Primary resources: Sound reading

29th April 2005 at 01:00
FAST PHONICS FIRST. By Joyce Watson and Rhona Johnston, pound;75 from Spalefield Publishing, Spalefield, Anstruther KY10 3LB.

Training CD and booklet: ACCELERATING READING AND SPELLING WITH SYNTHETIC PHONICS. pound;10 from Learning + Teaching Scotland, Gardyne Road, Dundee DD5 1NY.

READ WRITE INC. By Ruth Miskin. Evaluation Pack 1, pound;40; Evaluation Pack 2, pound;25; Evaluation Pack 3, pound;50.

The first of these training and teaching materials is based on the Clackmannanshire research (Scottish Executive Central Research, 2005), while the other arises from Ruth Miskin's experience as a headteacher, notably at Kobi Nazrul School in east London.

The packs are different in scope. Fast Phonics First is a programme for an introductory 16-week course in Year 1, while Read Write Inc. aims to replace the National Literacy Strategy for children working up to level 2b, with a second part for lower attainers in Years 5 to 7.

Fast Phonics First comes in a large ring-binder, divided into three sections, covering teaching, resources and language activities. Some of the resources have to be found or made - including a Jack-in-the-box, puppets, and magnetic boards and letters, some of which are readily available.

The word cards and mini-booklets are plain but effective, and there are good games. Teaching principles are clearly set out and logically sequenced. Spelling and reading are taught together, and there are useful ideas on using the regular parts of irregular words.

The pack includes a readable research paper (Interchange 57, downloadable from uklibrarydocuments7interchg.pdf), which sets out the authors' views on phonics. They make it clear that analytic phonics can include synthetic elements, and that synthetic phonics is only "one aspect of effective teaching". This article would make good reading for language co-ordinators and for the authors' more enthusiastic supporters.

The learning and teaching pack includes a very clear CD presentation, with plenty of opportunities for teachers to reflect and make up their own minds.

Read Write Inc. covers speaking and listening, class management and writing as well as initial reading. It begins with a systematic introduction of the links between sounds and letters, reinforced with attractively presented cards and books and a daily session that fits the literacy hour slot.

Elements in each reading and writing task are introduced clearly and practice is given before the child is expected to use them. One gap is the lack of guidance on patterns in irregular words.

The classroom is very well-organised to ensure that all children speak.

There is no hands-up session, but a system in which questions asked to the class have to be answered by all pupils, working in partnerships. Talk is built into all the activities. The reading books each have clear guidance for adult supporters, including practice on word-level work and suggested questions that encourage exploration and language development by going beyond literal meaning from the start.

The books' well written, humorous stories and quirky illustrations earn them a strong recommendation in their own right. The "penny plain, tuppence coloured" pricing may help schools on a tight budget, though the colours are very attractive.

The writing books involve systematic construction of sentences and stories, with clear explanation of patterns in syllables and vowel combinations. The QCA has found that many pupils have problems using these in Year 6, and their inclusion in a key stage 1 pack shows that progress can be made using a systematic approach.

The second pack fills a gap in the market for materials for pupils in Year 5 onwards who are working at a level below that picked up by the government booster programmes.

Studying these training materials would give any school a clear and detailed understanding of synthetic phonics and enable teachers to make an informed decision of its relevance to their work. This is an important contribution to the teaching of reading.

John Bald

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