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Synthetic phonics picture hotting up!

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Joined: 08 Oct 2007
Posts: 2577
Location: UK

PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 10:03 am    Post subject: Synthetic phonics picture hotting up! Reply with quote

Here in the UK, there is a growing interest in teacher training for synthetic phonics teaching.

Our new coalition government is fully committed to synthetic phonics teaching driven forwards by Nick Gibb, Schools Minister and Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education.

It is Nick Gibb who first took an interest in learning about synthetic phonics when he approached me several years ago to ask about the work of the UK Reading Reform Foundation at .

At that time, I was RRF newsletter editor and website editor and we met to discuss the issues.

Since then, Nick Gibb has personally driven events through the parliamentary process and we had the House of Commons inquiry, Teaching Children to Read, followed by Jim Rose's independent national review leading to the Rose Report. The recommendations in that report were accepted and official guidance went from recommending the 'searchlights reading model' which was multi-cueing (guessing from picture cues, context and initial letter cues) to the current model the 'simple view of reading' where the two main processes of reading are 'word decoding' and 'oral comprehension' and these are promoted as the essential ingredients of reading - that is: that the reader can actually read the words and then make sense of them.

The new government has now tightened up on the official 'core criteria' for evaluating a synthetic phonics programme and has officially included the need for using cumulative, decodable reading material for beginner readers. This is a step further than Jim Rose went who merely mentioned the efficacy of using decodable reading material in his report - and it is all good news and very sensible.

Meanwhile, the publishers in the UK are really getting on board. I was invited to be the Phonics consultant for the new Oxford Reading Tree Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters systematic synthetic phonics teaching programme - and I know of other colleagues whose work and expertise is, at last, being recognised in the wider domain.

Teacher-training opportunities are increasing for some long-time synthetic phonics campaigners - including being supported by publishers and 'other' interested parties.

We are also seeing some interest from the teacher-training universities. I know of a small handful of long-standing synthetic phonics independent people (that is, people like myself who have taken the initiative to promote synthetic phonics for a long time - even when it went against the prevailing government guidance) who are now being invited to talk to student teachers about the basic principles of synthetic phonics teaching and talk about the need to be evaluative when looking at the available synthetic phonics programmes.

The teacher-training universities are accountable to talk to students about the government's guidance, Letters and Sounds, but, to be frank, this is a limiting way of informing students about synthetic phonics teaching because Letters and Sounds need to be evaluated and stand up to comparison like any other synthetic phonics programme. I suggest that Letters and Sounds is closer to detailed guidance than an actual programme per se as it provides an incomplete programme of work and there are no actual teaching and learning resources other than a few assessments and a handful of phoneme 'spotter stories'. (For example, compare this with Phonics International which has an extensive comprehensive range of teaching and learning resources for several years work and hundreds of pieces of cumulative texts.)

The synthetic phonics teaching principles are straightforward, but teachers still have some subject knowledge to learn about the English alphabetic code itself. When teaching the learners, there is a need for daily 'content' of actual words for blending and segmenting - and applying growing alphabetic code knowledge to cumulative texts.

Letters and Sounds' advice has been interpreted by many teachers in a complex way and they tend to address the 'differentiation' issues in their classes with multiple groups of children all doing different letter/s-sound correspondences of the alphabetic code on words of certain levels of complexity. This is needlessly complicated and there are ways to provide teaching in a simpler way.

Thankfully, my guidance for content and differentiation has been taken into account for the Oxford Reading Tree Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters programme. Hopefully, then, common sense will begin to reach UK schools more widely through the support of Oxford University Press.

This has implications for my teacher-training schedule and content of training. I can now train specifically for the Phonics International programme, or for the Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters programme, or both, or speak generically (in the broader sense) about schools' needs.

In any event, Phonics International was designed to provide a good bank of generic resources which can be used to complement, or supplement, other synthetic phonics programmes where necessary or helpful.

The Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters programme is really superb but it is designed for infants. It could be used with some key stage two students also - and the CD-ROM and photocopiable Activity Sheets should be really helpful to students with English as an additional language beyond infants. Phonics International could still be used as a continuum to teach spelling for key stage two children. As I said, Phonics International can be a complementary body of work!

In individual settings, I can be briefed about the school's needs and address those accordingly.

I can address an audience from mixed-age settings (very often there are teachers and assistants for the three to four year olds alongside staff from local secondary schools with intervention in mind).

I can come and watch teaching, talk to teaching staff, and advise on steps for the way forwards.

I can provide follow-up visits and support staff meetings - whatever schools identify as their priorities!

I have also provided internet training. Our new Phonics International trainer in South America, Grace Vilar, is establishing a skype phonecall with me as part of her training events! We have done this a couple of times already and it has been well-received and is very heart-warming too!

If you have questions, or suggestions, regarding training opportunities please don't hesitate to contact me at .

We also have parts of the world with no Phonics International trainer, so please contact me if you have experience in phonics teaching or training and would be interested in making links with us. Wink
Debbie Hepplewhite
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