Number 1 item on my list of 'Ten Things That Successful Phonics Schools Do' is:
Some schools call this role the 'Phonics Lead' but I like to use the term 'Literacy' because for me, phonics = basic literacy knowledge and skills. It's the foundations that, well, everything else, is built upon.
Appointing a designated leader is not only a sensible and practical measure but it also demonstrates that phonics is being recognised as important in your school.
What does the Literacy leader do?
It's a hot debate in phonics... should you vertically group children according to their ability irrelevant of their age? Or should you keep them in mixed ability, same age classes?
Here are my thoughts...
Whole class teaching:
Many schools report that they have tried to adopt vertical grouping but have now moved back to whole class teaching.
'My preference is whole class teaching for all the reasons listed above.'
Schools tell me that their results have been consistent irrelevant of whether they've vertically grouped or kept whole class. So, there seems to be a move towards whole class teaching which makes me happy - better application of skills, teachers with more responsibility and ownership, less logistical problems. However, vertical grouping can work effectively WHEN and BECAUSE phonics is made a priority and that is an important key message.
If you are a school with two or three form entry (more than one class per year group) it might make sense for you to horizontally group children for phonics within the year group. I work with schools who review the children in the year group as a whole, then split them into three or four ability groups - two groups staffed by class teachers and the other group/s staffed by teaching assistants.
A final note on grouping children for phonics...
However you organise your phonics remember that groups should be 'fluid'. Children make progress so quickly in phonics, and progress at different rates from one another. You should certainly review the groupings each half term but also be prepared to move children between groups mid-term if it will benefit them.
How does your school group for phonics? Let me know in the comments :-)
I often set teachers homework to come and watch this video.
'Learning from others is so useful.'
In many ways it's exactly what my job is - I spend lots of my working time visiting schools and sharing information about what others are doing that is or isn't working. This video is the lovely Sam Bailey talking at the Reading Reform Foundation Conference in 2015. She explains how she transformed outcomes for children in her first headship at a school requiring improvement and how, in just two terms at her next school (ranked 32nd worst in England on previous results) children's outcomes got on track for equally good, if not better, improvement. She is sure that Synthetic Phonics teaching has played a key part in this.
Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments :-)
Abigail Steel is an Education Consultant for Early Years (EYFS) and Primary (KS1 & 2) Language and Literacy. Her specialist area is Synthetic Phonics.
Click here to go to Abigail Steel's Amazon Author Page to browse and purchase her education books and literacy resources.