This little story raises an interesting question when thinking about the balance of how much differentiation and support to give children in classroom activities…
In my Reception class, for Literacy lessons, the children fell quite naturally into two ability groups – those who were working on reading and writing CVC words (dog/mat/hen) and those who were just slightly more confident and could now read and write longer words (spin/clock/tent).
For our daily segmenting session I taught the children in their respective groups so I could support them at the level they were working at. Both groups had the same activity – I called out whole words and the children listened, repeated the word slowly, recognised the individual sounds and wrote them down (a spelling dictation) e.g. Me: ”The word is pin"; Children: “p-i-n”.
The children in the ‘CVC group’ were given lots of CVC words; the children in the ‘longer word’ group were given lots of longer words.
Soon all the children were very good at the routine and the process; their ears had developed to hear the sounds, they were remembering which letter shapes to write down and their letter formation was also greatly improved.
I recognised that it was the correct time to take the content of the session to the next level. So the next time we gathered together for our segmenting routine I told the ‘CVC group’ that I was very impressed and they were ready to try and work out some longer words. I dictated ‘spin’, then ‘milk’, then ‘jump’.
What do you think they did? (No, they did not get up and start jumping!)
By trying to support my children at their CVC level I had actually engrained in them a 3-beat pattern so now they tried to make the longer words fit into 3-beats, ‘sp-i-n’, ‘m-i-lk’, ‘j-u-mp’.
Not good! They had lost the ability to hear each and every sound (s-p-i-n, m-i-l-k, j-u-m-p).
I had to ‘un-teach’ the 3-beat trap before we could move forwards.
The moral of the story: ALWAYS include longer words, much longer words, in every example, in every lesson – even if it is just one word which you model, with no help or expectation from the children other than to show them that longer words exist and we ‘hear’ the sounds through them in the same way.
Abigail Steel is an Education Consultant for Early Years (EYFS) and Primary (KS1 & 2) Language and Literacy. Her specialist area is Synthetic Phonics.
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