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Phonics, Early Reading and Early Writing
Phonics is integral to the development of early reading and writing skills. Phonics can be defined as the individual sounds that make up the words we use every day.
These individual sounds (called phonemes) can be made by single letters (c, a, t), pairs (pay) or groups of letters (high). There are a number of sounds that can be made in more than one way (day, made, wait) and groups of letters that can make more than one sound (school, chop).
Children at Guilsborough Primary School begin developing their understanding of these sounds early in their Reception year. They continue to practise and develop their phonic skills as they move into Key stage 1, and progress through Year 1 and Year 2.
At Guilsborough Primary School we use a systematic phonics programme called Letters and Sounds. Letters and Sounds is divided into six phases, with each phase building on the skills and knowledge of previous learning. There are no big leaps in learning. Children have time to practise and rapidly expand their ability to read and spell words. They are also taught to read and spell ‘tricky words’, which are frequently used words with spellings that are unusual and cannot easily be sounded out (the, go, was).
A child’s reading journey starts with you as a reader. This might include seeing you read everyday signs in the environment, reading emails, website information, magazines, letters, newspapers, sharing books, having books in your home and reading to your child. Books may come from family, friends, a library or elsewhere. Sharing books (and other reading materials) with a child, allows them to begin to feel the joy that comes from the printed page, the words and the pictures. This shows them that you value books and that you see reading as a worthwhile thing to do. At all stages of their reading development, continue to read to them and with them but don’t forget to listen to them.
When learning phonics, children start with individual letter sounds; matching a letter to a given sound and also making the correct sound when shown a letter. This is called phoneme / grapheme correspondence.
They then make use of this knowledge to break simple words down (segmenting) into their component sounds (cat -> c-a-t) and then put them back together (blending) to work out the word (c-a-t -> cat). Children then learn sounds made up of two or more letters.
At school, our reading scheme books are carefully organised according to the levels as set out in the National Book Band guidance. The books we send home will support and develop the children’s taught phonic skills. As the children’s phonic knowledge develops, the range and number of words used in their reading book increases.
As they read more and more children come to recognise familiar words, rather than having to work them out each time, and reading becomes more fluent. As children develop as readers, their internal word bank expands. The need for phonics diminishes but remains in the background and can be recalled when they need to decode new and unfamiliar words.
With increased fluency comes recognition of punctuation – full stops, exclamation marks, commas; this helps in the development of expression. Children become aware of characters: who they are, how old, how they are feeling; and use this to alter their voice when reading aloud.
To help children understand stories and other texts more fully, we ask them questions on what they have read: Why do you think they did that? How do you think they are feeling? How do you know? When is this happening… These questions help to develop a child’s reading comprehension skills.
There are however many words in the English language that cannot be worked out using phonics as they don’t conform to the rules – words such as no, go, be, me, was. Children are taught that these words can’t be sounded out and must just be learnt. Children will bring these words home to practise alongside their reading books.
There are also words that children will struggle with in the early stages of their phonic development, as they haven’t learnt the sounds needed at that point in time. As their ability to recognise a greater range of sounds improves, so will their ability to decode words and these tricky words will become easy words.
Phonic knowledge is also used when children begin writing. Writing is a trickier process and tends to develop at a slower rate than a child’s reading does. This is because writing requires the coming together of many skills, and crucially requires a ‘strong body’ where both the child’s gross and fine motor skills are fully coordinated and developed.
At Guilsborough Primary School we follow a writing development programme called Kinetic Letters. This programme follows four key strands with the aim of ultimately developing ‘automaticity’ for the child when they need to write. The four key strands are: 1) Making Bodies Stronger, 2) Holding the Pencil, 3) Learning the Letters, and 4) Flow and Fluency.
Alongside the physicality of writing, writing also develops through talk; through using and sharing language. A language rich environment shows children how language works, how words go together to let us say what we want to say. Those children who are surrounded by language are better placed when it comes to putting this language onto the written page. Communication and Language skills in Reception are of vital importance and are promoted through play and language rich experiences.
In order to develop a child’s writing, we tap into their experiences and also plan stimulating classroom environments (Novel Study approach in Key Stage 1 and 2) from which, ideas for writing emerge. These ideas are shared aloud with others to a point where a sentence or two are formed. Children are encouraged to say their sentences out loud so that they hopefully stick in their minds while they attempt to write them down. As they write, they have to sound out their sentences a word at a time, breaking the words into individual sounds, and then work out how to write those sounds. When a word is completed they have to go back to their sentence (hopefully remembered) to get their next word and so on until their sentences are completed. The first letter of their sentence needs a capital letter and they need to finish it with a full stop.
In the initial stages of writing, children make marks on paper. This is emergent writing. These marks start to have some meaning and gradually, over time, begin to look more like letters we can recognise. These ‘letters’ are then grouped into words separated from each other by spaces.
These words will be made up of sounds that they have learnt and will most likely be spelt incorrectly but are made up of the right sounds – a child learns ow as in now and uses this to spell house, hows. Wrong spelling, right sounds. This is an important stage in a child’s writing development. It is seen as children trying their best, having a go and gaining in confidence. Children are encouraged to use the sounds they know when writing and at the appropriate point in their development they either use their new skills to spell correctly, or they are shown the correct spelling.