Fun with phonics

Phonics really is the most fun. As we are training infant teachers on this project, I worked with a team of five other early years practitioners to plan and deliver three phonics lessons. This photo is of me, and Sally my syllable hand puppet – not just me showing off my guns!

One of the biggest hurdles we faced during our planning time is that due to the complexity of the English language, members of our group sometimes used different terminology, alternative approaches and even categorised the sounds differently. Also, we only had three hours with the teachers to get the main points across. Despite facing these obstacles, I’m really proud of the sessions we came up with and how we balanced discussing theory with introducing games and songs.

I presented with my amazing colleague and friend Annie and we really poured our hearts and souls into the sessions we delivered to the 50 local teachers. They are under a lot of pressure to get their pupils through the end of year tests and help them memorise certain words. With phonics we’re asking for their trust. It takes a lot of time and commitment to teach phonics thoroughly in order for pupils to decode unfamiliar words. But in the long run, phonics empowers children to be independent readers.

I have so many highlights from this week to look back on. There was some resistance to the idea that p2-p4 teachers should practise rhyming and syllable identification, as this should have been covered in p1. But when I explained that older students still need this to improve auditory discrimination to read and write, or that they may be less able or have missed a lot of schooling, there was a lot of agreement in the room. Turning the conversation to the needs of the children helped keep the conversation positive.

I also modelled a simple spelling activity that I have used in my class for three years. It works because it scaffolds skills, has whole class participation and gives instant learner feedback. I got a real kick out of sharing this great strategy with 50 teachers and have them join in with all the silly hand movements as I modelled how to teach it.

The most moving moment was when we were recalling all the strategies we had covered at the end of the last session. It reminded me of how much we had shared and the fact that the teachers had remembered so much was amazing! We spoke about how to incorporate phonics on a daily basis and how to make it work. There were lots of nods as I spoke about how phonics would look different in every classroom and how as each individual teacher knows their children best, we weren’t going to tell them how to teach their classes. This reflects what I believe all teachers ultimately want: the opportunity to use their professional judgement to teach their classes in the best way they know how.

After delivering the final session I was quite emotional, saying goodbye to the local teachers who have become our friends and trusting them to continue this learning and teaching journey.

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