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Signpost to progress

Jim Rose's 'Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading' sets out clear principles for schools to consider in planning their early literacy programmes. This is a selection of points from his report.

Leading edge practice bears no resemblance to a one-size-fits-all model of teaching and learning, nor does it promote boring, dull, rote learning of phonics. This review argues for a vigorous programme of phonic work to be securely embedded within a broad and language-rich curriculum;one that generates purposeful discussion, interest, application, enjoyment and high achievement across all the areas of learning and experience.

The teaching of new readers must lead them to understand how reading and writing are related. They must learn to process all the letters in words and read words in and out of text. Children are unlikely to work out the relationship between sounds and letters for themselves.

For most children it is appropriate to begin a systematic programme of phonic work by five years old, the way having been paved by related activities designed to build phonological awareness.

Much good work is evident where young children are actively engaged in developing this awareness within a broad and language-rich curriculum. This work exploited the power of play, story, songs, rhymes and drama to familiarise children with letters, words and sounds.

Time was also provided for children to talk about their experiences and feelings in ways which enlarged their vocabulary and stimulated their interest in reading. Worthwhile pre-reading activities ensure that children had wide exposure to print.

Practitioners and teachers need to be willing, and have the wherewithal, to test the boundaries of children's readiness for systematic phonic work.

When to introduce this work is, and should be, a matter of principled, professional judgment based on careful observation and robust assessment.

An early start on this work is especially important for those children who do not have the advantages of strong support for literacy at home. We know that, with appropriate teaching, they are capable of higher achievement.

Five-year-olds who know more letter names are more likely to know more letter sounds. Given that children will meet many instances outside, as well as within, their settings and schools where letter names are used, it makes sense to teach them within the programme of early phonic work. It appears that the distinction between a letter name and a letter sound is easily understood by most children.

Key features of effective practice in England and Scotland were:

* Training and commitment of heads and senior staff

* Involvement of teachers in developing materials

* Training provided at the point at which teachers and support staff needed the required knowledge and skills

* Access to expert assistance

* The efficient dissemination of information through informal and formal support networks

* Prompt catch-up training for new staff

* A clear, consistent structure from which to plan

* Good quality, simple resources HMI visited schools in Clackmannanshire where synthetic phonics teaching has been in place for a number of years.

A typical phonics session early in P1 (equivalent of reception in England) began with singing the alphabet song while the teacher (and later a child) pointed to the magnetic letters on the whiteboard.

Sounds already learnt were rehearsed and there was sounding out and blending of simple words which were on the whiteboard. The teacher then pronounced words clearly, which the chidren segmented into their separate phonemes, with physical actions;she questioned children about which sounds had been heard and in what order.

How to write the letter p was rehearsed in sky writing. The children then learnt a new sound and how to form the letters, before reading words with the sound s (is, sat), using their previous letter-sound knowledge and blending skills.

Then they made up a sentence, orally, with the word is, before segmenting it into its separate phonemes. At their tables, they did further similar work with magnetic whiteboards;they segmented consonant-vowel-consonant words (and one ccvc word as a challenge), selecting the magnetic letters and placing them, in the correct order, to spell the words, followed by sliding the letters together (to represent blending) to read the words.

Multi-sensory approaches were evident throughout the session. And simple but effective resources contributed significantly to the quality of the teaching: an alphabet frieze, flipchart and coloured pens, magnetic letters and small whiteboards for each child. At their tables, children had the whole alphabet shown on a grid on their magnetic boards, but only the magnetic letters for sounds already learnt were actually on the board.

The reversibility of decoding letters to read words and choosing letters to spell meant that children were applying their phonic knowledge and the skills of blending and segmenting in two contexts: reading and writing.

Since they were successful in this, building on established knowledge and skills, they paved the way for further work and developed their confidence as readers and writers.

Reviewing the sequence of teaching phonic knowledge and skills will be undertaken rigorously as part of the renewal of the literacy framework. It is vital that such direct, systematic teaching does not stop once children have mastered the main letter-sound correspondences.


* Short teaching sessions of 15-20 minutes, broken by a move from carpet to tables

* A consistent structure for each session

* Revision of previously learnt lettter-sound knowledge before introduction of new work

* A well-judged pace

* Multi-sensory approaches

* Demonstration of the reversibility of reading and spelling WEAK PRACTICE

* Stretching consonants when sounding out words, such as cat and bat, for example, by adding the sound 'ur'. Children hear 'cur-a-tur', and so they find blending sounds unnecessarily difficult

* The whole class seated on the carpet next to the whiteboard as those at the front obscure sight lines of those at the back

* Small, indistinct writing by teacher on a whiteboard. Pay particular attention to the colour as a yellow marker is difficult to read

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