Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Phonics For Primary Pupils

reading with phonics
Reading With Phonics (Photo credit: tofutti break)
by Hannah McCarthy

Phonics is a method for teaching reading and it works by concentrating on sounds.

Children are first taught to identify sounds and then to match them to words so that in theory, when they come across a word they don't recognise while reading, they will be able to sound it out.

The sounds can be one letter such as 't' or consist of two or more, such as 'ck'.

Once they have learnt the sounds that are used in the English language, they are then taught to recognise which letter combinations match them which helps with reading and spelling.

Many reports have shown that using phonics is beneficial for most children learning to read.

It is perhaps not surprising then that the Government have decided to put more emphasis on phonics in schools, even going as far as to introduce a national phonics screening test across key stage one.

The test is described by the Department for Education as a 'short, light-touch assessment' and is designed to identify children who need extra help or support to improve their reading skills.

On average it lasts between four and nine minutes and comprises of a list of 40 words, both real and made up, which the child must read to a teacher. The threshold for the first of these national tests, which was conducted in 2012, was 32 out of 40. This was met by close to 60% of pupils.

The idea to introduce the test had been a controversial one, and for many, a 60% pass rate confirms that the assessment was a waste of money. There is also a worry that it is demoralising for young pupils who do not pass.

This seems a valid concern with some teachers arguing that bright pupils are being marked down for trying to read fake words as real ones because they find it easier to use reading methods other than phonics to learn.

Traditionally, most primary school teachers have used a variety of techniques to teach children to read, certainly including phonics but not using it exclusively. The new screening check only tests the child's response to phonetic teaching and therefore could fail to accurately assess their reading capability overall.

The Department for Education on the other hand defends the test by presenting statistics that reveal that 43% of schools were able to spot reading problems among pupils that they had not been aware of. It is hoped that identifying those that are struggling early in their education will allow teachers to help catch them up in good time.

Thus, children will be more likely to leave primary school at the same level and should have advanced enough literacy abilities to stand them in good stead for their English GCSE.

Despite the mixed feelings towards the new phonics test, it did run last year and will be carried out again in June of this year. This means it is more important than ever for teachers to ensure that they are using suitable materials and resources to get their classes up to the required standard.

Hannah McCarthy works for Education City which offers curriculum-based modules in maths, science, English and foreign languages. Education City's website offers resources for teachers and materials for learning English as an additional language.

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