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A registered charity, operating since 1999 towards:

"The advancement of education for people of
all ages and abilities."


Phonics International training event

2nd November 2009

London, England

This was my first face-to-face training event with Phil Evans, his staff and the tutors of 'The Complete Works Creative Company Limited'. Phonics International sponsors this charity and as part of our relationship, I provided an introductory session to familiarise tutors new to the Phonics International programme with the synthetic phonics teaching principles underpinning the programme.

You can see Phil Evans introducing me to everyone, and also describing how he has always been impressed with the effectiveness of phonics teaching for reading and spelling instruction.

What is extremely relevant and important in training events is to make very clear the REALITY that phonics is the domain of experienced, literate, proficient readers and spellers INCLUDING ADULTS - and not just a teaching method for infant teachers to teach our youngsters.

When we want to spell longer or more unusual words, we invariably break down these words silently in our heads into phonic components (for example, syllable chunks). We generally don't 'think' in terms of 'letter names' when we work out the spelling. We don't tend, however, to share our proficient adult spelling skill with our older students. Instead, many people simply spell out the target word for the students with letter NAMES - not the SOUNDS. We, in effect, often fail to model what we, ourselves, carry out for our 'proficient speller' spelling routines.

Equally, for reading new, long words (for example, technical words, Latin plant names, Greek mythological names), we either apply our phonic skills all-through-the-printed-word - or alternatively we lazily 'blurgh' out the word - that is, we skip over it as we read silently to ourselves! But for our younger students, a great many of the words they encounter in their reading are new, longer and unknown. So how much 'blurghing' - and guessing - takes place for students who have very partial alphabetic code knowledge and weak blending skills? That is the question!

Amongst the advantages of the Phonics International programme is its suitability for all ages, its flexibility, and its extensive, comprehensive range of resources enabling tutors to select where to start the programme and how to use its resources for each tutee.

It's very easy to access the resources via their unit webpages to select what is required. The many positive features of the programme have been recognised by Phil and his staff, including one of the tutors, Pippa Gross, who provided a testimonial to colleagues to encourage them to use Phonics International as appropriate. I was sorry that Pippa was unable to attend this event, but I look forward to meeting her in the future! You can read Pippa's description for her colleagues here:

Phil asked me if they could film the occasion as this would be helpful to new tutors in the future. I am always very keen to spread information about synthetic phonics teaching not only for beginning reading instruction - but for the teaching of spelling, for basic literacy skills intervention - and also for supporting the teaching of English where it is an additional, or 'foreign', language.

In this photograph, you can see me explaining the structure of my Alphabetic Code Overview Charts - how the sounds are always depicted down the left hand columns and the spelling alternatives for those sounds are shown across the rows.

The colour-coding indicates in which of the 12 units the resources related to each 'grapheme' is provided. Each unit has its own 'webpage' online. The 12 colours also serve to break up the graphemes into manageable and memorable chunks - further helping the understanding and learning of the alphabetic code.

The chart on the right showcases all the key exemplar words and pictures used in the programme. Please note that these charts, and many other versions, are free to download from the free unit 1 webpage!

Here you can see me referring to my Sounds Book Activity Sheets. These are really core to the Phonics International programme and need to be used on a very regular basis alternating with extension work at word, sentence or text level (for the skills of blending, segmenting/spelling and handwriting - and, further, for comprehension exercises and writing creative spelling stories).

The guidance for the 'teacher' for the alphabetic code is provided on every single sheet throughout the entire programme - and this can be shared with 'home' and any other adults delivering the programme.

Each Sounds Book Activity Sheet includes the focus letter/s-sound correspondence, a selection of words to sound out and blend (including shorter words and longer words for differentiation), a handwriting section, a drawing mnemonic for phonemic awareness, then fold up the paper up to the large-font grapheme and use the 'back' to go through the oral segmenting and spelling and editing routine. (Please note - you can view me demonstrating the use of the Sounds Book Activity Sheets on the 30 minute video clip - see the Phonics International homepage.)

If you look carefully, you can just about see that I include aspects of teaching such as '-ed' verb endings and also I introduce useful common words which are a bit unusual - such as 'said' and 'again', then 'says' on the next sheet. What you can't see here is that the next Sounds Book Activity Sheet in the sequence revises these new 'ai' and 'ay' letter/s-sound correspondences and 'pulls them together' side by side in two columns. I also introduce the single vowel letters as code for both their 'short sound' and their 'long sound' by the end of unit 2 which is a very practical thing to do for quicker access to authentic reading material.

Additional visual aids are provided of these tricky words via my 'MINI POSTERS' range (cumulative words featuring the focus letter/s-sound correspondence) which is available in all 12 units.

Further, there is plenty of cumulative, decodable sentence and text level material in Phonics International (for every grapheme shown on The Alphabetic Code Overview Charts) where word endings and more unusual spellings (but for common words) are introduced throughout this material.

Here I'm demonstrating the use of 'sound dashes' for spelling purposes. We all took a long breath and then slowly 'said' these words to enable the individual sounds to 'pop out'. This is called 'oral segmenting'. We noted how quiet the consonant sounds were, how loud and deep the vowel sounds were, and we noted the associated movement of jaw, mouth, tongue and teeth.

The routine for beginners and strugglers is to use the left fist, palm facing, to tally the sounds which 'pop out' with thumb and fingers (left to right - thumb first) for spelling purposes.

The 'sound dashes' double up as 'writing lines' to focus on correct positioning of the letters on lines. For joined writing, re-write the whole word on a continuous writing line after this initial spelling routine.

The editing (or checking) process involves sounding out the graphemes to hear the word - pretty much like the routine of blending for reading words - except the target word is already known with the spelling routine! It is important that students learn to edit their own spellings, to discover if there are any missing sounds/letters.

Thus - the spelling and editing routines which are part of the core Sounds Book Activity Sheets are a teaching and learning process - not the same as a 'spelling test'. These routines bear no resemblance to the 'look, cover, write, check' spelling routine, although students do need to be constantly vigilant as to how words are spelt and whether there are any unusual or tricky parts.

Mr H and I were made to feel very welcome by 'The Complete Works' team and very kind comments were expressed by many of the tutors after the event. Thank you so much everyone.

I look forward to feedback from any of the tutors who need to call upon the Phonics International programme for their current or future students. Remember that I am always available to offer advice and support.

Click HERE to visit the website of 'The Complete Works Theatre Company Limited'.