Phonics – learning the skills to be successful readers and writers
At Victoria Primary School, we believe that all our children can become fluent readers and writers, whatever their starting point. It is essential that our approach to teaching phonics and reading is accessible to all learners, regardless of their background. This is why we teach reading through the DfE accredited programme, ‘Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Revised’, which is a systematic and synthetic phonics programme. We start teaching phonics in Nursery and Reception and follow the Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Progression, which ensures children build on their growing knowledge of the alphabetic code, learning and mastering phonics to enable them to read and spell as they move through school. As a result, all our children are able to tackle any unfamiliar words as they read.
At Victoria Primary School, we model the application of the alphabetic code through phonics in shared reading and writing, both inside and outside of the phonics lesson and across the curriculum. We have a strong focus on language development for all our children, because we know that having a wide vocabulary and being competent in speaking and listening are crucial knowledge and skills for reading and writing in all subjects. In addition, many of our children speak English as an additional language, which can contribute to their challenges in fluency with spoken language.
At Victoria Primary School, we value reading and writing as vital life skills and understand that reading is the key to learning. By the time children leave us, they read confidently for meaning and regularly enjoy reading for pleasure. They are equipped with the tools to tackle unfamiliar vocabulary and we encourage our children to see themselves as readers and writers for both pleasure and purpose.
Because we believe that reading is the key to learning, therefore teaching every child to read is crucial, we have a Reading Leader who drives the early reading programme in our school. This person is highly skilled at teaching phonics and reading, and they monitor and support our early reading team, so everyone teaches with fidelity to the Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Revised programme.
Here are some of the terms we use in class:
- Phoneme - the smallest unit of sound in a word.
- grapheme – letter or a group of letters representing one sound, e.g. s, sh, ch, igh.
- digraph – two letters making one sound, e.g. sh, th, ph.
- vowel digraphs – two vowels which, together, make one sound, e.g. ai, oo, ow.
- split digraph – two letters, split, making one sound, e.g. a-e, as in make or i-e in kite
- VC word: vowel consonant e.g. up
- CVC: consonant vowel consonant e.g. cap.
- CCVC: consonant consonant vowel consonant e.g. clap.
- vowels – the open sounds / letters of the alphabet: a, e, i, o and u
- consonants – sounds/ letters of the alphabet that are not vowels.
- blend – to merge individual sounds together to pronounce a word, e.g. s-n-a-p, blended together, reads snap.
- Segment - to split up a word into its individual phonemes in order to spell it, e.g. the word ‘cat’ has three phonemes: /c/, /a/, /t/
How can you help at home?
- Try to say the short sound of the letter, not the letter name. This will help children when they come to blend words together. E.g. the letter names dee-oh-gee don’t blend together to make ‘dog’
- When you are reading to your child, emphasise the rhyming words and ask what is special about them
- Initial letter sound hunt – Say a sound to your child and see if they can find something in their house that starts with that letter. This also works well with ‘I spy’ but remember to use the letter sound and not its name
- Songs – Sing nursery rhymes and traditional songs with your child and talk to them about the patterns that they notice in the words
Reading - is the key to learning
At Victoria Primary School, our approach to teaching reading, once children have mastered phonics and can successfully decode and read with fluency, is to use reciprocal reading. This is a structured approach, which focuses on the key skills of questioning, clarifying, summarizing and predicting, to support children to improve, develop and refine their reading comprehension. In reciprocal reading sessions, children take part in learning in mixed ability groups. This encourages all children to take a more active role in the learning experience, allowing them to discuss and analyse the text that they have read, which helps them to gain confidence in their own abilities.
Reciprocal reading encourages our children to think about their own thought processes during reading and to explain them to others. It helps them to become actively involved and to self-monitor and assess their comprehension as they read. They learn to ask questions during reading, which helps them to have a deeper comprehension of what they are reading.
In addition to group reading, all our children read 1:1 with an adult regularly. This enables staff to offer further encouragement, praise and support and they are able to monitor the fluency and comprehension skills of all children and identify next steps to make further improvements. It also provides additional opportunities to discuss the children’s enjoyment of the text and their preferences in terms of author and text type.
Each class shares a text with the children daily and often children will lead the reading and read the class text aloud to their peers. This helps top build their confidence to read in front of an audience and helps build fluency and expression when reading aloud.
Reading for pleasure
“Reading for pleasure is the single most important indicator of a child’s success.” (OECD 2002)
We value reading for pleasure highly and work hard as a school to continue to grow our Reading for Pleasure pedagogy. We have participated in the Open University Reading for Pleasure project, led by Professor Theresa Cremin. As part of this, we ensure…
- We read to children every day. We choose these books carefully as we want children to experience a wide range of books, including ones that reflect our school and wider community, in addition to books that open windows into other worlds and cultures.
- Every classroom has an inviting book corner, which helps to encourage a love for reading. We curate these books and talk about them to entice children to read a wide range of books.
- In EYFS, children have access to the reading corner (in indoor and outdoor provision) every day in their free flow time and the books are changed regularly. Books are also incorporated into other areas of provision as appropriate.
- Children from Reception onwards have a school diary. Parents/carers are encouraged to record comments to share with the adults in school and school will record comments on a regular basis, to ensure communication between home and school.
- As the children progress through the school, they are encouraged to write their own comments and keep a list of the books/authors that they have read.
- Classes visit the local library and school works with them to promote reading events, such as the Summer Reading Challenge.
- There are two school libraries, one downstairs for Years 1 and 2, and one upstairs for Years 3 – 6. The books in them are targeted to the different age ranges that use them and cover a wide range of text types, genres and authors. Our children, especially former reluctant readers were involved in the selection of new books to restock our libraries to help encourage and promote a love of reading.
- The school libraries are made available for classes to use. Children across the school have regular opportunities to engage with a range of Reading for Pleasure events, for example visits from poets and authors, participation in the Summer Reading Challenge and book fairs.
- Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 both have a ‘Rate my book’ display, where they are encouraged to score their most recent read out of 10, reflecting how much they enjoyed it. Children learn that they may not enjoy all types of books and this is not a problem, but a reflection of their personal tastes.
- We have children who are Reading Leaders in Key Stage 2, who run book of the week bids, encourage book reviews of books read which they display, manage the ‘Rate my book’ displays and support encouraging all children to keep our libraries tidy.
- Working with Keighley Schools Together, we promote our children being involved in the Imagination Library, in conjunction with the Dollywood Foundation, a charity established by Dolly Parton. The Imagination Library is a book-gifting programme, dedicated to inspiring a love of reading. Each month, enrolled children from birth to age five receive a high quality, age appropriate book in the post free of charge. Keighley Schools Together work with other partners and organisations to continue to fund raise to sustain this programme as more children are enrolled.
How can you help at home?
- Listen to your child read every day – even if they are fluent readers.
- Talk to them about what they have read, ask questions about the characters, what they think will happen next and if they enjoyed the book and why.
- Visit the local library with your child and become a member, to encourage your child to read a wider range of books.
Writing – create, express, inform, persuade, communicate
“One child, one pen, one teacher, one book can change the world.” Malala Yousafzai
The writing curriculum at Victoria Primary School has been designed to teach our children the different purposes of writing, including expressing their thoughts and feelings, to entertain the reader, to inform, to persuade and to discuss. As part of our writing curriculum, children experience high quality texts, which helps them to engage in purposeful speaking and listening opportunities, where they share their opinions, thoughts and ideas. Reading excellent texts helps to stimulate high quality responses to their reading, which are then applied alongside knowledge to create their own writing.
Research suggests that for the teaching of writing to be effective, children should be taught about the process of writing itself, which requires a strong interaction between teachers and their children. Our writing units teach writing in a structured way, focusing on progressively teaching children the techniques for writing, working towards the children then creating a final independent example.
An overall sequence of learning involves a mixture of ‘structured instruction’ and memorable experiences. We believe that our children need significant speaking, listening and drama opportunities to give them the imagination and experiences that will equip them to become good writers. This includes the many visits, visitors and first hand experiences provided across our curriculum. Experience sessions enable children to build their understanding and vocabulary and orally plan and rehearse sentences and may include video clips of settings, visits (real and imagined), interviewing experts, exploring artefacts and debate. It may also include other speaking and listening activities such as ‘hot seating’ which could be interviewing a character from a story, ‘role on the wall’ or ‘conscience alley’. All these learning activities enable our children to clarify their thinking and compose sentences, prior to beginning the writing process.
Structured instruction sessions explicitly teach the key skills and curriculum content that children need to write effectively. This involves a stimulus to capture imaginations and create a bank of vocabulary, close modelling of a sentence that outlines clear writing features and techniques and then the opportunity to apply these skills independently. In modelled writing our children have the opportunity to see the teacher modelling their thinking and articulating the ‘behind the scenes process’ of being a writer. They observe what adults, in their role as a writer, choose to keep, reject or improve in their work.
At the end of a sequence of learning, independent writing outcomes are produced and developed. These may take the form of retelling the story from another character’s perspective, writing the next chapter within a narrative, writing a narrative within the same genre, or communicating learning from other subject areas.
Our curriculum ensures that all our children have many opportunities to write for different purposes. We encourage writing through all curriculum areas and use quality reading texts to model examples of good writing. As our children move through school, they are encouraged to write at length independently across a range of curriculum area.
How can you help at home?
- Encourage your child to write for a real life purpose, for example, help writing shopping lists or lists for family celebrations
- Encourage your child to write at every opportunity, for example, leaving notes
- Model writing to your child, for example writing cards, letters, invitations
- Encourage your child to write a book review about the book they have read
“When I am stressed I submerge into a book.” Year 6 child
“Reading is the key to everything.” Year 6 child
“Reading takes you to a whole new place. It’s more than escape, it’s therapy.” Year 6 child