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.

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