You can guess that your child’s reading experience will be more than simply a reading book that comes home from school. Reading is happening all the time in a classroom and in school. It is taught in specific English lessons, but children are practising and using their ‘reading’ constantly. They are reading instructions, maths language, information books, topics and signs, displays, registers, charts and games. They are reading on computers and interactive whiteboard screens too. A child’s ‘reading journey’ begins with ‘learning to read’ and moves on into ‘reading to learn’.
Learning how to read requires several complex skills. In our English alphabetic system, the individual letters are meaningless on their own. They must be linked to sounds, blended together and pronounced as words, so meaning finally makes sense. Reading is a difficult, multi-step task that must be actively taught and learned. Beginning readers start by linking the sound to the appropriate letter, then they turn them into words. It’s a process that takes some time, which is why children learning to read often read very slowly. Later the child builds a permanent registry or ‘bank’ of familiar words that can be recognised on sight. This enables them to read by seeing the whole word instead of stopping to sound it out every time they see it. Reading eventually becomes effortless.
This means to learn to read, the child must learn the relationship between sounds and letters, the connections between the approximately 44 sounds of spoken English (the phonemes), and the 26 letters of the alphabet (the graphemes). Phonics is the system of ‘blending’ sounds together to read, and ‘segmenting’ sounds to spell. They are both complimentary and interlinking skills that are taught together. A ‘phoneme’ is the smallest unit of sound that we use in the English language. A phoneme can be made up of one letter as in the alphabet sounds – s, a, t, p, i, n etc., or two letters (a digraph) as in sh, ch, th, ay, ar, or three letters (trigraphs) as in air, ear, ure. Phonemes cannot be broken down into separate sounds. A ‘grapheme’ is the way we spell a phoneme. A phoneme may have only one grapheme for example ‘b’. Or may have several different spellings –for example or can be spelt ‘or’ in torn, ‘aw’ in claw, ‘au’ in naughty or ore in more.
Phonics lessons teach these skills discretely and enable the children to apply them in all their other learning. We use a mixture of different resources and teaching styles to engage and motivate the children, including magnetic boards and letters, whiteboards and pens, games, flashcards and lively visual programs on our Interactive whiteboards. We have phonic based guided reading books for teachers to use with groups when teaching reading and there are some phonic based home readers in book boxes. The teaching is progressive and follows the “Letters and Sounds” programme which is divided into phases. The exact phase your child is working at will depend on their age, stage of development and readiness. You are welcome to ask the class teacher about the phase and letter sounds they are covering. It would be wonderful if you also support and practise at home.
Phase 1: The activities are divided into seven aspects, including environmental sounds, instrumental sounds, body sounds, rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, voice sounds and finally oral blending and segmenting – learning how to ‘sound-talk’.
Phase 2: Now the children are learning 19 letters of the alphabet and one sound for each. They are blending sounds together to make words, and segmenting words into their separate sounds. They are beginning to read simple captions.
Phase 3: The remaining 7 letters of the alphabet, one sound for each are taught. Graphemes such as ch, oo, th representing the remaining phonemes not covered by single letters are also introduced. The children are reading captions, sentences and questions. On completion of this phase, children will have learnt the “basic code”, i.e. one grapheme for each phoneme in the English language.
Phase 4: No new grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught in this phase. Children learn to blend and segment longer words with adjacent consonants, e.g. swim, clap, jump.
Phase 5: Now we move on to the “advanced code”. Children learn more graphemes for the phonemes which they already know, plus different ways of pronouncing the graphemes they already know. The children will have initially been introduced to one common grapheme for each phoneme, but as they progress to this stage they will be taught the less common spelling alternatives and encouraged to try and choose the correct grapheme for a particular word they are trying to spell.
Phase 6: Children are working on spelling, including prefixes and suffixes, doubling and dropping letters etc.
Curriculum information evenings, home learning activities we send home, and the web links below will all support you to support your child, but please do not hesitate to ask if we can do more to explain.