Monthly Archives: May 2020

Guest post: Teacher Katreena Heywood describes her school’s adoption of the Floppy’s Phonics programme

Background to this guest post: I received a lovely thoughtful email from Katreena which was of course wonderful to receive – so I invited Katreena to write a guest post for my blog. I’m very grateful that she was willing to do so and with full support from her school’s headteacher.

Katreena’s original message:

Hi Debbie,

I hope you are well in these very strange times. I wanted to let you know that Floppy’s Phonics has been a godsend for many of my parents. When we knew that the school was going to close we decided to give parents access to the interactive resources and the children have responded brilliantly. They have completed their sessions each day and we have sent them a copy of the activity sheet too. One child in my class was so amazing at ticking and circling her words and explaining this process to her mum. She could probably teach phonics when she comes back!

I am so pleased that we chose Floppy’s Phonics for my school.

I just wanted to let you know about a good news story in these difficult times.

Kind regards, Katreena

My school’s early journey with the Floppy’s Phonics programme

My name is Katreena Heywood and I am an Early Years Lead and teacher of Reception at Hartford Manor Primary School and Nursery in Cheshire. Through my other role working as a Literacy Specialist for an English Hub, I was introduced to the Oxford Reading Tree Floppy’s Phonics programme (Oxford University Press). I was fortunate enough to attend two days training with Debbie Hepplewhite learning all about the programme and its design and was intrigued to see it in action for myself. The school which I support as a Literacy Specialist had chosen to adopt Floppy’s Phonics as its new systematic synthetic phonics programme and in a very short time saw its impact. Working closely with the teachers over a number of months it was clear to me that this should be the programme for my school.

We started to use Floppy’s Phonics in January 2020. Having already gone through a term using our usual programme, Letters and Sounds (DfES, 2007), we began by assessing where the children were in terms of their grapheme/phoneme correspondence knowledge and reading of simple words. We used the assessment sheets from Floppy’s Phonics which really helped us to see where to start. We realised that we needed to go back further than we had thought we would need to because the children had not retained some of the newest grapheme/phoneme correspondences taught.

Very quickly, it was clear to us that the children were able to engage with the learning using both the Floppy’s Phonics online platform and the Activity Sheets. From Day 1 the children joined in with all the activities in session 1, getting plenty of practice orally segmenting and blending words. Even the most reluctant children joined in by the end of the first week quickly getting used to the routine which remained the same each time. The Activity Sheets for session 2, took us a week to ‘train’ the children in small groups on how to complete them and then they were away!

Soon my day to day groupings grew into quicker, confident learners who could work independently from the start with me checking their work quickly and then moving onto the Cumulative Texts. My next group needed more of my support to get going but were capable of practising themselves with me only checking their work after they had had time to work on their own. My slower, less confident readers needed more support initially but we also did a pre-teaching session with them in the morning before the whole class session. This was literally going through the activities with them so they could then work independently too. After week 3 these children, too, were able to access their own practice using the Activity Sheets and following the routines.

We did however have to have a fourth group of children who had already fallen behind from our initial Letters and Sounds teaching. These children went back to the beginning of the alphabetic code because they were unable to segment and blend. My experienced teaching assistant worked with them and was absolutely amazed that after only 2 weeks they were able to read the simple words on the Activity Sheets. Their progress has been slower and they have had more support with extra flashcard sessions but I am convinced that they would have been more able to keep up if they’d started out on their reading journey with Floppy’s Phonics.

Year 1 have had a greater challenge by starting Floppy’s Phonics partway through the year. The teachers have had to adapt to a new way of working and while still learning themselves teach the children. However they too have seen great improvement especially in their weaker readers. Plenty of time for them to practise and revise what they have already learned has really helped those children who were weaker at segmenting and blending. The Activity Sheets at this stage have the alternative spellings for the sounds alongside each other which enables them to practise these alternative graphemes and make that connection easily. The quick to learn children have enjoyed learning the new vocabulary and challenge this presents to them. The Cumulative Texts have given them lots of practice too.

It is still early days for us as a school and we were about to embark on our meeting with parents and the introduction of the Floppy’s Phonics ‘book-bag routine’ but the closure of schools stopped us in our tracks. However giving the parents and children access to the online platform has enabled many children to continue to learn phonics. I’ve felt reassured that the children have been able to follow the routine taught in school at home with their parents’ guidance. Parents have sent feedback in the form of notes, photos and videos to back this up. The only unfortunate thing is that not all parents and children have engaged with home learning. I know once we return to school, however, we will be able to quickly use the Floppy’s Phonics assessment materials to see where the children are and pick up their learning from there.

Suggestions for organising ‘matched texts’ – that is, cumulative decodable reading books for beginners

I’ve been approached by quite a few teachers worried about the emphasis by officials in England for providing beginners with reading books that ‘match’ the letters/s-sound correspondences the children have been taught in the planned, systematic synthetic phonics lessons. In response, I’ve written some suggestions which might be of interest – particularly for teachers where the school has adopted my phonics programme/s and the accompanying ‘two-pronged systematic and incidental phonics teaching’ approach. Here is a printable pdf of the information below:

The approach to reading material for schools using the Phonics International programme and the No Nonsense Phonics Skills (Raintree) series – by Debbie Hepplewhite 2020

Matched texts in the phonics programmes

The Phonics International programme and the No Nonsense Phonics Skills series of 9 Pupil Books (of the suite of Phonics International) provide abundant cumulative, decodable sentences and texts for routine practice in the ‘teaching and learning cycle’. Children are not dependent on reading books to apply and extend their current and past alphabetic code knowledge and phonics skills.

Code in reading books lagging behind code introduced in school

For the purpose of independent reading at home – where children may be asked to have a go at reading ‘independently’ – it may be advisable for the published reading books’ content to lag behind the alphabetic code (the letter/s-sound correspondences) introduced systematically in the phonics programme/s.

Awareness of not encouraging word-guessing for teaching staff and parents/carers

Any quality books can be used with children as long as the supporting adults know not to teach, or encourage, or cause by default, the children to read new printed words through the ‘searchlights’ multi-cueing word-guessing (that is, don’t encourage or teach the guessing of new printed words from picture cues, or context cues such as ‘read on and go back, what word would make sense’, and initial letter/s, guessing). Tell children the words they are struggling with if necessary, or provide the code within the new words to enable the children to have a go at decoding them.

Children should not have to ‘lift the words off the page’ through guesswork – but the children will find the pictures and context can help them to understand the ‘meaning’ of new words. They will need to be able to decode and pronounce the new words, however, in order to add them to their spoken language. Supporting adults can help with this as necessary.

Sharing the phonics programme’s matched texts via the school’s book-bag routine

The guidance underpinning Debbie’s phonics programmes promotes a book-bag routine whereby each child’s phonics folder with up to date, cumulative alphabetic code content going back and forth to the home. Children repeat-reading word banks and cumulative texts of the core phonics material at home is encouraged; and parents/carers are fully informed about the programme and practice via the school’s information events and via the content shared back and forth in the book-bag routine:

https://phonicsinternational.com/Setting_up_the_phonics_folder.pdf

The No Nonsense Phonics Skills series consists of 9 ready-made Pupil Book which include cumulative, decodable ‘Mini Stories’ (selected from the Phonics International programme) to match the letter/s-sound correspondences introduced throughout the series. These Pupil Books can also go backwards and forwards to home to keep parents and carers informed, and for children to revise the content. Reading books from various publishers can be included in the home-reading routine – organised to lag behind the code introduced in the programme or selected carefully for any children who are exceptional readers.

No Nonsense Phonics Skills information and training page including video and PowerPoints (one including audio):

No Nonsense Phonics Skills

Use of overview Alphabetic Code Charts in school and at home to support incidental phonics teaching

The fundamental underpinning rationale of Phonics International and the No Nonsense Phonics Skills series is the ‘two-pronged systematic and incidental phonics teaching’ approach. This means that teaching, or using, new code beyond the systematic, planned introduction of letter/s-sound correspondences is included in the approach. Teaching staff and parents/carers know they can address any code in new printed words to read, or words required for writing, at any time, without this being problematic. Children are made aware of the notion of spelling alternatives and pronunciation alternatives from the outset of planned phonics teaching – supported by the use of overview Alphabetic Code Charts beginning in Reception:

https://phonicsinternational.com/Debbie_RRF_Two_pronged_handout.pdf

Teaching staff know how to vary their support for individual children’s needs when using literature that is high-quality, part of the wider curriculum and wider reading experience, but beyond the children’s code knowledge. The adults support as necessary – for example, read to the children, share with the children, point out new code as and when appropriate. This means no children need to be precluded from access to literature for the class topic (for example), for their intellectual understanding of the content in the books, and how the different types of books ‘work’ (fiction, non-fiction, anthologies, various genre).

Early readers may need reading material beyond matched texts at least some of the time

Precocious early readers should not have to be given reading books that are only fully in line with the phonics programme. Some children are better served by following the phonics programme very much with comprehensive coverage of the alphabetic code in mind for spelling purposes in their case, whilst they may need more challenging reading books for their individual reading capabilities. An example of this would be a child like ‘Alice’ as described in this document (see page 2):

https://phonicsinternational.com/Debbies_Phonics_Teaching_Tips.pdf

Use of labelling and bookmarks to guide parents/carers

When schools wish to share a variety of books with ‘home’ that may not always be fully decodable for the children to read independently (beginners and strugglers), then it would be helpful to stick labels on the books, or provide bookmarks providing guidance with the individual child in mind (which is a more flexible approach), to give the parents/carers a steer in how to use the book. The labels or bookmarks, for example, could state, ‘Read to me’ or ‘Share with me’ – or whatever is appropriate for the particular books for the individual child who will be taking them home. This will help to support a rich book culture at school and in the home but ensure that children aren’t expected to read books aloud by themselves when they can’t fully decode the range of words in the books – and also will ensure that very able readers are not unduly restricted in their reading material.

Organising the books in ‘chunks’ behind the code introduced in class

Generally speaking, organise decodable books for home-reading in ‘chunks’ (that is, according to a group of letter/s-sound correspondences introduced, not every correspondence introduced one by one) and lagging behind the letter/s-sound correspondences introduced in the phonics programme in the class or group lessons.

Cascading the books with matched texts

Another consideration regarding reading material with ‘matched texts’ in mind, is the impracticality and expense of the school providing 30 copies of every single title in a reading series on the basis that every child will require the same title at the same time with the same code. When the children are truly ‘beginners’, provide those children in the class who are more competent at sounding out and blending with the books first, then cascade the books to other children as they begin to decode more competently and independently. This means that for some children, by the time they get certain reading books, their code knowledge in that book may lag behind the ‘current’ code introduced in school but they will be more automatic and competent applying the code in the books for home-reading that they know very well.

Aim to provide variety of literature from different published schemes

It is also a good idea not to restrict the stock of reading material to only one publisher or series. ‘Variety is the spice of life’ so, over time if necessary, aim to build up a wider range of series which may be easier to organize if the chunking and lagging behind the alphabetic code approach is adopted.

Debbie Hepplewhite MBE FRSA

Author of Phonics International and the No Nonsense Phonics Skills series (Raintree)

Phonics consultant and co-author of the Oxford Reading Tree Floppy’s Phonics programme (for which the advice for organizing reading books is the same as above!)

Any questions, contact: debbie@phonicsinternational.com

Debbie’s comprehensive self-study course £20: https://phonicstrainingonline.com