Phonics and Reading: a Pathway to Independence
As a school, the overall intent for our curriculum is to prepare young people for independent futures. If we can read and we enjoy reading, so many aspects of life become so much easier to manage:
The list goes on, but in setting out a curriculum that enables students to acquire these essential skills for life, we don’t lose sight of the fact that the opportunity to read is a gift that all children have the right to enjoy and that the best learning happens when it is enjoyed rather than forced.
“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or a duty, it should be offered to them as a gift.” Kate DiCamillo.
“Reading gives us somewhere to go when we have to stay where we are.” Mason Cooley
The pathway from pre-reading to fluency must therefore take our young people on a personalised adventure that not only teaches mechanics but also, crucially, instils a love of reading.
A Consistent Approach to Phonics
Trialling of a range of schemes over a 2 year period led us to implement the Sounds Write phonics programme for our learners. We have found that the majority of our young people respond really well to this highly structured, clearly sequenced, code-based approach to the teaching of reading and spelling.
The programme promotes multi-sensory approaches that heighten engagement and strengthen learning and the response from our children has been overwhelmingly positive. Impact is tracked continuously by class teachers using our ongoing, termly assessment system, which enables us to intervene quickly and precisely where slow progress is identified. These sessions are delivered across the school to all students who require the input based on our assessment data.
From the time that young people are ready to engage with the Sounds Write programme, their reading is supported by the Phonic Books scheme. This scheme allows teachers to match books precisely to the learning that is happening in their daily phonics sessions, thus ensuring that their reading is reinforcing their learning. Another strength of the scheme is the breadth of collections available to young people; these allow us to offer engaging reading materials that match age appropriate content to stage of phonics development for learners from lower primary through to key stage 3.
With this said, we are constantly aware that a “one size fits all" approach cannot work for all our learners. When a teacher identifies that Phonic Books are not working for an individual, they are able to access a range of alternative, parallel, decodable schemes such as Bug Club, Songbirds and Rapid Phonics. Likewise, for those individuals who struggle to learn through phonics approaches, resources and reading schemes are readily available that are suitable for all ages and stages and we seek approaches that will support their learning preferences eg See and Learn.
Alongside our phonics programme, we place high importance on immersing our groups of young people in carefully selected, age appropriate, high quality fiction and non-fiction texts that are often beyond word reading stage; these are selected to spark interest, create intrigue, promote discussion and debate, and, through this, support the development of comprehension, interrogation and analysis. It is around these central texts that our teachers build learning sequences for English; in Primary phases, these are often central to cross-curricular topics and themes.
As we drive to promote a love of reading across our secondary phases, we have also committed a 15 minute session per day, in addition to timetabled English and phonics lessons, to engage children in reading activities. This includes opportunities to listen to an adult read from a quality, age appropriate book. Typical approaches are outlined for each phase in the “Love of Reading” sections of the charts below: