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Snowed-in with international friends!


8th - 11th January 2010


(Newbury, Berkshire, England)


Meet Coral George from Spain and Grace Vilar from Argentina. There is never a dull moment when these two vibrant ladies are around!

Coral has been doing ground-breaking work in Spain promoting synthetic phonics teacher training for teachers of three to five year olds using the Jolly Phonics programme. She also promotes and trains in the Phonics International programme. This provides a good continuum for Jolly Phonics as both programmes are based on the same synthetic phonics teaching principles and schools are wanting to extend their great start for their older students. Thanks to Coral, we now have several pilot schools in Spain trialling the Phonics International programme.

Grace, too, is an independent synthetic phonics consultant and she is based in Argentina. Grace was keen to learn more about Phonics International to enable her to pilot the programme as an extension to the great Jolly Phonics start made by the four to six year olds in the school where she is Head of Primary. Both Grace and Coral are truly passionate synthetic phonics promoters and teacher-trainers in their own countries and 'beyond'. They clearly thrive on travelling and they are keen to build up a strong international training team.

Coral introduced Grace to me during a very lively, exciting, exhausting long weekend where we mixed work with pleasure 'non-stop'! In unusually freezing temperatures and surrounded by beautiful soft white snowy views, we had to wrap up warm both inside and outside the house!

Whenever possible, I like to train people using 'hard copy' of the Phonics International programme. In this way, I can structure the many presentation files of all the resources (over 30 files) in such a way as to make sense of the rationale and progression of the programme. To see the programme visually in 'real' material, also gives trainees a true understanding of its scale, flexibility and full potential.

I start with the Phonics International EARLY YEARS STARTER PACKAGE resources in the files of the left hand 'column'. This has now become, in effect, a programme within a programme and it is fantastic value at our new price of £11. You can see me showing Grace that there are six choices of 'simpler' ALPHABETIC CODE CHARTS in the Early Years Starter Package - as beginners focus at first on the letter/s-sound correspondences of either units 1 to 5 or units 1 to 6.

Here I am comparing the 'Style 2' EARLY YEARS STARTER ACTIVITY SHEETS with the original design - both available to download on the EYSP webpage. I listened to Hannah Hogan, one of our Phonics International trainers in China, who made some requests and suggestions for changes to the original EYSP Activity Sheets for the benefit of her students who, of course, have English as an additional language. It is really important that phonics programmes have plenty of pictures included to help younger learners and EAL learners broaden their knowledge and understanding of words. Hannah finds these EYSP activity sheets very suitable for her students, many of whom are older, and worries that people might think that they are only aimed for 'infants' rather than 'beginners' of different ages.

Of course it is up to teachers to steep their learners in the spoken English language as much as possible in addition to providing the systematic basic literacy skills programme. Grace tells me that her pupils spend half the day speaking and learning in the Spanish language and the other half of the day speaking and learning in the English language.

Visitors to the PI message forum will know that I constantly request feedback and that I respond to this by sharing information with others and by designing new resources to keep developing the Phonics International programme.


Here Coral and Grace disappear for a walk into Newbury to explore and do a bit of shopping! I would have loved to have gone with them but I had office work to attend to - it never ends - but many of you know that I respond to emails as quickly as I can and offer online advice as part of the Phonics International service.

I've actually been providing free online advice for many years - long before I designed the Phonics International programme. In fact, listening to people and learning about their worries and their needs was my motivation for writing PI in the first place. I've simply put into the programme what I know we need as teachers, whole schools, tutors, parents of learners and learners themselves.

There's nothing quite like first-hand experience - but clearly I cannot have the breadth of experience of teaching in all contexts around the world. This is why my wonderful PI trainers are so important as they can train in the synthetic phonics teaching principles and offer advice about use of the PI resources - but also help me in understanding needs and circumstances in different countries. I'm truly grateful that such caring and talented people are prepared to join with me in achieving literacy in the English language internationally.

The ladies managed to find their way back from town easily enough - but none of us had much energy to do yet more training on that first day - and we were glad to be distracted by a 'dance' competition on the TV and conversation which extended way beyond phonics!

The next morning, we were joined by Elizabeth Nonweiler who lives quite nearby and who is also an independent synthetic phonics trainer - and yet another lady who loves travelling abroad if necessary to provide training!

I had recently appealed to our Phonics International training team to take photos of teaching and learning to add to the PI website as examples of good practice, and so the timing was amazing when Grace turned up on my doorstep with a camera in one hand, camcorder in the other, complete with laptop and a massive bank of video clips! She not only 'wowed' us all with her pupils' reading and writing, her life adventures, her dancing caught on camera and stunning views of her travels, but she then proceeded to film our day's training - all informal and fun of course! Grace is one amazing 'Techno Woman' and I can't wait to see what she achieves as she pilots Phonics International in her school!

All of our time spent together was one coincidence after another and really uplifting. When Grace saw the READ THE WORDS, MAKE UP A STORY resource available in units 1 to 5, she described how it was remarkably similar to work the teachers were doing in her school to develop spelling but they were having to make up the word banks as they 'went along'. When she produced a sample of this work it was incredible. Even the structure of the work-spaces on the page was pretty much identical - quite uncanny. Instead of work needing to be built up piece by piece by individual teachers, however, the whole school will now have a systematic structure and guaranteed content by using the PI resources. It was the 'whole school' comprehensive approach that particularly appealed to Grace and she also felt that the I CAN READ texts which continue throughout the 12 units of the programme would be very helpful for developing grammar and vocabulary enrichment.


So, here we are at the end of yet another long, hard-working but very enjoyable and special day. This is what your committed Phonics International trainers do during their time-off and holidays!