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Commonly-asked questions when starting Phonics International

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, 2015 11:05 am    Post subject: Commonly-asked questions when starting Phonics International Reply with quote

I received an enthusiastic response re my training for a whole primary school with some very sensible questions which I've copied and pasted along with my answers. The teacher's questions are in red - mine in black.

I've posted this here as these may be commonly-asked questions:

You visited my school in November to carry out a days training and we have now fully implemented the PI programme in FS and KS1.


Some KS2 children are also having access to the materials.

Good – I hope the core materials will serve all KS2 children well for spelling, building up spelling word banks and vocabulary/comprehension in the future.

Recent observations of phonics teaching by the headteacher and deputy headteacher have been very positive, in particular with regard to children's enjoyment, focus and engagement. In addition the challenge that the vocabulary and comprehension provides.

This is very good to hear.

To help us continue in our development I have a few questions that I wonder if you could help us with.

Do you have any summative assessment resources? and/or a tracking system for monitoring children's progress. Or could you please clarify how this can be achieved, it maybe that we didn't fully comprehend your ideas during the training day.

On the Free Resources webpage, there is a package of various assessments – some of which could be used for baseline assessments and some of which can be used for a more summative approach. This is the resource:

With regard to a tracking system, the beauty of the paper-based core resources (for example, the Say the Sounds Posters, the Sounds Book Activity Sheets and the sentence or text level resources such as ‘Sentences’ and ‘I can read’ texts and comprehension ‘Questions’) is that they can all be used as a constant tracking system – which is shared with all supporting adults as required, provides an instant picture of each learner’s work and how well they did with the content. I write about the potential of this system here (see page 3 for ‘marking and annotating’):

There are various ways that you can keep a formal record of children’s code, word or text level work with various resources in the Phonics International programme. Basically you select a suitable resource of content and/or skill that you want to assess, identify what it is you are assessing (e.g. letter/s-sound correspondence knowledge, word level blending or segmenting or spelling-with-handriting, text reading with comprehension) and then ask the learner to undertake the activity but for a formal assessment, do not give any assistance and record on a named and dated copy of the same resource the learner is using as to how the learner responds. You can mark any errors, annotate the ease or difficulty with which the learner did something, or how well/fluently/automatically and so on.

In the ‘How to set up and use your core and essential Phonics International resources’ pdf (big pink button on the PI homepage), there are various electronic links to very helpful guidance and diagrams. I left a copy of this with you and this includes diagrams such as ‘The Simple View of Reading’ and ‘The Simple View of Writing’ which you can actually use per child to consider their reading or writing profiles, and then there is an index and class record of the index like this (which you could use per learner to note what each learner knows of these letter/s-sound correspondences):

Via the Unit 1 webpage at the very bottom of the page, you will find additional record keeping and tracking resources such as this:

This diagram below will also help you to understand the three core skills and their sub-skills which you may want to monitor specifically – both in terms of your teaching and children’s learning – especially if children are struggling on some aspects of their learning. Does this reflect a shortfall in teaching content, or practice for the children – or individual learning needs? See this:

In conclusion: The most important thing about assessment is having a clear idea of what you are assessing, and why, what this looks like for each child on an ongoing basis (the phonics folder content) and what this looks like periodically (half-termly or termly) on a formal, staged basis. For informal assessment, all the routines engage the children with their own learning (ticking what they think they know, circling what they don’t know – always in pencil) and supporting adults, with a pen, are ticking constantly on the children’s Say the Sounds Posters, Activity Sheets and cumulative texts, for formal assessment, just use the actual resources in the programme as per the normal routine, but on this occasion, don’t give any help and keep an annotated copy in your teachers’ records.

By the way, the assessment at text level can be about comprehension and about precise spelling and punctuation – so, for example, you can use a selected text from the programme itself for a dictation or a written comprehension.

2. You outlined the weekly teaching sequence as a code sheet 1 day, comprehension the next - aiming for 2 of each covered each week. We have noticed however that in later units, there may be 3 codes then a comprehension covering all three. These comprehensions are very challenging - do you recommend that they could take 2 days for year 2 children or do you recommend a different teaching sequence?

The teaching sequence (Teaching and Learning Cycle) is ‘code – word – sentences or texts – building up knowledge of spelling word banks' using various activities including use of the ‘I can read’ texts and the comprehension ‘Questions’ and associated activities.’

The Phonics International programme is not ‘even’ in that there are sometimes extra resources, for example in the Sounds Book Activity Sheets from Unit 6 to Unit 12, and teachers can decide which of these extra resources may be helpful – or even not necessary – or simply used for display. The actual main Sounds Book Activity Sheet is always essential for the core word level work and then teachers can make choices about the use of the ‘I can read’ texts and ‘Questions’ according to their professional judgement and the needs of the class.

Some learners will be so quick and independent, that they can undertake written comprehension questions, whilst other learners may benefit from a supporting adult talking through the questions orally. The teacher may decide to alternate whether the ‘Questions’ are used orally with the whole class, following paired-work – or whether they are written out in full by each learner. What matters always is that children get sufficient practice of the main learning intention. Deep practice and an ethos of quality of work and full appreciation of the children’s work will make all the difference.

What you can aim for, also, is efficiency and ‘getting on with it’. Really try to cultivate a work-ethic in the class so that time is used well. The more you establish this, the better the results, and the greater the enjoyment of all concerned. Meandering through the activities will not do. Teachers being inattentive to the detail and quality will not do. As long as you are always aiming for ‘quality’ and ‘detail’, you will get fantastic results.

3. If children do not pass the phonics screening check at the end of year 1 and need further consolidation of units 2-6 would they repeat the same sheet in year 2?

First of all, all the children will pass the screening check well if the teaching and learning is high-quality because the ‘content’ on the resources is there in abundance. So, the only children who may not pass would be children with genuinely challenging learning difficulties or perhaps children coming to your school from other schools.

Secondly, of the children who do not pass the Y1 screening check, you really need to understand why that is and then try to identify whether, for example, the issue is lack of alphabetic code knowledge (the letter/s-sound correspondences) or lack of the blending skill. Can the children ‘say the sounds’ quickly enough? Are they able to recognise any letter groups before starting to sound out and blend? Can they ‘discern’ a spoken word on doing their own sounding out and blending?

When you have analysed why any children might not have reached the benchmark, then consider the actual teaching provision. Have the children had sufficient embedded practice at learning the correspondences and blending cumulative words?

In your ‘revisit and review’ part of each lesson, do the children use their own Say the Sounds Posters to ensure that each one of them as an individual really knows the code?

Then, include in your ‘revisit and review’ part of each lesson, not only code-level review but also repeat-reading the cumulative word banks of the Sounds Book Activity Sheets. In other words, the ‘revisit and review’ needs to go beyond just code-level practice and to include both word level and also sentence and text level repeat reading as required.

4. As children need to cover units 1-6 by the end of year 1 for the phonics check do you have a recommended teaching sequence for the remaining units over year 2 and KS2?

In KS2, you might only need to provide, say, a couple of focus lessons per week – and perhaps with the possibility of any ‘finishing off’ at home.

Year 2 might be Units 5 to 7 dependent on what you find about children’s learning and if they need any revision. You can use the same resources but you can always use them differently with a different task. Please bear in mind that because you have only just started using Phonics International, this may not be a ‘typical’ projected pattern:

Year 3 could be Units 7 and 8
Year 4 could be Units 8 and 9
Year 5 could be Units 9 and 10
Year 6 could be Units 10, 11, 12.

However, in an English-speaking context, and with the pattern of a 'two-day Teaching and Learning Cycle', teachers might find that they broadly use Phonics International with a similar pace to this:

Reception: Units 1 to 4/5

Year 1: Units 5 to 6 (but revise as required following a baseline assessment and professional judgement)

Year 2: Units 6 to 8 (but revise as required)

Key Stage 2: Note where children have reached in the programme, give a baseline assessment to ascertain if any revision is required. Note that the baseline assessment is not just about what 'code' the children know - it includes what 'spelling word banks' and vocabulary they know. This means that you cannot judge your starting point from code knowledge alone, you need to look at the level of the texts and the spelling word banks to ascertain starting point and selection of resources.

Change the pace in Key Stage 2 from a daily phonics and spelling lesson to, perhaps, two lessons per week with a homework to finish off word and embed current learning.

For teachers of the older children, in this first year, they may simply want to pick and choose ‘which’ of the letter/s-sound correspondences to do with the children according to the greatest need for spelling purposes regardless of which Unit.

Bear in mind, also, that whereas a phonics programme starts off by teaching children to read, write and spell, once children can read, the programme becomes a spelling/writing and comprehension programme. So, Unit 5 can be used with really very young beginners with mainly a reading emphasis (still do spelling and writing but understand that for spelling and writing, phonics needs to continue beyond the children becoming readers) – but Unit 5, for example, can still provide suitable material for self-dictations and formal dictations for spelling and punctuation for older children.

What I am trying to suggest is that there is great flexibility in the use of the resources and it is best not to consider the Units of work as age-specific – teachers need to ‘look’ at the level of the language of the texts to consider the suitability for their own pupils.

5. In the new National curriculum a year 2 objective is to be able to add suffixes and understand these spelling rules. Will you be amending your programme in light of this? Our current year 2 have met this through following the letters and sounds phase 6 programme alongside some PI.

I consider ‘phase six’ of 'Letters and Sounds' (DfES 2007) to be a very flawed notion.

Teachers need to be introducing some of the consistent spelling rules from very early stages of systematic phonics provision – not wait until the children know 'phase five' (don't confuse 'phase five' with my Phonics International 'Unit 5') – which equates to an extremely comprehensive alphabetic code!

Children will also encounter suffixes and prefixes long before Year 2 through natural language for reading and writing – and Phonics International includes words with prefixes and suffixes with word level and text level material from the outset.

What I suggest is that teachers use their professional discretion to address spelling rules and grammar, as required, right from Reception – and then they introduce a more formally-planned programme of grammar work from Year 2 onwards. Spelling word bank work is not properly addressed nor understood in the National Curriculum and spelling rules must not replace the idea of raising awareness, and providing activities, for children associating banks of words together with the same letter/s-sound correspondences. The ‘I can read’ texts provide spelling story themes – particularly from Unit 7 onwards – to help glue the words in the spelling word banks together.

Please make sure that the main display walls include spelling word banks – look at the Mini Posters range for this, plus the Sounds Book Activity Sheets themselves.

I shall be providing some additional activities and material over time.

In the ‘extras’ webpage (see the index), you will find some posters with some ‘rules’ from Key Stage 1 of the National Curriculum, and also some ‘Learning Intentions’ which might be helpful to teachers in Key Stage 2.

Further, I have just made 76 new CORE TEACHER MODELLING CARDS to support quick teacher-led lesson introductions for the later units as well as for the earlier units so that most of the lesson time can be spent on children getting on with their own practice and learning – rather than the teacher spending too long at the front of the class whilst children sit idle .

Many thanks in anticipation of your help,

You are very welcome indeed – good luck!

Debbie Hepplewhite
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 28, 2015 9:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would like to add something here about what I mean when I refer to 'spelling word banks':

My meaning does not refer to 'word families' which stems from the 'onset and rime' type of phonics.

Onset and rime phonics 'chunks' words into two parts - thus instead of blending and segmenting skills which are 'all-through-the-printed-word' or 'all-through-the-spoken-word', with onset and rime, the words are 'snapped in two'.

Thus, 'brick' would be handled as br-ick and not b-r-i-ck.

But if you teach 'ick' as unit of sound, you would also need to teach 'ack' and 'eck', 'uck', 'ock'.

This would lead to 'word families of each unit of sound such as:

brick, stick, thick, tick, sick, click - and so on.

But also,

track, snack, sack, slack - and so on.


clock, sock, rock, knock - and so on.

Can you see that you have a huge number of such 'word families' stemming from the notion of 'onset and rime' phonics.

It occurs to me, however, that when I talk about 'spelling word banks', some people might think I mean 'word families' which are also banks of words.

With the example above, the 'spelling word bank' would focus on the letter group whatever it is in the words, not the 'rime' pattern.

Thus, in the word 'brick', the letter group is 'ck' so the spelling word bank would consist of words with 'ck'.

The alphabetic code information to know about 'ck' is that it is used after single vowel letters which are code for the short vowel sounds.

It is never used after a 'long' vowel sound or after a consonant letter (with rare exceptions such as 'Max Planck'!!!).

It is never used as code for the /k/ sound at the beginning of a word, but it can appear in the middle or at the end of a word.

Any spelling word bank would focus on 'ck' words in middle and final ends.

It would be linked with the alphabetic code knowledge that multisyllable words ending with the sounds /i/ /k/ are likely to be spelt 'ic' and it would be good to look at a spelling word bank of 'ic' words to exemplify this (poster now in the 'extras' unit for PI users).

So, from this, a spelling word bank would provide examples such as this:

brick, bucket, sticks, packet, kicks, kicked (if learners were ready for different verb endings which I would certainly be pointing out to even young beginners) - and so on.

We might also look at some words like this:

picnic, magic, tragic, fabric, elastic - and so on.

Spelling word banks can be introduced via the Phonics International (and Oxford Reading Tree Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters programme) - both formally when the focus letter/s-sound correspondence is introduced in the programme/s, but also 'incidentally' if and when it seems appropriate to introduce a spelling word bank in wider work - and this is a 'professional discretion' moment.
Debbie Hepplewhite
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