in small groups every morning. Each group builds progressively from the last and children move through them at their own pace. This means that some children will make quicker progress through their phonics learning than others. We aim that by the time the children leave year 2 their phonics knowledge is secure. As soon as the children have completed the Read Write Inc programme they access more challenging English lessons where they are expected to be able to apply this understanding in greater depth through their reading and writing.

Initially children have to be able to hear the sounds that make up our spoken language.

During phase 1 of the phonics programme which begins in nursery they practise tuning into sound in the environment and also individual sounds in words.  This phase happens all the way through the nursery year and at the beginning of reception. Where children are identified as needing additional challenge they will start to be introduced to the grapheme( letter/letters which represent sounds) as soon as staff feel they are ready for this.

During Reception year for most children,  the Read, Write Inc programme introduces children to the symbols that represent the sounds they are hearing.  It is a pacy programme with children learning a new sound most days.  They say the sound, look at the letter shape and find words that use the sound not just at the beginning but also in the middle and at the end.

There are about 44 sounds (phonemes) in the English language and all these can be represented by written symbols (graphemes).  These written representations are sometimes a single letter and sometimes 2 or 3 letters – think ‘ee’ or ‘igh’

Children initially learn one way of representing each sound.  Where there are alternative pronunciations or alternative spellings these are taught at a later stage.  For example children will learn ‘ai’ as in rain in reception and ‘ay’ as in play during year 1.

The programme is structured so that very quickly children can blend the sounds together to build simple words and they are taught to blend through a word right from the start.

Letter cards are sent home for children to practise – many of these have words on the back to help make the pronunciation clear to parents.

Some words that are needed quite early on in the reading process cannot be read by blending.  These are called ‘red words’ and the children will be introduced to these in due course – they will also be sent home so that children can consolidate their learning.

When the children have a bank of sounds and are beginning to blend confidently they will bring home reading books.  Some of these early books have no words but they are just as important and should be used to help children talk about stories and use their imagination to think about what might be happening in the pictures.  This helps them to develop early comprehension skills which are a vital part of becoming a good reader.

As the year continues children learn more written ways of representing sounds (graphemes) and by the end of this stage they will be able to represent about 42 sounds (phonemes) with a grapheme.  They also begin to learn how to form 2 syllable words e.g. football.

The next stage consolidates and builds children’s knowledge of graphemes when reading and spelling words containing adjacent consonants e.g. st, br, ck.  Children learn more red words and also learn to spell red words from the previous phases.

As children progress further through the Read Write Inc programme, they begin to learn new ways of writing known phonemes (sounds) e.g. wh, ir, ph etc and they also learn new graphemes and alternative ways of pronouncing some of the ones they already know e.g. ai and ay, oi and oy – also i as in find ch as in chip, school or chef etc, etc.  Again they will learn to read and spell yet more tricky words.

Finally, children consolidate their learning from all the previous stages and continue to apply this learning in their work.  They also learn how to use the past tense, investigate and learn how to use suffixes and look for common spelling patterns in words e.g. ‘ould’ as in should, would, could etc.  They also become more confident and secure when choosing the correct grapheme for spelling e.g. they begin to know if they need ai or ayin a word etc.

The knowledge that children have acquired is then consolidated and supported as children progress through Key Stage 2.

Where children are at risk of not achieving a pass in the phonics test by the end of Year 2 they are targeted for individual support and this will continue into Key Stage 2 if necessary.

The  school has a very good record of achievement in terms of the percentages of children who pass the phonics check at the end of year 1. In addition, by the time children leave Year 2 almost all pupils have passed the phonics check.

Some points about early writing.

Writing is a physical process and all children are at different stages of this. Some can manipulate small objects and make small controlled movements whilst other children are still working on a much larger scale.  It is important to recognise what stage children are at and to support them in moving to the next stage.

Writing is taught alongside reading.  We practise an emergent writing approach – that is we value all the mark making that children do, believing that this helps them to believe in themselves as writers and therefore be much more likely to ‘have a go’

Parents can help by encouraging mark making in its broadest sense and in lots of contexts e.g. by asking children to write their own shopping list and valuing the marks that they make in response to this.  It is also important to let children see you write and to make writing as exciting as possible so that children feel writing is a positive experience.

Children are all individuals and will all progress at different rates.  Please support your child but try to resist comparing them to another child or putting undue pressure on them.

Learning to read and write works best when it is a partnership between home and school and we value the support that you give your child.  We welcome all your comments and questions and will always be happy to give you any extra support you need to help your children become readers and writers.