Teachers in the Northern Hemisphere will soon be completing their students’ phonics assessments and more than a few teachers will be realising how much ‘ground’ has been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s common for students with specific learning difficulties to struggle to meet literacy benchmarks, now – as a result of school closures and lockdowns – many students who ordinarily would be meeting benchmarks are not.
In my role as a phonics tutor, I am sometimes called in when a child has had school absences and needs to catch up – quickly. Requests for that sort of ‘phonics catch-up’ have increased significantly due to COVID lockdowns. Some of my Australian students have only physically been at school for ten weeks since January!
These are challenging times for teachers, so, in this blog, I’m sharing my 5 top tips for a rapid phonics catch-up. I am hoping that this will also be helpful for Year 2 teachers in the UK, whose students have to complete the autumn Phonics Screening Check.
If you have limited time, you cannot waste it re-teaching what the child has already mastered. You should:
Use your data to begin instruction at the point of need.
Determine what the priorities are for the student and focus your instruction on these. Reading and spelling depend on knowledge of letter-sound correspondences, so if these aren’t known, a focus on blending or segmenting is futile. If the child has mastered letter-sound correspondences but struggles with blending or segmenting, then make that your skill focus.
Practice in word segmenting and reading/spelling of irregular words is not required in preparation for the Phonics Screening Check, so UK teachers who are trying to prepare students for that should probably give priority to letter-sound correspondences and blending.
Remember that prioritising doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring other aspects of literacy. The goal of reading is comprehension, but if the student can’t decode, then comprehension is unlikely. Decoding must have priority over comprehension skill development. Reading great literature with students is still important but that can be done later in the day while you focus on phonic skills in the morning.
Phonics Hero breaks phonic skills into 6 key areas, each addressed separately, so is ideal for skill-targeted practice.
Catch-up is always more rapid when instruction is individualised. As I said earlier, you need to meet children at their individual point of need, but that can be difficult if you don’t have resources that allow one group to work independently while you work with another!
Phonics Hero facilitates the individualising of programs. When children start playing on their Child Account, they take a Placement Test that identifies the most appropriate level for them to start on. Teachers can set levels for each individual child and schedule learning as well as access all of our 220 worksheets (both supported and independent) for free. Take a look at these examples:
For parents, Worksheet Packs can be purchased for Parts 1, 2, and 3 of Phonics Hero, allowing students to work at their own pace and level.
Students need to be automatic decoders in order to fully comprehend text. The key to automaticity is practice. Seize every opportunity to give students more phonics practice – do a little bit, often. Use people resources (grown-up helpers) as well as material resources.
Replace ‘finishing off’ time with ‘phonic fun’ time. You can increase your use of Phonics Hero this way.
The more senses we involve in learning, the more likely it is that information will be retained. Movement and the use of colour not only make learning fun, but aid memory. Use colour to highlight the difference between vowels and consonants, to draw attention to ‘tricky bits’ in irregular words. Here are some learning activity ideas that involve movement:
Lots of card games can be adapted for phonic skill development. Our Home Reader cards use single words and are ideal for printing off to use in games. You might play:
2020 has been full of challenges but phonics skill catch-up is achievable. Keep your phonics focus laser-like and the practice consistent and you’ll soon see gains. From one teacher to another, you’ve got this!