Monthly Archives: January 2021

I’m HORRIFIED that teachers of 4 and 5 year olds are teaching a form of print with a ‘lead-in’ join – please stick to simple print!!!

I’ve observed the rapid growth of teaching Reception and Year One children (the four and five year olds) a form of font which is neither a simple, sensible ‘print’ nor quality teaching of joined handwriting.

This is instead of teaching a simple print at first.

This really needs to be addressed nationally – I suggest it should STOP.

In my view, and experience, there is no rationale well-founded enough to warrant this practice. I urge everyone promoting this approach, and practising this approach, to please stop and reflect.

Let’s have the discussion.

The rapid growth and uptake of this practice warrants a truly national discussion to prevent a lot of unnecessary hardship for teachers and children themselves.

Some years ago, I was aware that some advisors in the field of ‘dyslexia’ would suggest that it is easier for children with dyslexic tendencies to learn to form letter shapes when every letter starts from exactly the same position – from the ‘writing line’.

[They argued, why not start as you mean to carry on? Why teach a handwriting style that later children will have to change?]

How many teachers when beginning to teach children how to form letter shapes with lead-in joins even use paper with lines?

If you look around, you will note many, many examples of adults themselves (in a teaching capacity) start this ‘lead-in’ join not from a writing line, but somewhat floating in the air – a sort of nebulous position on the board or paper (or in the sand-tray!) – and/or for their labelling round the classrooms and corridors.

Further, this lead-in join often takes the shape of a ski slope or a ‘hairstyle’ with a curvy flick to it. It’s all very haphazard. Try looking at these letter shape examples from the eyes of a child. How consistent are the adults writing this lead-in join? Is this top quality, consistent letter formation?

Then, again to my horror quite frankly, I note labels around virtually all schools using this approach that do not rationalise the joins from letters which, when properly joined, would end with a ‘washing line’ join to the following letter. Thus, the ‘following letter’ would not start from the line when the letters are finally joined in whole words. [The letters that end with ‘washing line’ joins and do not go back down to the writing line are: o, r, v, w, x]

In fact, these lead-in joins should simply NOT be taught as part of print letter shapes. They are JOINS – not letter shapes.

Then, when we teach our four and five year olds phonics and how to decode printed words, much, if not most, if not all print in early reading books is in a simple print font – not quasi joined letter shapes. The print fonts may vary slightly – and we do need to draw attention to this as part of our teaching – but we’re not asking children to write in the various print forms – just one consistent form for handwriting – and linked to the ‘sounds’ as part of the phonics provision.

Here is a resource that can support the teaching of different fonts.

The resource above is from this page of many free resources.

There are many critics of introducing phonics provision for our four year olds in England’s context. People often point out that in Europe and some other countries, ‘formal’ teaching of reading instruction may not start until children are six or seven years of age.

But surely all the more reason in England, and the UK, to introduce phonics with simple print letter shapes – including capital letter shapes (don’t avoid capital letters as they are code for the same sounds as their lower case equivalent letters).

At no point am I saying that teachers can’t teach joined writing successfully when they introduce the print-with-lead-in-joins approach from the outset. But so what? Is it really necessary? And when do the teachers teach print? Do these teachers think that children should not be writing in print when they are older – for example when labelling diagrams?

Shouldn’t all pupils be taught to write in PRINT as well as joined handwriting?

And do we really need to have a one or two-year ‘run in’ using these quasi joined writing letter shapes in order to teach fully joined handwriting well?

Absolutely not.

And do the children themselves need a long ‘run in’ before they can write in joined handwriting competently?

Absolutely not.

I’m going to find some examples of the flawed labelling in schools using this form of print with lead-in joins to illustrate what I mean. I’ve seen this flawed labelling in really good schools – schools that do get good results. I’ll add some screenshots to this post.

Do the ends justify the means in this case?

Again, I think not.

Our four and five years olds have enough to learn when it comes to reading and writing and spelling in the English language. The English alphabetic code is the most complex alphabetic code in the world. It takes years to teach it REALLY well for reading, writing and spelling.

Why make the process more complicated for our little learners than it needs to be?

When the time is right for teaching fully joined handwriting (certainly when ‘print’ is mastered well and around the beginning of Year 2 if the children are well-taught in foundational literacy), then here are some suggestions for teaching fully joined handwriting very quickly and very well – with lots of free alphabet and handwriting resources for support:

Debbie Hepplewhite’s Handwriting Site

And here is an article I’ve written about the teaching of handwriting.

Supporting teachers, learners and parents/carers with tangible, systematic, cumulative, content-rich, fit-for-purpose resources for home learning!

At the time of writing this post (January 2021), we are in the midst of a pandemic. The UK has gone into yet another ‘lockdown’ and many schools are closed or open only to the children of key workers and vulnerable children. Teachers are instructed to provide remote learning for children at home – as required.

An increasing number of phonics video lessons are being uploaded to youtube (or equivalent) for home-learning – but of those I have watched to date, I suggest they are often not sufficient for learning in the home to be as supportive and effective as it could be. I say this because children and their parents/carers need rich content on paper-based resources (ideally) or rich content on screen which can be copied on to paper, if necessary, for extra practice in the home.

Some background information to the development of Phonics International Limited providing free online informative resources, and high quality training, teaching and learning resources:

Back in 1998 when the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) was rolled out in a mighty way by the, then, Government in England, I felt duty-bound to challenge the ‘searchlights’ multi-cueing reading strategies orthodoxy that was at the heart of the NLS. These reading strategies largely amounted to word-guessing to lift the printed words off the page. Worryingly, looking at the pictures to guess the words or thinking ‘what would make sense’ were tendencies of the weakest readers in my class (children I had inherited who were trying to read books that they could not read). These children never guessed correctly which would skew the meaning of the sentence anyway! So from my teaching experience, I recognised that the multi-cueing reading strategies at the heart of the NLS were fundamentally flawed – and I went on to discover that there was plenty of research (mainly from America) to show this was indeed the case. My personal experience and learning about the research findings led me to challenge the NLS guidance in my local education authority and at a national level.

Eventually I was introduced to the UK Reading Reform Foundation (RRF) which is an organisation founded in 1989 to promote evidence-informed reading instruction including the need for systematic synthetic phonics provision with NO multi-cueing word-guessing. In 2001 I became the hard-copy newsletter editor of the RRF for a while and went on to inform the House of Commons parliamentary enquiry, ‘Teaching Children to Read‘ (2005) followed by Sir Jim Rose’s ‘Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading Final Report‘ (2006). Flawed teacher-training and flawed teaching strategies for teaching reading in the English language are international problems and we have benefitted from the research and work of others in several countries. There have also been national inquiries into the teaching of reading in America and Australia for example. In 2015, I went on to become a founding member of the ‘International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction‘ (IFERI) for which I contribute ongoing information via the ‘Forum‘ for anyone who has an interest in developments in reading instruction around the world.

The Government accepted the recommendations in Sir Jim Rose’s Final Report (2006) which included replacing the NLS ‘searchlights’ multi-cueing reading strategies with the ‘Simple View of Reading‘ model (Gough and Tunmer 1986) which features the two main processes required to be a reader in the full sense. Sir Jim also included the need for the alphabetic code (the letter/s-sound correspondences) and phonics skills (blending for reading and oral segmenting for spelling) to be taught systematically. It was most helpful that Sir Jim pointed out it was the ‘same‘ alphabetic code and phonics skills required by all learners regardless of their individuality. This addressed any criticism that ‘one size does not fit all’ and that ‘children learn in different ways’. These were significant changes in the approach to reading instruction – commonly described in England’s context as ‘systematic synthetic phonics’ (SSP) – changes which are now incorporated in the official guidance for teachers in England and in the 2019 Ofsted inspection handbook for the inspection of schools.

Years ago, it was my very supportive and technologically-knowledgeable husband, David, who pointed out that the internet enabled us to provide a website for the Reading Reform Foundation to inform people of the reading debate – and technology enabled us to provide printable informative resources readily accessible in the public domain. This began a new era of what is possible to provide for others! I was on my own professional learning journey as a teacher – finding out about phonics provision because teacher-training certainly hadn’t provided this; and learning how to use software programmes for creating resources and utilising the internet to communicate via online forums. And so it was David who persuaded me to apply myself to creating informative and supportive resources for other people as these could be provided ‘free’ or at very low cost via the internet. I went on to create a full phonics programme for all ages – the Phonics International programme (2007) – which is a truly comprehensive bank of printable and projectable resources enabling systematic and flexible use for mainstream and/or intervention. I was able to design, trial and continue to develop the resources in my own teaching work in early years and primary education. The annual licence for the full Phonics International programme is only £20 + VAT and it would serve every primary school and tutoring service well to support remote education and content-rich home learning for reading, spelling, handwriting, vocabulary enrichment, language comprehension and building up knowledge of spelling word banks.

Over time, in addition to the Phonics International programme’s resources, we went on to provide of a wide range of free printable Alphabetic Code Charts, free Alphabet and handwriting resources including video explanation, free CPD resources (Continuing Professional Development), a free online audio-visual Alphabetic Code Chart.

In 2010, I was invited to work with Oxford University Press and with an excellent dedicated team, we created a comprehensive, systematic synthetic phonics programme to update the Oxford Reading Tree scheme – Floppy’s Phonics. This is a programme for infants and is ideal for school-use. Like the Phonics International programme, it is designed to inform parents/carers every step of the way through paper-based core resources to be used in school and then immediately shared with ‘home’. Floppy’s Phonics also has online digital interactive resources accessible for use in the home (via the child’s school) – and the programme is designed to work in full partnership with parents/carers. The subscription for the Floppy’s Phonics digital platform is available direct from Oxford University Press.

Fundamental to the rationale of my programme and resource design is rich content at code level (letter/s-sound correspondences), word and text level, with ample fit-for-purpose activities, paper-based tangible resources belonging to each learner – thus putting the content and learning in the hands of the child and the home contextEXACTLY what is needed in times of national lockdown!!! In light of the coronavirus pandemic, we made further resources ‘free’ such as our series of 8 eBooks ‘Alphabetic Code and Phonics Skills’ which are compiled from Phonics International resources including those mentioned in the introductory video below featuring the ‘Early Years Starter Package‘ from the Phonics International suite of resources which is like a ‘programme within a programme’ provided as printable and projectable resources. A free pre-recorded training webinar and full course notes are available via the coronavirus page.

A short video describes the three core phonics routines and their sub-skills for decoding (reading), encoding (spelling) and handwriting using some core resources of the ‘Early Years Starter Package’ provided within the Phonics International programme and compiled in the series of 8 eBooks ‘Alphabetic Code and Phonics Skills’.

In 2015, David and I put together our Phonics Training Online course which has been well-received by people from all over the world who have undertaken this self-study course for their various roles and contexts. We found that many individuals were paying for the course out of their own pockets and so we made the decision to make the course ‘nearly free’ thus more affordable for the individual. We now offer a further 50% discount for universities and other teacher-training establishments booking the course for all their student-teachers (bulk booking) which amounts to £10+ VAT per student. Of course we always welcome feedback from course participants, some of which I add to the Phonics Training Online feedback forum. This course is highly practical, not at all difficult, and does not require a written submission to complete the course.

In 2017, we (Phonics International Limited) provided Raintree (publishers) a developed version of 9 hard copy, pick-up-and-go Pupil Books, parallel Teacher Books, mini Alphabetic Code Charts and printable/projectable resources via a USB stick. This series, branded ‘No Nonsense Phonics Skills‘ is of the suite of the Phonics International programme. No Nonsense Phonics Skills can stand alone as a complete, comprehensive systematic synthetic phonics programme in its own right and also complements the Phonics International body of work if teachers prefer ready-made Pupil Books and Teacher Books. We provide a full information and training page so teachers can evaluate the NNPS series including the rationale of its design and best-use.

The Floppy’s Phonics programme and Phonics International programme (including the No Nonsense Phonics Skills series as part of the suite of PI) are ‘validated’ by the Department for Education in England – as is our phonics training provision. This validation process first took place in 2012 for the DfE ‘phonics match-funded initiative’ and, at the time of writing this post, these programmes and associated training are currently validated and funded for the ‘English Hubs’ initiative in England.

The importance of relevant and rich content in the hands of the learner at home:

I shall be writing further posts to develop this theme of fit-for-purpose phonics and content-rich provision in the hands of the learner and family. Meanwhile, you might enjoy watching four year old Hope showing her Daddy how she can use the No Nonsense Phonics Skills books at home. Hope is using Pupil Book 2!