‹ News / Tips & Help

Developing Early Reading and Phonics by Sian Collinson

Oct 23rd 2020

Phonics has been part of our teaching in the early years and KS1 for a long time now but more often than not many of us find it can be an uphill struggle. Getting pupils to read independently and fluently, whether for the end of key stage expectations, phonics screening check or just so that they can access the wider curriculum, doesn’t always come easily.

Through our work with Childern Thornton English Hub

we have been able to really examine what makes phonics a success within schools. Whichever programme you are following (the list of DfE approved programmes can be found online https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/phonics-choosing-a-programme), there are some key factors you need to ensure are in place.

Here we have our top tips for getting phonics and early reading right in your school:

  • Ensure you have fidelity to one phonics programme only. This means that all resources, teaching sequences/styles, assessment and interventions match the programme throughout the school.
  • All staff to be fully trained. This really does mean all staff across the school need full training in your chosen programme. The aim is to create early reading experts and to increase the capacity for and standard of phonics teaching.
  • Books being read by pupils match their sounds. Look closely at the books you are asking pupils to read. Do they contain sounds they have not yet been taught? Pupils need to be reading books which allow them to practise the sounds they have been learning. These need to be in a cumulative way (with new sounds being added to what they already know). If you haven’t got fully decodable texts (our book review this month can give you more details on this), you need to look at what is in your current books and organise them in phase progression.
  • Keep lesson simple and to the point. We have all overdone the ‘engagement’ with phonics but ask yourself whether this has ever detracted from the learning. Create a routine with recognised activities (more on these in the next point) which focuses on a key sound/skill with opportunities for adult modelling which pupils can then replicate when practising and applying.
  • Choose activities which promote active involvement of all pupils. There are some lovely creative ideas for phonics activities, many of which work well as an enhancement. During the lesson though, we want pupils to get the opportunity to read/write as many words with their new sound as they can. This means no waiting around and turn taking with only 1 pupil reading or writing at a time. We only have 15-20 mins so that time needs to be maximised.
  • Maintain a focus on the lowest 20%. Our curriculum, quite rightly, has high expectations for all pupils and this means that we need to ensure our lowest 20% are still making progress with their reading and phonics. This means making them a focus in your lessons, ensuring they have regular opportunities to over learn the new skill/sound and implementing ‘keep up’ activities to help narrow the gaps.
  • Have a ‘keep up’ not ‘catch up’ approach. It is so important that we respond to pupils’ misconceptions and gaps as soon as possible. Short, focussed same day intervention makes such a difference in allowing pupils to close gaps. Don’t wait until your half termly assessment week to act upon what you already know.

These are just some of the areas schools are focussing on to ensure that their teaching of phonics is of a high quality and that their pupils are working towards that ultimate goal of being independent readers.

If you would like to hear more about how to implement this in your school, get in touch with us to discuss our CPD options. You may also be interested in signing up for our new online modules for early reading and phonics