Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Statutory Spelling lists syllabified

As the government acknowledges in its document on spelling, throughout the whole of Key Stage 2, teachers 'should continue to emphasise to pupils the relationship between sounds and letters, even when the relationships are unusual'.

The word lists for Years 3 and 4 and for Years 5 and 6 are statutory and, again, in the government's words, they are 'a mixture of words pupils frequently use in their writing and those which they most often misspell... but the 100 words in each list can easily be taught within the four years of Key Stage 2 alongside other words that teachers might find appropriate'.

In the PDF document below, I have split each polysyllabic word in both lists into their constituent syllables, marked which syllable in each word is stressed and made the occasional note about sound-spelling  representations. 

I hope you find them useful :)

These lists will be posted on the Sounds-Write website as free downloadable PDFs.
Or, alternatively:

Friday, January 22, 2016

St George's Church of England Primary School: from crisis to calm

St George's - from crisis to calm is the story of a school that twelve years ago was failing, and failing so badly it was in special measures. What that failure meant was that a good number children moving on to secondary school were unequipped to cope with the demands of the secondary curriculum. A huge proportion of the children were classified as having special needs and they were failing in the two subjects most necessary to underpin any sort of quality education: maths and basic literacy.

Since that time, and with a considerable amount of hard work on the part of all the staff involved under the leadership of Ms Janet Hilary, a National Leader of Education, the school has been transformed into an oasis of learning and of calm. Situated in an area of ‘severe deprivation’ in the heart of London, the school now finds itself in the top 2% of schools in England and head teachers from all over the country are visiting to discover the secrets of its success. 

Recently, following in the footsteps of some Australian educators, two principals from Cedar Rapids in Iowa have been to see the key instructional influences that have been brought together to produce this success. The video above is the product of their visit. As one of the principals Joy Long recognises, this is what ‘no child left behind’ can really mean. Joy’s colleague Angie Hoyer really puts her finger on it when she tells us that what struck her was ‘the leadership and the focus on leadership’.

Although you will hear the words ‘joy’ and ‘outstanding’ being used in the video to describe what is taking place at the school today, the answer to its achievement lies not in fine words or overinflated rhetoric but in the programmes implemented to bring such a high degree of success.

As the current head Sarah Collymore makes clear, much of the previous lack of attainment and substandard behaviour was attributable to the poor quality of teaching in the classroom. To remedy this situation, Jan introduced a much tighter structure to the school because, for children, structure means safety and security, and a secure environment is one in which children flourish and learn.

Starting with what Jan calls ‘positive directives’ - ‘speak nicely, listen carefully, act kindly, move calmly’ - and because ‘language models in the home were very often so impoverished’, oral language was given a strong focus in teaching and learning. And, as we know, oral language is the foundation for the successful teaching of reading and writing.

Sarah also talks about how they had been searching for something that would help the school with early literacy and, although there are, as she says, lots of programmes out there, ‘none of them have the consistency of Sounds-Write’. By introducing a solid and consistent early literacy programme, the leadership team understood that a similarly rigorous approach needed to be applied across the curriculum.

Jan once explained to me that the foundation for everything that is done in the school depends on children being able to read and write, and that Sounds-Write has provided the answer to that most basic of needs. Theresa Plummer, the reading specialist at St George’s spells out just how important it is to get this right from the beginning: ‘If you haven’t caught them by the age of seven,’ she says, ‘the gap is too big to make up and you are playing catch up all the way through primary school.'

You can also see from deputy head Sam Limon’s comments, that this is a terrific learning environment in which everyone wants to improve, to learn and get better at teaching, and much of this comes from the fact that there is a huge emphasis on teacher development.

Many thanks to everyone involved in making the video and special thanks to Chuck Peters, who first conceived the idea and then made it happen.

Friday, January 15, 2016

What are the problems with Whole Language and why doesn't it work?

The allure of using Whole Language to teach children to read lies mainly in the fact that, as you'd expect, humans are heavily biased towards meaning and a whole word approach has an immediate appeal because, at the beginning, it seems so easy. On the other side of the methodological divide, learning how to recognise letter shapes as representations of sounds is hard work from the start even though it gets easier as learning progresses.

So, what is wrong with a Whole Language approach?

Well, firstly, whole word instruction isn’t generative! Each word has to be learned from someone who already knows that word. Thus, every unknown word constitutes potentially a barrier to meaning and understanding.

Secondly, and this follows on from the previous point, whole language is hugely time-consuming. Each new word requires oodles of practice and teachers need to provide multiple opportunities for practice, which is why books with a Whole Language orientation are filled with endless repetition of ‘key’ words. 

If on the other hand we teach children even a small number of sound-spelling correspondences and we get them to practise the skills of segmenting and blending, they can quickly read (and spell) dozens and dozens of words.

Here's an example of what I mean: if we teach children just 12 sound-spelling correspondences ([ a ], [ i ], [ m ], [ s ], [ t ], [ n ], [ o ], [ p ], [ b ], [ c ], [ g ] and [ h ]) and we teach them to segment and blend, they will be able to read and spell around 70+ words, as well as to be able to read and write sentences in which those words appear.

Thirdly, by demanding that pupils attend to whole words, there is no reason why they should give attention to the detail of words. In fact, research shows that children are likely to attend to the outer segments of words but not to the internal details. As there are so many words in the English language that look very similar, a Whole Language approach always makes children susceptible to mis-reading and mis-spelling even very common words. And this is exactly what we see in practice.

Finally, a Whole Language approach is very frustrating for children who simply cannot remember words as wholes from the start and anybody who teaches young children knows and can identify such pupils within weeks of them beginning school. However, it isn’t just such children who have trouble from the outset. In fact, pupils with lots of prior learning and very good visual memories are likely to be even more at risk in the long term because, inevitably, as they are required to learn more and more words, they begin to run out of visual memory and begin to guess wildly or to try and work out what words are from other, contextual clues, such as syntax, illustrations and discourse. Furthermore, once these bad habits have become ingrained, as with any habit that is practised, the longer it goes on, the harder it is to correct.

And all of this is compounded by teachers who haven’t been properly trained to teach the sensible and only alternative to Whole Language/Look and Say/Mixed methods.

So, I say again: train the teachers!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bowie bows out

One particular news item reporting on the death of David Bowie harked back to an interview he did with Jeremy Paxman on BBC2’s Newsnight programme, which you can see here.

As probably everyone knows by now, Bowie changed his name from David Jones  early on his career but what was fascinating about his meeting with ‘Paxo’ was his admission that he wasn’t sure any more how the name should be pronounced.

Phonics aficionados are well aware that the spelling < ow > can be /oe/ as in ‘grow’ and it can also be /ow/ as in ‘cow’, which reminds me of the confusion people have/had over how to pronounce J.K. Rowling’s name. She prefers the /oe/ version, I believe.

It seems somewhat ironic that a spelling in his assumed stage name should anticipate the life of a performer whose roles could be read in so many ways.

In the interview, Bowie also acknowledged the Scottish version ‘Booie’, although he claimed that the provenance of the name derives from Davy Crockett’s old mate, the eponymous Jim Bowie, who died at The Alamo and popularised the famous ‘Bowie knife’.

Of course, this brings us back to the idea that many spellings in English can represent more than one sound. By and large, as fluent readers, we don't have a problem with this feature of the writing system unless we come across the name of a person (Here's a nice example) or a place name or even a less frequently encountered word we've never come across before. In cases like this, we simply ask someone who is already in the know or we consult a pronouncing dictionary.