Phonics, Early Reading and Early Writing

Phonics plays a big role in the development of reading and writing.

It deals with the individual sounds that make up the words we use everyday.

These individual sounds 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 Gilmorton begin developing their understanding of these sounds early in their Reception year.

For this academic year (2016-2017) we have altered our phonic teaching. We are now basing it upon the Read Write Inc. programme which has been devised by Ruth Miskin in line with government guidelines. It is a well regarded programme and more information on the phonic scheme can be found by visiting the following website: http://www.ruthmiskin.com/en/parents/.

Previously, we have supplemented our phonics teaching with with materials produced by Jolly Phonics, BBC phonic materials, BusyThings website, PhonicsPlay website amongst others.

These resources are still useful in developing phonic knowledge and skills but may hinder the teaching of phonics that is going on within the classroom and as a result, at this point in time, we would say that they should be avoided.  When we have a better understanding of how these materials fit in (or don’t) with the Read Write Inc. materials, we will update our guidance. 

Children continue improving their phonic skills in years 1 and 2.

Reading

A child’s reading journey starts with you sharing books, having books in your home and reading to your child. Books may come from family, friends, a library or elsewhere. Sharing books with a child allows them to begin to feel the joy that comes from the printed page, the words and the pictures; it builds their interest. Also, let children see you with a book in your hand, reading. 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.

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.

The books we send home make good use of the children’s developing phonic skills and as the children’s phonic knowledge develops, the range and number of words used 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 banks expand. The need for phonics diminishes but remains  in the background and is called into play when they come across new 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…

Writing

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. As part of the Read Write Inc. programme, children begin writing by practicing letter formation and simple words alongside their learning of the initial sounds, segmenting and blending.

Early stages of writing develop 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.

In order to develop a child’s writing, we tap into their experiences from which, hopefully, 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. 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 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.

As the children become confident with matching sounds to letters, we introduce the letter names (the alphabet). If you imagine a cat has a sound – meow, but it also has a name – Bob, perhaps. If you are looking for your cat you would call out its name, not make its sound.

If I am trying to spell a word, it is more helpful to know a letter’s name rather than use its sound as there may be more than one way to make that sound, as an example there are lots of ways to make the ‘c’ sound: c, k, ck, ch. Knowing the names of the letters helps you to be more precise in your spelling.

Tricky Words

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 may 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.