Phonics fever: Preparing for the screening check.

Whether I agree with the phonics screening check or not, many Year 1 teachers are now beginning to prepare themselves and the children for the week beginning June 11th.  There are a few handy tips, reminders and resources that I have discovered across the years…

Firstly, read the Phonics screening check: administration guidance 2018, which was published in April.  It makes clear exactly what you need to know (I always used to annotate and highlight the bits I felt were key) and will ensure you have no fear of maladministration.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/701134/2018_phonics_screening_check_administration_guidance.pdf

I always re-watch the video to make sure I consistently apply the correct scoring rules.  There is always a possibility that someone from the LA could visit to check the test is administered correctly and that the papers are held securely.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/phonics-screening-check-sample-materials-and-training-video

The test must be administered by a teacher not a TA or HLTA (* edited to say!! unless you are confident that they are well versed and trained in phonics!) and preferably with a member of staff the the children know well and are comfortable with.

https://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/T-L-035-Phase-5-Sound-button-word-cards

A point often overlooked is that blank sound button cards can be used if sound buttons are used in regular classroom practice.  This can really instill confidence and give extra support to a wobbly child.

Twinkl have free sound button word cards for phase 4 and phase 5 words – start using them now!

Coloured overlays can be used or coloured card for children with Irlens Syndrome or other literacy difficulties. Remember that rest breaks can be used at different points throughout the test, depending on the individuals needs, and can really help with children who lack stamina or might find the who situation a little overwhelming.

There are some great resources out there to help with preparation including morning starters from Twinkl:

https://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/t-l-526421-phonics-screening-check-weekly-morning-starter-powerpoint

There are phonics screening bingo cards:

https://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/t-t-2546066-year-1-phonics-screening-check-words-bingo

Phonics play has lots of activities that can help children prepare through interactive games:

https://www.phonicsplay.co.uk/freeIndex.htm

I also love the blog and ideas on ABC does:

https://abcdoes.com/abc-does-a-blog/

Where and if possible make the test as fuss free and ‘enjoyable’ as possible and don’t forget to using brilliant and beautiful books so children remember that reading is a wonderfully engaging and pleasurable experience!!

 

 

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In a hole in the ground: An approach to whole class guided reading.

 

I love to use classic and challenging texts in guided reading sessions ( even more so if there is a film or graphic novel version of the text to really help to contextualise for my EAL students ).  One of my absolute favourites is ‘The Hobbit’ which I have used with Year 5 and 6 pupils over the past 20 years (wincing slightly at the size of that number because in my head I am 27). Anything with a dragon in it is a winner in my book…

If you feel inspired to use a classic text then I advise you read the Bob Cox books on ‘Opening Doors’ which given practical approaches when using them to teach whole classes.

 

I always believe in starting a new text with activating schema, where I will encourage children to bring their prior knowledge to the text and make connections.  For The Hobbit I set the scene by playing music from the sound track and sharing a variety of magical images from my collection…

After initial schema activation I like to do a bit of prediction and drip in inferential questioning throughout the teaching sequence.  Inference is such a difficult concept and yet is very much favoured on the SATs papers so it needs to be explicitly taught, modeled and used frequently.

In a hole in the ground…

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In a perfect world the full text should be available in class for reading by those children who are really switched on by the guided reading sessions, but free text extracts can be found online in a variety of places…

http://readingzone.com/index.php?zone=sz&page=extracts_download

https://www.writerswrite.com/books/excerpts/childrens/

https://www.worldbookday.com/resources/extracts/

http://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk/

I always make sure that fluency is part of the daily session and will share extracts of the start of the story, using fluency strategies such as cloze, choral and echo reading.

There lived a hobbit...

I would need to discuss the meaning of some of the vocabulary in context, but would plan to spend a least one guided reading lesson on investigating key words in more depth. In doing so I would look at etymology and morphology as well as multiple meanings in different contexts.

I believe fluency and vocabulary are still key teaching elements in a reading  lesson – even in year 6 – and then, and only then, can you really hope that the children can infer….then work on exam rubric, which is the cherry on the icing on the cake!

What does the sentence ‘No going upstairs…’ tell you about hobbits?  This is the ideal time to model thought processes, not expecting children to simply guess what is in your head.  My explanation starts with ‘ Well maybe hobbits don’t like going upstairs so it could mean that they are a bit lazy or they avoid physical exertion, but it might also mean that hobbits find it difficult to get up and downstairs due to some physical constraint.’

Children can draw what they see in their minds eye – it is a great skill to get them to play ‘movies’ in their heads and acknowledge this by get them to visually represent what they are seeing there.

I tend to end a Year 6 session with a bit of exam rubric by formulating a SAT style question based on the text.  It is important that they get to experience the kind of language and layout that they will come across in the test.

My children really struggle with the word ‘impression’ so my second session might end with the question ‘What impression do you get of the hobbit?’ – this would lead to either a written or an oral response that could be discussed.

This trailer is a lovely way of introducing the children to the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, at the start of the next session (always watch videos first as you will know then whether it is suitable for your pupils to view)…

For exam rubric questions I like to use the question stems from Primary English Educational Consultants.

http://primaryenglished.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2015-GR-question-prompts_KS2.pdf

An interesting comparison can be made between the text and the opening of the 1977 animation…(I think I have a vague memory of this as a very young child!)

Which do the children prefer and why?  What similarities are there?  Why do they think the creators of the animation changed things?

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I would continue reading, looking at the explanation of what a hobbit is, again using echo or choral reading to develop fluency for all. I would then discuss the explanation.  For example the phrase ‘there is little or no magic about them’ indicates what?  There is an expectation that magic is to be expected…so this cannot be our world…or at least as we know it today. Is there anything in the text that might make one think that this is our world in a time long gone?

I would discuss the meaning of the word blundering, asking children to see if there is information in the text to help understanding or if the suffix can help us know what type of word it is.

My session would end with an exam rubric question:

Circle one word below that best describes the character of a hobbit:

small            frightened               resentful                 respectable

There are endless activities and approaches which can be used with this wonderful book.  The key elements to remember with any guided reading approach is that without fluency and understanding of key vocabulary there is no comprehension and that exam rubric needs to be built on strong foundation.

 

SATs Stretches…

As the Year 6 teachers around the country start the serious countdown (and consumption of adult beverages) to SATs week I have brought together some of my favourite resources to ease us into the potentially manic after Easter prep…

I truly believe in little and often and think that a carefully planned timetable of SATs prep activities can ensure focused and meaningful use of the school day rather than hours on ploughing through past papers (if you do use SATs papers it is most effective if worked on in pairs).

EGPS:

Really useful daily EGPS sessions are a must and to resource these I have used a variety of ready made resources. If you have a Twinkl subscription then the Year 6 Grammar Revision Guide and Quick Quiz Bumper Pack are great for clear explanations of each key grammar objective and the use SATs style questions to test understanding.

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http://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/t2-e-2139-year-6-grammer-revision-guide-and-quick-quiz-passive-and-active-voice

 

To mix things up a bit there are Follow Me cards….

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http://www.teachingideas.co.uk/sites/default/files/spagfollowmecards_0.pdf

The fantastic Grammarsaurus have a free YouTube channel with songs to help remember rules and great tutorials giving simple explanations for some of the most complex rules which are essential for the SAT.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMhWKrdwzFr994ZhwqG4nlA/videos

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If you have a subscription to Grammarsaurus then there is an amazing quantity of EGPS resources for you to choose from – the site is well worth investing in.

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Reading:

Again I follow the mantra of little and often when preparing for the reading SAT.  These RIC activities created by MrsP Teach are great at getting children to look at texts in different way, including thinking about the ever elusive inference.  These can be used daily to start English lessons, guided reading or to drop in at any time of day…

http://www.mrspteach.com/2015/04/ric-starter-examples.html

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Use SATs style questions with the text you are using in English or guided reading lessons.  These question stems from Primary English Educational Consultancy are really useful…

http://primaryenglished.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2015-GR-question-prompts_KS2.pdf

Also there are some great question stems from Alison Philipson Literacy – these are usefully colour coded to show which past paper they were taken from…

Y6 Reading Question Stems Based on Content Domain of the KS2 Test

I have put together my Year 6 reading intervention (written one Summer hols when I had no life…) on TES which encourages fluency and vocabulary focus as well as comprehension.  Some of you might find it useful I hope.

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/sats-reading-revision-intervention-11532769

Good luck…and remember it takes a team to teach the children not just the Year 6 teacher!

1.Boosting ideas…

The ‘Boosting’ season is approaching fast and the rapidly-aging Year 6 teachers will be considering the extra-prep nightmare for the early morning sessions that lie ahead.  Having taught Year 6 since 199…something I have always had my eyes peeled for new and effective approaches that are high impact, but low prep.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing useful resources that I have come across over the years.

In this first blog I will start with Twinkl (I always explain that I get a free subscription for sharing my views…but these are very much my views!!).  Most teachers I know have a subscription so have access to these resources that can buy you back a few hours of your life!

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I would use these Year 6 Bumper Assessment Packs for Boosting and revision.  Each one contains a very specific teaching PowerPoint that highlights the key approaches needed to understand the text and answer the questions which could be used for ‘Boosting’.  I would use the question papers either during the previous sessions or as a home learning task.

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The Reading Revision Activity Mats are short and focused texts with questions.  I have used these really successfully as early morning focus work, whilst I do the register etc or a re-focus after lunchtime, again whilst I do the register etc.  Each one will not take more than ten minutes to complete, and some even less. However, they are useful for getting students used to reading unseen pieces of text under a time constraint.

SATs are an inevitable part of our teaching lives at the moment sorrowful-emoji but by sharing ideas and resources we can make life a little bit easier big_smile_happy_face_drawer_knob_srf-r95f84f7818be4b3aa45a36488e23c00d_zp2d5_324 whilst having a greater impact on final outcomes.

 

Mindful magic…

It can be easy to wish time away in school – how quickly the academic year passes – but how much goes unnoticed…

Paying more attention to the present, to your own thoughts and to the world around you, being ‘in the moment’ – can really help to improve your mental well-being.  This is the practice of being mindful.

As teachers we need to work hard to make time for our own mindfulness, but it is also essential that we teach our children this life skill.

There are a few incredibly practical approaches that can very easily be added to your daily teaching.  I have found ‘100 Ideas for Primary Teachers – Mindfulness in the Classroom’ by Tammie Prince essential for dipping into for inspiration.

 

Personally my favourites are:

‘Deep breathing’  – (I have been known to fall asleep whilst doing this!), which is ridiculously easy and can be used in any stressful situation in life.  This consists of breathing in for the count of five, pausing and breathing out for the count of 8 and repeating as necessary (it is brilliant for calming down an angry child!).

‘Body Writing’ – (something I particularly enjoyed as a child) where children in pairs write on each other’s backs – the sense of touch comforts and adds a sense of being in the moment as the child concentrates to decipher the word.

Including these practices can help improve yours and your pupils’ mental health – something to strive for as we start a new year!

 

60 seconds for fluency…

As previously discussed on my blog, fluency is a key area of focus this year – particularly in Year 2 and Year 6 – to ensure that our pupils can access the end of key stage reading tests – too much effort spent trying to decode a text means there is little brainpower left to comprehend.

Twinkl have asked me to review their resources, giving me a subscription so I can access their site with ease and pick out things I think are most useful and I came across just the thing to help to develop fluency.  All views are my own and I will only recommend using things that will (in my humble opinion) have a positive impact on children’s learning.

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I believe that the greatest impact occurs when we to use fluency development strategies little and often (see my previous blog for more details – https://theliteracyleader.com/2017/12/18/fluency-for-comprehension/), but the potential downside of that is the implication for time taken to create or source resources on a regular basis….and that is when I found the super useful 60-second reads on Twinkl.

These are really useful for both measuring fluency, as each text extract is age appropriate, but also for fluency development using choral, cloze, echo or partner reading on a daily basis. As some of the text do come as alternative versions without a word count they lend themselves to fluency development.

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They are organised into KS1, LKS2 and UKS2 and are themed – some of the extracts could link to topics for example, Ancient Egypt, Fantasy, WW2….this works particularly well for EAL learners as it gives a context to the vocabulary read.

I have used them as warm-ups in guided reading sessions as they each come with content domain focused questions too.  Each content domain also links a to a specific  character. These characters can be referred to when questioning at any point across the curriculum, ensuring reading comprehension is taught beyond guided reading or English lessons – remember little and often!!

There are plenty of the 60-second reads to be downloaded and used in a variety of different ways for a variety of abilities – saving an inordinate amount of time in resource prep, allowing you to focus on learning.  Make your return to school in January a stress free one!

 

 

Fluency for comprehension.

How to develop fluency daily in class.

Fluency is the ability to read a text quickly, accurately , and with intonation. It is vital as without it children are unable to comprehend what they are reading – too much mental energy goes in to reading each word, sometimes still painstakingly sounding them out, for there to be much understanding.

After a lack of success last year in our KS2 Reading SAT I decided to investigate things further…QLA pointed out inference, as always, and a lack of answers beyond question 30.  There were many reasons why some of the children couldn’t plough through the text – EAL, SEN, etc but for others it wasn’t clear.  I decided the key was to measure fluency…

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We tested the Year 5 pupils and found that the majority of them had fluency scores well below what would be needed to comfortably access the SATs test next year.  This meant that we needed to ensure that fluency was developed daily in all year groups.

Already, in this relatively short space of time, children have increased in confidence, stamina and expression and can accurately read more words per minute. There are a few easy approaches that we that we use:

  • Choral reading – The children read with the teacher who models expression.  This can be used during English lessons, guided reading, story time or at anytime across the curriculum when texts are shared.
  • Cloze reading – The teacher reads a text and misses out words which are then read aloud by the class.  This approach is great for ensure children focus on the text.  They need to follow it closely with ruler or finger so they can quickly read the missing word. A word of warning is that fluency can be ruined if too many words are left for the children to read – remember the key to success is fantastic modelling of fluency by the adult.
  • Echo reading – The teacher reads a short section e.g. sentence, with lots of expression and the children repeat it. Sometimes it is necessary to break down more complex sentences into clauses or smaller sections so children can remember and repeat effectively with expression.
  • Paired reading – In pairs pupils read to one another.  It often works best when more able readers are paired with weaker readers and use elements of echo reading.  Middle ability pupils often work well reading together.
  • Reader’s Theatre – The children work in groups on a dramatic ‘radio’ reading of a text extract.  This works brilliantly for class assemblies.
  • Poetry recital – Pupils learn a poem by heart.  They then perform these either in groups or alone.  We learn a minimum of one per term.  Again this is great for class assemblies.

We ensure a variety of these approaches are used daily.  The children love them and engage much more positively with reading lessons.

These approaches work just as effectively with new to English, EAL or SEN pupils as they have opportunities to hear brilliant reading and can join in as they feel comfortable, without the fear of everyone listening to them alone.

It is vital that we build class story into our busy days as this is a fantastic opportunity for children to hear fluency modelled and where possible have copies of the books so children can follow as the teacher reads or even have a go at reading aloud themselves.

Audio books are a great way to expose your child to complex language, expressive reading, and amazing stories. Listening to audio books also gives them the valuable experience of using their own imaginations to visualize the people and to play their ‘mind movie’.  It seemed to fall out of fashion to have ‘listening centres’ in classrooms, but the are hugely important – children can even record themselves reading aloud to be listened to by other class members.

A final point for thought….if a child struggles to read accurately and quickly then silent reading, DEAR (drop everything and read) or ERIC (everybody reading in class) will not help them to develop fluency.  This does not mean don’t read silently in class, just consider why you are doing it….