The Power of Phonics: a specialist's take on a book-based approach
In September 2018, along with five other teachers from Wirral primary schools, I was asked to help lead a phonics project entitled, Phonics in a Rich Reading Curriculum in partnership with the CLPE. The project was initiated to support schools improve their approach to teaching early reading and phonics in order to ensure better outcomes for children in both the Key stage 1 phonics screening check and in their overall attainment in literacy.
Each of the SLEs (Specialist Leaders of Education) was assigned a number of schools to work with across the Wirral. We were told that we would be going into each school to support staff once every fortnight. Initially, we all felt rather apprehensive as we didn’t know if we would be able to impact on standards, or even have any idea where to start, but we had all been chosen as practitioners who were passionate about the teaching of early reading through phonics and were hopeful that we could make a difference. In order to maximise the impact of the support we were giving our assigned schools, we were allocated five additional training days with the CLPE’s Lead Advisory Teacher, Anjali. Her passion for literacy, together with the CLPE’s extensive expertise in the teaching of reading and phonics, motivated us all and provided us with an excellent starting point for the phonics project. It became clear that with the CLPE’s training and support we would be able to move our schools forward.
From the training sessions we learnt so much about the importance of early reading and why spending more time developing early phonological awareness is so crucial. Focusing on areas such as rhythm, rhyme and alliteration (not only in Foundation 1, but throughout each Key Stage), the training presented us with a totally new way of teaching phonics using high quality texts. Initially, we were all quite sceptical of this approach as it was so different from what we were used to. However, from experimenting with this integrated teaching approach within our own settings we very quickly began to see how useful a focus on a high-quality children’s books was in contextualising learning and helping children make links between phonics and other areas of the curriculum.
After each training session we were all encouraged to discuss and reflect upon our own practice, then to go back to our settings and experiment with the teaching of early reading and phonics. We were given some fantastic high-quality texts to take away with us - all of which had been purposefully selected by the CLPE such as Tanka Tanka Skunk by Steve Webb. We now use these as the basis of some highly interesting and engaging phonics lessons.
We also spent lots of time discussing the role of the parents, debating whether they should be helping teachers to directly teach phonics and early reading or whether teachers’ focus should be on helping parents access and expose their children to a range of high quality texts, and supporting their children to enjoy a range of books through modelling reading aloud, and sharing stories, rhymes and songs at home. This then led us to target the development of positive home-school links through teaching parents how to share stories, songs and rhymes with their children. This has been a real focus of some of our school support sessions. In one of my schools, I invited parents to come along to a parent workshop on the importance of reading with children. Following an introductory session led by me, the parents then had the opportunity to share stories with their children. It was lovely to see so many parents engaging in this and to witness the children’s enjoyment and enthusiasm.
Now that the training sessions are over, we have had chance to reflect on the journey so far; discussed our successes and ways forward in the future. Just a few months into the project, we can hardly believe what an impact our work has already had on teachers and children. Many staff from our schools have reported that they have felt supported in developing their subject knowledge and gained knowledge of and confidence in making phonics a more integral part of the curriculum. Most importantly, teachers have commented on children’s increasing interest, engagement and enjoyment of phonics and reading.
We are already well into achieving our overall aims! I am so thankful to have been able to be a part of the Phonics in a Rich Reading Curriculum project and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the year will bring.
Interested in developing phonics subject knowledge and practice within your setting and in teacher training to help support early readers?