by Nikki Tonge, Deputy Headteacher, Manor Primary School
As an experienced Key Stage 2 teacher I was apprehensive about moving to Year 2 to teach early reading and phonics. My subject knowledge in this area had always been good, but was now a little rusty. So I jumped at the chance to be a part of the CLPE's Phonics in a Rich Reading Curriculum project. The project lasted two terms and completely changed the way I thought about teaching reading, both as a Key Stage 1 teacher but also as a Senior Leader. I was sceptical at first about the idea of teaching phonics to a whole class as I had always grouped my class according to ability and split them into groups with a teaching assistant taking one of the groups. This was the approach we used across the whole school to the teaching of spelling and phonics.
I came back from the course and the very next day began to teach whole class phonics sessions and I was surprised by how successful it was. The success was down to the fun, investigative approach to the teaching of reading and phonics - enabled by the use of high quality texts. The children were readily engaged with the texts, so that was the first battle won! Then, the children became sound detectives and began looking for sounds within the familiar texts and, later, in texts they hadn’t read. At first, they found only the sounds I had asked them to, but then they began to find alternative phonemes independently. We began to collect words and display these in the classroom, and we would add to them as throughout the week. This would not only be in phonics sessions, but at different points in the day - for example, in maths lessons or when walking through the school. The children were constantly on the hunt for phonemes and words!
I also noticed that the children were becoming more independent when reading. In the reading area I would display books we had read in our phonics sessions as well as similar books or other books linked to the main texts, and I found that the children would choose to read these books independently. Their self-esteem seemed to have grown, and they now tackled books that previously they wouldn’t have because they had developed confidence with reading in the phonics sessions.
The texts that were provided by the project were engaging and inspiring. They provided a real context in which to teach different phonemes and I found the children responded to them because they were ‘real’ books. The children enjoyed listening to them being read aloud and then exploring them in lessons and then independently. Rhyme and rhythm were a core part of the texts provided and on reflection was something I needed to do more of. I introduced poetry and song to my teaching and discovered children who were usually reluctant to join in came alive during these activities. These children were more willing to perform in front of others which enabled them to develop confidence, self-esteem as well as speaking and listening skills.
The success of this approach to teaching reading in my Year 2 class inspired me to think about the teaching of reading across the whole school. As a Senior Leader and an experienced Key Stage 2 teacher I began to think how we could develop this approach for the older children. As a school we have already introduced whole class spelling lessons in Key Stage 2 which is having great success. The children are now accessing age appropriate spelling rules and patterns which they would not have encountered previously when we ability-grouped children. They are then being given targeted support on any gaps in learning they may have. When thinking about older early readers I felt that the main issue was that as children get older teachers don’t monitor reading as carefully as is done in Key Stage 1. As Senior Leader I am now working to understand this more and ensuring that all adults who listen to children read are making effective observations.
I also feel that the texts we provide children with in early Key Stage 2 are key to fostering and maintaining a love of reading. We are currently developing a whole school read aloud culture and I have been working with staff and the school’s library service to ensure we have high quality texts that both staff and children can read. The Phonics in a Rich Reading Curriculum project has contributed to this by providing many high quality picture books which have helped engage children in complex themes and have allowed them to talk about and make sense of the world.
The course has also provided me with the subject knowledge needed to teach phonics well, as well as a deeper understanding of the types of books to use when teaching reading throughout the school. The children are more engaged in the texts we have chosen and love to talk about the texts they have read. They are able to make links and connections, and form their own personal responses to a range of texts. We are beginning to see an improvement in comprehension skills. The biggest impact has been on the children’s pleasure of reading and it has been a joy to see the children so immersed in such wonderful books.