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High-quality pedagogy but based on phonics subject knowledge

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Joined: 08 Oct 2007
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Location: UK

PostPosted: Tue Feb 17, 2015 2:10 pm    Post subject: High-quality pedagogy but based on phonics subject knowledge Reply with quote

In a recent discussion about reading instruction and phonics, a colleague of mine wrote...

“…when what we are really looking to [promote] is high quality teaching/ pedagogy.”

I totally agreed - but it isn't quite that simple because there is still some fundamental subject knowledge and understanding required - along with the 'high-quality teaching/ pedagogy' - that is not yet universal in our schools nor in our teacher-training establishments.

I replied:

But to do that, we need the deep-enough subject knowledge to provide the high-quality teacher-training so that teachers, headteachers and others can understand and evaluate current practices and phonics content in the schools themselves.

Interestingly, a headteacher who had called upon my consultancy services recently to observe her infant school over two days (so lots of lesson observations involved) listened to the conclusions of my observations and then handed me two sides of her own ‘phonics learning walk’ conclusions to compare.

She had picked up much of the weak practice as I had seen it – for example, teachers teaching very hard but children not practising very much (so learning not taking place). None of the Year 2 children who had failed the phonics check in Year One passed it the following year. No wonder from what I saw. But the staff were fab, very articulate, excellent relationships with the children, in a highly organised and tidy school, high-quality display and otherwise a good school.

She then said, “I can see what is happening and going wrong, Debbie, but I just don’t know enough about phonics to put it right”.

In other words, she couldn’t advise on the phonics content and practices she didn’t know and understand well enough – even though she could see there were things going wrong with the pedagogy (teachers working hard but learners not working hard).

There are such GREAT features of systematic synthetic phonics work which are being touched upon nowadays (but often not understood well enough) which need to become truly ‘generic’.

For example:

The Simple View of Reading (but I find that many teachers don’t even know about it, and of those who do, they don’t refer to it as such)

The Systematic Synthetic Phonics Teaching Principles (teachers don’t know these as bullet points of code knowledge and phonics skills – teachers refer to everything as ’the sounds’ whether they are meaning graphemes, words, skills)

The Alphabetic Code Chart as a teacher-training resource, a programme organisation resource - shared with teaching staff, learners and the learners' parents as the starting point for phonics provision (this is not a universal notion and starting point - but in my view it should be)

The Teaching and Learning Cycle (this is too minimal with not enough embedded practice at code, word, sentence and text level – phonics lessons are too short – 20 minutes has become the myth – and the idea of ‘pace’ means to most teachers that they should teach one letter/s-sound correspondence per day – regardless of learners getting enough practice at code and word level including to ‘apply and extend’ to sentences and text level for all the three core phonics skills - decoding for reading, encoding for spelling - and handwriting!)

Multi-sensory teaching (this should be hear it, say it, write it etc – but it has become ‘fun games and activities – with little or NO paper-based work belonging to the learner – mini whiteboard work is the bane of phonics teaching – I call upon Sir Jim Rose's warning about ‘extraneous’ practice in his Final Report [March 2006] ALL the time)

Cumulative, decodable reading books for children's 'independent' reading (so important - but in addition phonics provision would be improved with cumulative, decodable PLAIN sentences and texts that children can work with - and which can also be shared with 'home' and used as part of the 'revisit and review' part of the Teaching and Learning Cycle)

The Maths of the Phonics (this is not understood – that the sheer amount of practice at code, word, text level work, per child, for the phonics skills, makes a big difference)

The Reversible Phonics Skills (from print to sound for reading, from sound to print for spelling – this is totally conflated in teachers’ lesson introductions, modelling and so on)

Modelling (teachers and teaching assistants constantly ‘over’ model – they do the work for the children over and again).

Differentiation (teachers will still provide baby phonics for able children – some of the children can read novels and the teacher is still providing phonics which does not ‘extend’ the able children – equally, slower-to-learn children are left behind at the get go because of really weak pedagogy – it is these children we really need to worry about because then teachers think they ‘need something different’ or they get pulled out of the teacher’s jurisdiction and into the hands of teaching assistants and weak intervention through an over-emphasis on 'grouping' children for phonics - aim for 'keeping up' not 'catching up').

Here are some further pdfs which might be of interest/use:
Debbie Hepplewhite
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