Festival News: reflections on the session about early reading and phonics

Published: 16 September 2020
Fiona Gowers (Learn Sheffield) reflects on the session about early reading and phonics from Andrew Truby and Lucy McKerrow from the English Hub.
  • Fiona Gowers (Learn Sheffield Improvement Partner):

Early reading and phonics: Classroom delivery and remote learning

Andrew Truby and Lucy McKerrow led an extremely helpful and informative session, which focused on many of the challenges faced by schools at this time and also explored a range of possible solutions for schools to consider and adapt to their own setting.

It was very pertinent to be reminded that being able to read is essential for pupils’ future success and also has a key part to play in fostering positive mental health and well-being.

The session provided some helpful suggestions about how to assess pupils, following on from their differing experiences during lockdown and suggested that it may be necessary to train more key staff to assess and deliver phonics, due to the need to maintain the integrity of class and year group bubbles.

A range of approaches to the organisation of phonics were explored, and consideration given to how to get the best out of each approach, whilst minimising the potential risk to pupils. For example, for schools that have opted for a ‘best fit’ whole class approach to the teaching of phonics, it was suggested that some children could also receive one-to-one or small group support too. Other schools have opted for a carousel model (within a class bubble), to help prioritise those children who are not on track. An alternative approach is for schools to deliver phonics in groups across a year group bubble. Some risk assessment implications were raised such as the need to: record clearly where children have been (track and trace); socially distance staff; agree how children are to move around; consider children having their own resources and maintaining sanitising and handwashing arrangements.

Schools are encouraged to find the most efficient way to handle books for each classroom. An example shared was for children to put books they have read at home into a box, which could then be quarantined for 72 hours. It was suggested that schools have a ‘less is more’ approach to displaying books and to face books forwards to reduce the need to handle the books.

Video lessons are still available on you-tube (eg: Ruth Miskin/Read Write Inc. and Letters and Sounds). It was suggested that it would be beneficial to upload these on a regular basis for pupils to access at home. Learning from the period of lock down is helping schools refine their approach to blended and remote learning, whilst ensuring reading remains a key focus. Suggestions to help pupils get the most out video phonics sessions include: the class teacher recording an introduction to the daily video sessions; providing follow up and praise; practicing the sounds learnt using matched decodable books/e-reader; keeping things simple and not giving too much choice; training parents in the difference between a decodable book and a book to share; using a bigger screen (if possible); a parent sitting with the child (if possible) and providing regular recorded story times.

Thank you very much Andrew and Lucy for such an informative session!

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