Faster phonics

John Galloway looks at whiteboard software that is making teaching literacy using synthetic phonics quick and easy

Ruth Miskin and her highly structured approach to developing literacy skills in young children are becoming well known, particularly since the government agreed that synthetic phonics - the theory that underpins her programme - is the best way of teaching this.

Her Read Write Inc method involves learning the sounds of the 44 phonemes in the English language, with their various representations, then blending them together - to decode words when reading and to spell them when writing.

The scheme, which is proving increasingly popular, with 600 schools adopting it, uses all learning styles: pupils not only say sounds but observe each other making them and see them in the context of words and pictures.

This is a method that lends itself to working with interactive whiteboards, which is why Promethean has brought out Just Phonics Speed Sounds.

The software complements the scheme well. It takes its title from one aspect - getting pupils to rapidly recall phoneme sounds. In Jill Dockerty's reception group at Elmhurst Primary School in Newham, East London, the children rattled them off.

"Shuh," they all said, then, "suh," and "guh," as first "sh" then "s" then "g" popped up on the whiteboard at one-second intervals. The teacher paused the display when "i" and "j" caused some confusion, and, holding up her cardboard cards, pointed out the difference before continuing.

The children had already seen "J" represented as a "stretching" sound on the board, and chanted along with Ruth Miskin (whose voice models all the software sounds): "juh, juh, juh, juh, juh, juh". And they watched as first a jumper, then some jeans, and then a jelly faded in and out on screen.

This was followed by rehearsing some "green" words, a reference to the different grouping levels used. Here the children used the "Fred Fingers" approach, holding up three fingers then assigning a phoneme to each one, "juh-oh-buh, job; juh-e-tuh, jet," and so on, including a couple of non-words such as "jop" and "jid", which can be used to stimulate discussion.

All of these activities have been part of Read Write Inc since it started - so how useful is the software? "In terms of teaching tools it is fantastic," says Tejinder Dhingra, deputy headteacher and manager of the scheme at the school. "What the children see is always the same. It saves teacher time. Before we had it the teachers were writing every word up. With Speed Sounds we did it with cards. I'd like it to go further and support the storybooks. You could have the picture strips on the board."

This is a wish that may soon be granted as more collaborations are planned. Also under consideration is the wish of other teachers that these resources run on more than just the Promethean boards they are restricted to at the moment.

Promethean Just Phonics Speed Sounds Software for literacy work (synthetic phonics) on Promethean interactive whiteboards Price: pound;300 for a site licence www.prometheanworld.comukjustphonics

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