Friday, May 24, 2013

St George's CEPS scores again!

In the last couple of years, St George’s CE Primary School in Wandsworth, of phonics screening fame, have welcomed into their school two pupils from different parts of the world who arrived without any English.
St George's CEPS scores again!

What is remarkable about the education the school is offering under the leadership of head teacher Jan Hilary and deputy head Sarah Collymore, is that both children are already literate enough to be able to play a full part in the academic life of the school.
The first, a Brazilian boy, entered Year 4 speaking no English. His standardised score for spelling went from 94 to 108 and his spelling age increased from 8 years to 11 years and 2 months. His reading level went from 1C to 4A between Y4 and Y6.
The second, a Bulgarian girl arrived at the beginning of Year 1. When she entered the school, she too had no English. Between Year 1 and Year 2, her standardised spelling score went from 69 to 94 and her reading level went from W to 2B.
And, by the way, she passed her phonics screening check at the end of Y1 with a score of 37/40.
St George's uses Sounds-Write to teach literacy throughout the school.
Well done to the school and thanks for passing on these figures.

Friday, May 17, 2013

St George's triumph over screening check!

Last year I reported on St George’s CE Primary School’s success – they achieved a magnificent 96.5% success rate in the phonics screening check. St George’s is in Wandsworth, where the average pass rate was 66%.
Painting of St George's slaying the non-word monster Vap, with Janet Hilary looking on!

There is little doubt what the head teacher Janet Hillary thinks of the Sounds-Write programme for teaching beginning readers and readers who need catching up, as well as its contribution to the school’s success. She says:
"As a class programme, Sounds-Write is clearer, with more flow and better outcomes, than other programmes we have used in the past. Used as an intervention, Sounds-Write is invaluable to older pupils arriving in school - particularly those who are new to English. The programme enables children to become fluent readers quickly so that they can access learning and catch up with their peers."
Janet Hilary NLE
St. George's CE Primary School

Watch this space!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The screening check, Sounds-Write style

I've been looking at an example of the phonics screening check from the DfE’s website.

Here's what it looks like in terms of structure:

Section 1: the words and how they are structured in terms of consonants and vowels:
tox CVC, bim CVC, vap CVC, ulf VCC, geck CVC, chom CVC , tord CVC, thazz CVC), blan CCVC, steck CCVC, hild CVCC, quemp CCVCC, shin CVC, gang CVC, week CVC, chill CVC, grit CCVC, start CVCC, best CVCC, hooks CVCC.

In the Section 1 list, only /or/, /ee/ and b/oo/k are taught in Sounds-Write's Extended Code. Therefore, I would expect that, even by the end of YR at the latest, pupils should have been properly prepared for seventeen of the twenty words in the list! Many will also have been taught for /ee/ and I would expect them to be able to decode the word 'week' successfully, too.

Section 2: the words and how they are structured in terms of consonants and vowels:
voo, CV, jound CVCC, terg, CVC, fape, CVC, snemp, CCVCC, blurst, CCVCC, spron CCCVC, stroft CCCVCC, day CV, slide CCVC, newt CVC, phone CVC, blank CCVCC, trains CCVCC, strap CCCVC, scribe CCCVC, rusty CVCCV, fin|ger CVC|CV, den|tist CVC|CVCC, star|ling CCV|CVC.

Section 2 contains six words that are comprised of single letter spellings, although one of those is the two-syllable word 'dentist'. All of these words should be easy to read for pupils who have been working intensively in YR on blending, segmenting and manipulating sound-spelling correspondences in words containing adjacent consonants. The remainder contain Extended Code sound-spelling correspondences – one in each word. However, many of these are taught at the end of YR or in the first term of Y1. These are: /ae/ spelt , and , which is Unit 2 of the Extended Code; /ee/ - Unit 3; /oe/ - Unit 5; /er/ , - Unit 6; /oo/ - Unit 10; and, /ie/ - Unit 11.
In this example of the check, we are left with two vowel sound-spelling correspondences to teach: /ue/ - Unit 21; /ar/ - Unit 24. And would be taught in context, such as when teaching ‘phone’ or ‘photo’, or ‘phonics’!

However, the check I have cited does not contain some other more complex sounds-spelling combinations that are listed on the DfE site as options for inclusion. The complete DfE list is: Section 1:  ar, ee, oi, oo,or; Section 2: a-e, ai, au, aw, ay, ea, e-e, er, ew, i-e, ie, ir, oa, o-e, ou, ow, oy, ue, u-e, ur. Nevertheless, by the time pupils in Y1 have got to the third week in June in their summer term, they should easily have covered all of the above and much more.

The only other thing I’d add is that the check should be being used as a diagnostic tool. If teachers are using the check simply to see who will ‘pass’ and who won’t, the exercise will have been a complete waste of time. What needs to happen is for the teacher to be looking at where the errors are occurring and using the kinds of error corrections that we teach people how to use on our courses. In fact, when teachers are teaching properly, they have their finger on the pulse of their classes and they know what each individual within the class can and cannot do. The kind of dynamic assessment being used in the classroom every day should give teachers a very good idea of how pupils are going to do on the screening check.

If a pupil can’t segment and blend words containing two or three adjacent consonants, they won’t be able to read words like ‘stop’ or ‘scram’. In such cases, the pupil needs to do more work on the skills of blending and segmenting sounds in CCVC and CCCVC words. On the other hand, if a pupil is reading ‘steak’ as ‘stek’, then they don’t know the code well enough and they may not understand that can be /e/ but it can also be /ae/. This needs to be taught explicitly, along with the skilled ability to substitute one sound for another when the first attempt doesn’t produce a recognisable word or a word that fits the context.
If teachers are teaching what, in my opinion, is the most important thing a primary school should be teaching, i.e. teaching children to read and spell, and they’re doing it for half an hour every day, with very few exceptions, their pupils should be handling the screening check with aplomb.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

UKLA baloney

In this, my final look at David Reedy’s contribution to the debate about whether the phonics screening check should be continued, I want to look at more of the claims he has made.

Reedy complains that when administering the check the class teacher ‘may [...] be out of the class for three days or more’. As I hope to show, this is certainly true but then surely the time is well spent if the check identifies children who are not able to read most of the words in the check without making errors? But more than that, the check should be telling teachers what maladaptive strategies the children are using – are they guessing, are they missing out consonants in consonant clusters, are they flipping sounds around in words [reading ‘silver’ for ‘sliver’], are they looking at the first sound and guessing, do they get <b>s and <d>s mixed up?

All of the above errors are likely to cause problems in reading. So much so that if they are frequently made, children don’t expect to make any sense of the texts they read and are likely to give up. This is why teachers need to be aware of the kinds of errors they are likely to come across and how to correct them. In fact, this is central plank in the Sounds-Write training course. At another level, the check should also make teachers accountable to the head teacher and to the parents for the success or otherwise of their literacy tuition.

As for the ‘most worrying aspect’ of the 2012 UKLA survey findings, Reedy claims that the check ‘seriously disadvantaged and in some cases impeded, successful readers’. Many teachers felt that the impediment was caused by the presence of too many nonsense words in the check. Supporters of the UKLA position feel that reading is exclusively about meaning. Whilst not disagreeing that the whole point of reading is to construct meaning, where advocates of phonics would disagree is that in order to derive meaning from the words on the page, one has first to be able to make sense of the words by decoding them. In other words, UKLA put the cart before the horse. Of course, the learner may be able to decode successfully and still not derive meaning because the word isn’t in the learner’s repertoire.

The example that opponents of the check have referred to most often was the example of ‘strom’ in last year’s check. They complained that many of their ‘more able’ readers read the word as ‘storm’. Well, the error could be an anomaly! After all, many six-year-old children are likely to make some mistakes. This is where we come back to the kinds of errors pupils make, how frequently they make them, and how ell teachers are able to correct them. Furthermore, if a pupil is scoring below thirty-two out of forty, I would have thought this would merit further investigation, which would also question whether the teacher is doing the job of teaching phonics properly.

Very often errors such as the ‘strom’/’storm’ example go unnoticed or unchecked when pupils are reading many of the popular reading series in which they have been taught to guess words by looking at the pictures or other contextual features. In addition, as I’ve argued, because many teachers don’t know exactly how to correct errors like this, they simply tell the pupil what the word is and, having learnt nothing of value, two pages further on, the pupil makes the same error again.

For all of these reasons, the inclusion in the check of nonsense words, I would argue, is welcome. To summarise:

·         Firstly, non-words give us a very valuable insight into what strategies learners use when they are reading. Alison Clarke, of Spelfabet in Australia, refers to them as words ‘we haven’t met yet’.

·         Secondly, as many phonics practitioners have already pointed out, there are lots of everyday words that many pupils don’t yet have in their repertoire. As far as the pupils are concerned, all of these words are ‘nonsense’ words.

·         Then again, many polysyllabic words contain syllables that don’t in themselves make any ‘sense’ at all, yet need to be decoded accurately if the syllables are to be put together and the word read accurately.

There is so much more with which to disagree with David Reedy, one thing in particular being the claim that the check encourages teachers to label children as failures. In truth, I don’t believe that there are teachers who tell young children they are failures and if there are any such teachers, they shouldn’t be teaching. There might be some truth in the suggestion that the school’s relationship with parents might be put under strain if a child isn’t managing to decode three-quarters or so of the forty words successfully. But surely if the teacher isn’t teaching children to read, then perhaps that relationship ought to be put under strain!

UKLA are short on evidence and wrong in their arguments and it is up to us to challenge their misconceptions at every opportunity.

The discussion continues on the RRF.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Is it time to ditch David Reedy?

Continuing on from yesterday, today I want to look more closely at some of the claims made by David Reedy in his contribution to the ‘debate’ in the April issue of Teach Primary.
Reedy states that, ‘in 2012, the UKLA undertook a survey of KS1 schools and teachers about the [phonics screening] test’ [sic] and received 494 responses. What he doesn’t tell us is what percentage of the total number of KS1 schools the 494 represents, exactly how many separate schools responded and how many teachers from different schools responded. Does the 494 lump together the responses from schools and teachers? Detailed information would make an immense difference to how we might begin to interpret the results. If UKLA received 494 separate responses from 494 different KS1 schools, it might make their claim that they got ‘a very high number’ of responses more credible, especially if this was out of, say, a thousand schools. However, the information Reedy supplied in his article is very vague and there is no way of knowing the exact details.
We are also told that the responses indicate ‘a level of concern by teachers and schools’. What is a ‘level of concern’? Of course, more knowledgeable teachers will know that ‘level of concern’ here means that they don’t approve of the screening check, though no evidence is provided. But, on top of this, the ‘level of concern’ Reedy is quoting also, according to him, shows us that ‘experience of the first year of the test [sic] has been very worrying’.
You might think that the schools and teachers are worried because the check has demonstrated that many children whom they previously thought were able to read were shown to have problems decoding words, real and made-up, or that they’ve realised that their teaching of phonics is not up to scratch and that they, the teachers, feel they need more training. From having trained several thousand teaching practitioners over the past few years, my experience and the experience of the Sounds-Write trainers has been exactly that there is an amazing amount of misunderstanding of what phonics is, how it works and how to teach it.

Not so for David Reedy, however! He claims that schools ‘overwhelmingly felt the check was unnecessary and not fit for purpose’. He provides no evidence for his ‘overwhelming’ claim and, frankly, the moment anyone comes out with the dreadful John Reid cliché, I want to reach for the sick bucket. [Fight clichés with clichés, I say.] According to Reedy, the schools didn’t find the test [sic] useful because ‘it did not give any information that was not already known’. This, in turn, is because they ‘already do extensive phonics testing and assessment’. He doesn’t give any examples of the kind of testing used or anything else to support his contention. What he does do, though, is to link this statement with the sentence ‘... and the unreliability of the phonics screening check results means that this data will not be used in school to inform teachers about children’s progress’. Sorry? Did I miss something here? The phonics screening check is now being definitively defined as being unreliable - by the UKLA, though!
What I’m saying is that the whole piece is loaded with surreptitiously interpolated words designed to persuade the reader of the frightful imposition of the check. It’s all rhetoric.

Tomorrow: did the check confuse fluent readers?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

David, is 'reedy' a pseudo word?

The latest issue of Teach Primary carries a debate entitled ‘Is it time to ditch the phonics screening test?’ In actual fact, its correct title should be ‘Is it time to ditch the phonics screening check’ but we’ll come back to this point.
In any event, it pitches Debbie Hepplewhite against David Reedy. As most readers of this and related blogs will know, Debbie is a leading light in the campaign to get good quality phonics teaching into schools from the moment children start in Foundation 2 or Reception. Perhaps, less well known is David Reedy of the United Kingdom Literacy Association, an organisation that in reality does everything it can to impede the implementation of good quality phonics programmes, even though, as we shall see from Reedy’s piece, the UKLA are occasionally forced to concede that phonics is ‘important’.

In this series of postings, I’m not going to examine Hepplewhite’s piece because I believe it to be a clear, fair and well set-out statement of what the phonics screening check is designed for. What I do propose to look at in some detail is the Reedy piece. This is because, as a statement of the UKLA’s position on the screening check, with its customary deployment of rhetorical devices, it is highly representative of its attitudes towards the teaching of phonics.
From the outset, the UKLA identified what it perceived as the screening check’s weakest link – the introduction of non words or pseudo words. This is because it suspects, in the absence of a clear and unequivocal rationale being presented to teachers and parents for the introduction of such words, this aspect of the check will prompt an immediate reaction against it. It is intended to provoke a knee-jerk reaction. So, it comes as no surprise that Reedy’s article should begin by foregrounding the inclusion of pseudo words.
The UKLA’s preferred qualifier ‘pseudo’ should not go without comment. ‘Pseudo’ is much more likely to have pejorative connotations than the more neutral (adjective) ‘non’. This coupled with several examples – Reedy uses ‘mip’, ‘glimp’ and ‘brunk’ – is designed to produce the ‘common sense’ reaction to their use of the order of ‘Why on earth would we be asking children to read words that aren’t real?’ Well, as we shall see, there are very good reasons but, if you have an ideological aversion to phonics or you are a person, be they teacher or parent, who lacks knowledge of the whys and wherefores of the case, then Reedy’s blandishments seem reasonable.
The UKLA’s visceral antipathy to the check is then moderated to the seemingly sensible claim that it ‘has considerable concerns about the imposition of the test’ (sic). ‘Concern’ has an empathetic ring to it, patronising to be sure, but suggesting the air of the headteacher telling the assembly calmly what is and is not good for us; while, of course, ‘test’, rather than ‘check’ is calculated to raise the stakes, to infuse the argument with a degree of anxiety on which he builds further on in the piece.
The check, he tells us is ‘narrowly conceived and does not give a clear picture of children’s development as readers when they are six years old’. In fact, it is not narrowly conceived. It is narrowly focused. There’s a difference. The focus on phonics is a fundamental first step because phonics teaches pupils that the sounds in their speech are represented by written symbols. Moreover, the best phonics programmes teach from simple to more complex and they go on to continue to have an important role in enabling pupils to read and spell much more complex words as they progress through school.
Of course there are other aspects to reading: the richness of a pupil’s linguistic environment or the cultural capital they have accumulated is of enormous importance. But, what Reedy and the UKLA can’t seem to understand is that if a pupil can’t decode, they can’t read, never mind ‘read avidly for purpose and pleasure’.
Tomorrow, I’ll be looking at Reedy’s report on the research survey the UKLA undertook and some of the claims he makes.