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Year One Phonics Check

Barbara Murray - Saturday, March 21, 2020

Year One Phonics Check: Several states have expressed the intention to conduct a phonics check of Year 1 students in order to map student progress and to identify students in need of extra tuition.

I hope that when the results come out, the process of teaching phonics in the schools that do well, is examined to see what techniques are successful.

I see constantly in the media, scepticism regarding the efficacy of phonics as a reading and writing tool. This saddens me as I know from experience that all students from P to Year 7 benefit from correctly taught phonic skills which become skills for life.

As an experienced phonemic approach with synthetic phonics teacher and co-author of the very successful Sound Waves, a phonemic approach to spelling for the whole primary school, I am concerned that teachers are often unaware of the complete process.

Synthetic phonics can be hugely successful with students but only if it is combined with a phonemic approach. I constantly see and read examples of the use of phonics in the classroom without a complete phonemic approach. Without phonemic awareness, the success rate will diminish as students encounter more complex words when reading and writing.

Phonemic awareness of all 43 sounds we use when we speak Australian English is mandatory before synthetic phonics is introduced.

It is quite easy to introduce the 43 sounds orally as chants with actions to beginning readers and writers. Once the students have full awareness of all 43 sounds, synthetic phonics can begin. Immersion in oral phonic skills once the awareness is imbedded, is another neglected but vital step in the phonics process.

In all year levels the 43 sounds appear in words that students encounter. It is not useful for students to be only aware of the more common sounds. They need to have awareness of all 43 sounds in their repertoire in order to use synthetic phonics skills successfully.

The process of phonemic awareness with synthetic phonics works if three steps are used. The first 2 steps are completely oral and are taught across the entire first term of school.

Step 1: Term 1

Introduce all 43 sounds. In Sound Waves, the 43 sounds are taught, one each day for 43 days, without alphabet letters involved, using chants and actions and lots of oral whole class games.

Step 2: Term 1

As the sounds are introduced, oral segmenting and blending of sounds to make 2 and 3 sound words is gradually included. Loads of oral practice with segmenting and blending sounds to form words is so important for phonics to work for the students.

Step 3: Term 2 and onwards

The letters of the alphabet code are then slowly introduced so that the sounds can be recorded in writing, as the words we speak.

If teachers take the whole first term to introduce and consolidate all 43 sounds in a completely oral environment they will reap the benefits once the alphabet code is introduced.

I cannot emphasise enough, the importance of Steps 1 and 2. The rest of the phonics program will slide easily into place if the oral groundwork precede it.

As a response to requests from teachers for an engaging way to introduce the 43 sounds, I have produced my boxed set of 4 hard cover books containing a story for each of the 43 sounds. Nowhere in the market place can you purchase stories to introduce all 43 sounds in one complete set.

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