Phonics is fun

31st October 1997 at 00:00
Would Rayhana, OFSTED video star, agree with Sue Palmer that formal phonics doesn't suit most nursery children? Ruth Miskin imagines her response

Dear Ms Palmer,

A year ago, when I was still four-years-old and in the nursery class, I was featured in an Office for Standards in Education video. I remember it very well because we had to sit still for ages while they filmed. Some of the children got very fidgety.

Most of us speak BengaliSylheti as our first language and have learned English since we started in the nursery class at Kobi Nazrul School.

My teacher left a copy of your article (TES2, October 17) on my table yesterday, while she was chatting to the headteacher, Mrs Miskin. I couldn't help but see my name and went on to read the rest of the article.

You stated that "I had a high level of phonological awareness" and that "I seemed to be an exception". Well, on behalf of my friends, I take great exception to this comment. Before we moved to the reception class in January this year, we could all hear the first sound and other dominant sounds in any word. We could all write the letter in response to hearing a sound. We could all identify letters by their most com-mon sound.

It took our teacher, Melanie, a term to teach us all of this and for only 20 minutes every day. (Though, personally, I wished she had spent more time. The sessions were such fun.) We also had excellent story times and learned lots of rhymes by heart. I also remember spending time thinking of words that rhymed with furry animals "to make them happy". I think this was to help us when we first started to blend the sounds into words and then to split words back into their sounds.

I am now in Year 1, having spent two terms in reception, and all of this seems a long time ago.

Now we can all read rather well, apart from two children who came very late to our school and one other little boy who needs extra support. The older children in my class are even better at reading than I am. They rarely read "scheme" books now.

I love reading. I read all sorts of books every night, sometimes on my own and sometimes with my seven-year-old sister. My mum can't read English, so my sister often helps me.

It really annoys me when people think that, because we come into school speaking little English, we can't learn to read English quickly. I think my spoken English has improved so much because I have learned to read quickly. It means that I am continually finding out the meaning of more and more English words.

I don't know what the nursery teacher in your article means when she says that "children have got to be able to put words together before they start taking them apart". We can do both.

It also annoys me when you say that children with upper respiratory tract infections or who watch too much television have poor listening skills and so are slower to gain phonological skills. We all live between two of the busiest main roads in East London (Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road) and quite a few children are always getting colds, coughs and sore throats. Many of my friends watch a lot of television, too. Some children have it on all the time. The point is, though, it's not on for seven hours a day at school. This is when we are taught to read and write.

When my headteacher finished talk-ing to my teacher, I asked her what she thought about the article. Her views were similar to my own. She also mentioned that the Year 2 children all achieved level 2 and half of them achieved level 3 in the reading and writing national assessment tests this year. I said it just shows the effect that learning basic things like letter sound correspondences in the nursery can have. She agreed.

From Rayhana, age five, in Year 1 Kobi Nazrul School Tower Hamlets East London

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