Phonics surgery: Finding a new phonics approach

Does my school need to buy a whole new phonics programme? How can we make phonics enjoyable for children? What is going on with Letters and Sounds? These are just some of the questions that you and your colleagues might currently be asking. It’s been an interesting year in the world of phonics teaching and our mission is to help schools make sense of it all one phoneme at a time. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to answer your burning questions. This week, we’re talking transition. Many of you are just starting your journey towards a new phonics provision. Hopefully, this will give you a head start.

Can we keep using resources that are aligned to Letters and Sounds?

Absolutely! The DfE do not stipulate that you can’t use resources aligned to the original Letters and Sounds. However, using the Letters and Sounds 2007 Handbook to build your own programme, is no longer a suitable option especially for schools that want or need to improve their phonics outcomes. The reason for this is that the Handbook does not provide the ‘support, guidance, resources or training needed(DfE, May 2021)

When creating Reading Planet Rocket Phonics, we didn’t want to simply throw the baby out with the bathwater. After all, schools have been using Letters and Sounds for many years with good results. However, what we wanted to do is provide you with a programme that is based on Letters and Sounds AND provides all the support, guidance, resources and training needed. Another important thing was to ensure pupils can meet the higher expectations of the current National Curriculum, so we have made some improvements in areas such as pace and progression, to help pupils reach those higher standards. Learn more about our approach in our bitesize videos

We already have a phonics programme that we are happy with. Do we need to get a new one?

Ofsted and the DfE advise that if your school is achieving good phonics results for all pupils using a systematic synthetic phonics teaching approach, you can continue to teach phonics in the same way as before. However, if your school is not producing strong phonics results then you should find an alternative way to deliver your core phonics provision. This might not mean that you need to throw everything out and start again from scratch (step away from the recycling bin!!), but it will most likely mean that you need to approach phonics teaching in a different way from now on.

For example, in Reading Planet Rocket Phonics there are no actions or ditties associated with the sounds. Why? Because there is evidence that children focus more on performing the actions than on learning the sounds. We use colourful picture mnemonics instead, and children perform air writing and word segmenting on their fingers within the targeted phonics sessions. This doesn’t mean you can never use actions or ditties; these can be brought in as part of enrichment outside of your core Rocket Phonics teaching.

Can we use more than one phonics programme or mix and match different resources?

This is a tough question and you might not like the answer! In order to deliver successful systematic synthetic phonics, it is strongly advised to use a single validated programme for your core phonics teaching. You will get the most out of Reading Planet Rocket Phonics, if you use it in its entirety as an SSP programme. Everything is there to pick up and teach: daily and weekly lesson plans, ready-to-go flashcards (no cutting!), fully-decodable books, downloadable sounds mats and friezes, online ‘Big Books’ with decodable words for practice and more. So technically, you shouldn’t need anything else. But we understand that teachers need ownership of their teaching and fully expect you to make adjustment’s according to your pupils’ needs. You can also bring in those much-loved activities or resources as part of your phonics enrichment such as songs, rhymes and games outside of your core phonics sessions. We’ll look more closely at enrichment very soon!

That’s it for this week. In our next blog, we’re going to navigate the topic of pupil practice. In the meantime, you can learn more about Reading Planet Rocket Phonics here or via our bitesize videos.

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phonics, Reading, Reading and Ebooks, reading scheme, Rising Stars Reading Planet

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