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Diminishing effectiveness with 'adaptations'...!

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 10:19 am    Post subject: Diminishing effectiveness with 'adaptations'...! Reply with quote


Having had the experience of many observations of people using the PI programme, I can see some common patterns of teachers' 'adaptations' which I really need to address as they are worrying.

Although I have provided an extensive and comprehensive bank of material which teachers (tutors, parents, special needs teachers) can use flexibly, there are some strands of resources that I consider truly 'core' and if these are used as I generally recommend, then I am totally confident about the effectiveness of the resources and the routines.

The absolutely central and essential core resource in the programme is the Sounds Book Activity Sheets which are provided in all 12 Units of the full (main) PI programme. These are the 'driver' resources on which teachers can base their lessons and which are essential for each learner to practise as a paper-based activity - and these should be collated cumulatively in individual phonics folders - to share with parents and guardians at home accordingly.

As an overarching principle, you are looking to alternate the use of the Sounds Book Activity Sheets for 'apply and extend' to sentence and text level resources ('Simple Sentences' - EYSP Units 1 to 6, 'Sentences' PI Units 1 to 5, 'I can read' texts PI Units 1 to 12). These resources are also collated in the personal phonics folder - providing a permanent visual resource which serves all sorts of purposes which are very important.

[In the new series of 8 eBooks which we have just launched at the time of posting this message, I have included both the 'Simple Sentences' and 'Sentences' resources - with extra texts written for the Unit 6b book. This leaves all the 'I can read' texts and their accompanying 'Questions' for people who wish to use both the eBooks along with the PI programme - or to extend the eBooks by continuing with the resources in the full online programme.]

I used to think that I’d designed pretty ‘fool proof’ resources – and I’ve always been particularly pleased with the way that the very central Sounds Book Activity Sheets catered for any learner to learn and apply the focus letter/s-sound correspondence(s) for the sub-skills and the three core skills at word level – with plenty of ‘engagement’ - therefore giving an opportunity to actually do some learning - and some over-learning as these words can be revisited as often as necessary.

The learner has to do the ‘applying’ by sounding out and blending each grapheme for the words in the cumulative word bank (even when the learner can ‘read’ the words pretty instantly, it still helps to do the sounding out and blending in this instance as it acts as a form of spelling analysis too – the learner is ‘paying full attention’ to the make-up of the words).

By writing the words ‘horizontally’, I could include a surprising number of words without the activity looking onerous - and allowing for plenty of practice.

Then, I include shorter and longer words – and words with prefixes and suffixes – virtually from the start of the PI programme – addressing the nature of words in our natural speech. The danger of some phonics programmes is that they provide lots of simple words which work ‘easily’ and 'neatly' and not the more varied words which we use in general speech – singular and plural words, verbs with different endings, multisyllable words, words with unusual bits of code in them – and so on. I don't hide away from any of these kinds of words!

I have made sure that we're looking at the focus correspondence, the blending is practised, the handwriting, the thinking about meaning of the words, grammar aspects can be brought into the picture, spelling with editing, writing on writing lines, seeing words written on writing lines allowing for exact copying as an extra activity for the word bank, drawing some of the words - and so on.

The supporting adult/s can oversee the practice and 'tick' what he or she hears 'blended' - but so can the learners 'tick' their words when blended and 'circle' any words that they don't know the meaning of. They're actively engaged in their own skills and their own learning and assessment.

The supporting adult/s can provide written comments and rewards and encouragements - both acknowledging the efforts and progress of the learners - and then this also provides a form of 'monitoring' or 'tracking' the progress which is easy to see.

The 'phonics folder in the school's bookbag routine' allows for all this information and effort and progress to be transparent with parents at home. Extra practice can take place at home if required or requested - or just because parents at home would like to work in partnership with schools.

The phonics folder with the work to date can provide rich, cumulative content for over-learning - for extra time and 'intervention' if required - in effect, it IS the intervention programme because there is nothing 'different' which learners need other than IDENTIFICATION if there are any stumbling blocks. What is it that is holding the learner up or causing difficulty? Then address that - but you still need to teach the learner who is slower-to-learn or who has difficulties, the same alphabetic code, core skills and their sub-skills.

Also, the contents of the phonics folder, and the design of the core Sounds Book Activity Sheets with all their accompanying alphabetic code information and guidance on the actual sheet, allows for a practical 'pick up and go' resource that different adults can supervise - perhaps a supply teacher, or a teaching assistant, or a special needs teacher, or a visiting student or parent - or parents at home - or even additional tutors.

Everyone can focus on the same core needs and routines - and not confuse the learner/s with a plethora of different materials and approaches from different programmes and training.

Anyway - the title of this thread is 'diminishing effectiveness with adaptations...' so this is where I'm going with this.

When I go around schools to observe the use of the core Sounds Book Activity Sheets, on a number of occasions I am very disappointed to be told that the class teacher has, "...adapted the sheets to suit the needs of my class...".

What this often means in reality is that the teacher completely misses out the folding up of the page to do the 'spelling-with-editing' routine.

Or teachers say, "Oh, we don't do that in Reception".

Oh my goodness - this is missing out on a huge amount of opportunity to practise not just spelling - but spelling with handwriting (the sound dashes double up as writing lines), on letter formation, on reinforcing the alphabetic code, on learning how to be independent to 'check' the spelling - before the adult checks it, support as necessary (it is not a spelling 'test' but a practising and teaching opportunity).

It is missing out on raising awareness of spelling alternatives from an early stage, from learners making decisions about 'which' column to write their spelling, and so much more.

So, why are teachers making these types of decisions?

Partly, I suggest, because they don't think 'their' children are ready for this routine?

Partly, because it takes a bit of 'training' to get the children doing this routine?

Partly, because here in England a myth has arisen about doing '15 or 20 minutes of phonics a day' and that simply isn't long enough to learn and practise all that is necessary.

Partly because the importance of the skill is underestimated?

Partly because spelling might be 'covered' in different ways?

Partly because teachers consider their children have already done 'plenty' of work by decoding the words on the front side of the sheet?

And further...

Although many schools DO set up the learners' phonics folders, they haven't necessarily established the routine of sending the work home in the bookbag to share it routinely with 'home'. Why on earth not?

And worse still...

I see very little proper marking going on. Even where teachers train their children to 'tick' what they have blended, I don't necessarily see lovely marking and encouragement from the teachers themselves. Where are the 'well dones', the 'smiley faces', the 'stars', the comment about today's achievement?

So, the Sounds Book Activity Sheet has, in effect, been turned into a quick 'dash off' sheet, which may lack deep application, high-profiling, lots of rewarding and tracking and sharing with parents and other professionals.


Also, (I am having a moany moment), I sometimes find a paucity of basic equipment in schools where there should not be this paucity. Where are the ample sharp, ordinary pencils, the sharp pencil crayons?

And, further more, the lack of children sitting at desks facing the teacher and facing the front of the class when teachers are working from the front and using whiteboards and flip charts from the front is astounding.

It has just become totally unfashionable nowadays to do the most obvious (and research-based arrangement) of sitting children in the right-sized desks facing comfortably forwards.

This is not 'Victorian', this is practical common sense - but I rarely see it.

When it is more fit-for-purpose to group the desks, then group them - but please, please, if you are worried about your children with left to right muddlement, possible dyslexic tendencies, struggles with 'attention', then re-arrange your classrooms to get some comfort and order into them.

You need to have fab relationships with your learners, but you need to provide the best possible teaching and learning conditions that you can.

You need to be efficient and effective with your phonics teaching. You have had the content and the guidance provided for you by your phonics programme so you need to make the most of its design and, to be honest, trust the guidance.

You need to mindful of the time you spend (so be efficient and train the children well in the routines to 'get on with them' - NEVER 'go through the Sounds Book Activity' sheet first once you have trained the learners in the routine - go through the words AFTER the learners have properly attempted them as new words) - but allow sufficient time for learners to apply themselves.

Accept that some learners simply need more time and more 'little and often' opportunities which you MUST find a way of providing - and once again that is where the beauty of all this paper-based cumulative material collated in the phonics folder is a blessing - grab the child and his/her phonics folder - and there is your 'revisit and review' opportunity several times a day if necessary if short-term memory is an issue!

So, be mindful of your 'adaptations' please.

You could be short-changing your children.

I better stop there. Confused
Debbie Hepplewhite
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 10:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here is the information about our new eBooks, mentioned in the message above.

I've added the link firstly because I have mentioned the eBooks but also because the information provides quite a good guide about the Systematic Synthetic Phonics Teaching Principles!

The alphabetic code introduced systematically in the eBooks includes 115+ letter/s-sound correspondences - mainly from Units 1 to 6 of the Phonics International 'order' - but correspondences such as 'gg' and 'tt' are also included in addition, subsumed into the sentences and texts.

I have added some additonal correspondences from later units of PI either 'incidentally' through the texts and/or 'systematically' at the end of the Unit 6b eBook such as the /sh/ -ti -ci -ssi from Unit 8 and /chu/ 'ture' from Unit 12.
Debbie Hepplewhite
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 08, 2013 9:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've written this three-side document below to support people with setting up the phonics folder - a reminder of what type of resources to include and why it is important that each learner owns his or her paper-based work with all the content that provides practice, embedded learning and is actually a very satisfying record of accomplishment to date:

I've also unpicked the three core skills and their sub-skills on this pdf which illustrates just how much is involved with teaching handwriting linked to the alphabetic code and the alphabet.

This is why I think that the government's official 'core criteria' is missing an emphasis on handwriting specifically - I think it should be included as the third core skill:
Debbie Hepplewhite
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