Engaging Parents in Phonics – My top tips!

Parental involvement is key to developing enthusiastic, fluent, confident readers who have a real love of reading!  However, this is often easier said than done.  Here are some of my top tips for engaging parents.

Firstly, remember that as an adult you move away from using phonetics to read and spell so Phonics is often a very abstract idea for most parents.  Let’s be honest, if we weren’t taught it during our teacher training, would we have a clue what it was?  No!

Also, remember that for parents who do understand Phonics, they will not know how your school do it!  So always start by ensuring parents understand what it actually is and how their child will be taught it!

Top tips –

  • Host a parents event which explains the basics of Phonics and how you teach it at your school.  Cover things like articulation of phonemes, content of the phases and progression, the structure of a session, key terminology that is used with the children and lots of examples of activities and resources that are used.  A good hook to get parents in is to start this event with a class assembly or a model lesson.  One of our teachers also very kindly volunteered to deliver a sample lesson with his class to the parents first.  This really helped the parents understand what I was talking about.  I have uploaded the parents event slides to my tes account should you want to download it, it’s free!
Capturen4
  • Follow this event up with a ‘workshop‘ type session, where the parents can participate (with their child) in the typical games and activities from a lesson, you could even do a mock lesson!  We also invited parents into the classroom, a few weeks later, to participate in a real Phonics lesson with their child.
  • Host ‘come read with me‘ sessions for parents, based around phonics.
  • Have ‘phonics/reading champions‘ every week.  For children who complete set phonics/reading challenges at home or read a certain number of times a week.  They could be a ‘champion’ which could come with certain perks or rewards.  We have reading champions and they get a raffle ticket entered into the class box.  Then at the end of the half term, one ticket is drawn from every box and the winners go to Waterstones to choose a book to buy and keep.  Just be aware of children who may not have the home support to complete this challenge though!
  • Stay and Play’ sessions are always popular, why not try a Phonics stay and play session.  Parents love to see how ‘play’ based learning can actually be.
  • ‘Take home packs’ – If you have the funds, why not create Phonics packs that have ideas and games that can continue the learning at home.  Look out for more ideas on these packs but you could include games resources such as cross the river, bingo or snakes and ladders.
  • Upload lesson videos, games and links to your school website or invest in subscriptions like Reading Eggs or Phonics Play.
  • Parents Evening’ – talk about Phonics at every opportunity you get, just like other areas of learning.
  • Keep parents up to date on learning through weekly newsletters or add a section into your whole school one!
  • I haven’t tried this one yet, but you could have parent ambassadors for Phonics or Early Reading.  Creating a support network for other parents.

Let me know how you get on with these ideas and I would love to hear yours!

The KS1 Teacher – Whole Class Reading KS1 – Winnie’s Big Bad Robot

As promised, here is another example of my whole class reading planning for Year 2 using DERIC.

This is my second consecutive year in Year 2, however, at the beginning of the year I had a large number of children who were just not ‘year 2 ready’.  This meant that I had to dramatically rethink my planning for reading compared to the year before.  The children needed to develop their reading fluency and confidence, especially when reading at length.  Not to mention their love of reading!  So I started the year with picture books with an aim to engage and inspire a love of reading initially.

The first text I decided to use was ‘Winnie’s Big Bad Robot’ by Valerie Thomas.  I chose this text as it wasn’t an overly familiar text for my class and it had lots of humour in the story which I thought would engage the boys in my class.  The boys in particular found reading a challenge, I wanted to make it a little more enjoyable.

Picture1

I felt like this text had just the right amount of writing on a page that the children could still practise their reading and build their fluency but without being put off!  The text is mostly phonetically plausible and accessible to their reading skill level but still had vocabulary that would challenge them and that we would be able to explore.  It also gave us a funny story that we could share and talk about and begin to develop other skills through.

When I plan for Year 2, I always have in the back of my mind that part of my teaching needs to be about exposing the children to different types of questions and different ways of answering questions, so you will see that I try and add variation from question to question.  I find that this has really helped children to access SATs at the end of the year as well as termly assessments but more importantly, it kept them engaged and interested.

So lets have a look at the planning.

Decode

As I said earlier, one of the main reasons I chose this text was because it was accessible for my children.  We always start our lessons with some kind of ‘decoding’ exercise or reading practise.  This could be as simple as model reading, shared reading, independent reading, peer reading or teacher led reading.  But I also liked to provide activities in which I know that all children would have to ‘have a go themselves’ and get involved.

I always photocopy the pages we are exploring (in colour) for children to explore as well.  I know colour is probably controversial, even photocopying these days, however, this is what engages my class, keeps their interest.  If I gave it to them in black and white, they would not be interested!  It is also important for them to have a copy of the text that they can write on or highlight as I will explain in more detail later.

Here are some decode examples;

Simply reading from the text or…

Capturec
Captured

Reading for a purpose.  The last two activities require children to read the text, understand what they have read and draw the picture.  My class struggled with writing at the beginning of the year,  they found it hard, however, drawing they enjoyed.  It also helped me to assess their understanding in their reading, as a whole class at one time.  I didn’t need to hear them all read individually, I could just listen and observe and ask them about their picture.

Obviously, if you do do these kinds of activities, they shouldn’t have seen or heard the text before.  If your children struggle with drawing,  maybe you are Year 1 or EYFS, you could provide them with a selection of pictures to choose from, even get them to cut them out to develop those fine motor skills.

Explain

There are many opportunities in the text for exploring the language used and helping the children build their vocabulary.  If you look on tes or twinkl, or even just google word building activities you will find loads of examples, like this one which the children love!

Picture2

But before you can use this, you might want to teach each section and focus on building it up that way.  For example, here are some of the activities I have done.

Capturee

This activity can be really practical initially, but you can also explore synonyms at the same time, just through discussion.  It is also a good way to talk about verbs and you could throw in questions related to authors choice of language.

Capturef
Captureg
Capturel

I use these kinds of activities to get the children to start thinking about up levelling the vocabulary they know as well as well as improving thesaurus skills.  A large vocabulary is so important.  There is some really interesting research and information relating to this on The Literacy Trust website.

Retrieve

Together with the standard questions where children write their answer on a line, which are most commonly used in reading lessons, I also try to take away the barrier of having to write an answer down.  Here are a few example;

Capturei
Capturek
Capturej

I always encourage the children to use their highlighters (which they love!) to highlight the answers in the text first, I found that this helps them keep track of their reading and their answers, especially if they are required to copy an answer from the text.

I hope you have found these ideas helpful.  If you would like a copy of this planning, you can find it on my tes account for free.  Should you have any questions or feedback, I would love to hear it.  I will also share more examples soon.

Capturem

Thank you for reading.

Improving work-life balance through collaborative teaching and learning

I truly believe that the only way to succeed as a teacher (in today’s world) and to reduce teacher workload, creating a better work-life balance, is to work collaboratively.  Not only internally within schools, clusters and MATs but also externally, online, through teacher resource sharing pages like TES and blogs!  Teacher’s need to work together and share their ideas, there is no point in everyone reinventing the wheel thousands of times.  Lets do it once and share it thousands of times!

Budgets are also getting tighter within schools which often hinders good quality CPD for teaching staff.  This good quality CPD can often be the first thing to go sadly, as it is expensive.  However, this is when standards can start to slip and teacher’s are left feeling unsupported and isolated.  We wouldn’t expect a child to progress in reading without reading lessons!  Therefore we cannot expect our staff to become better teacher’s without quality CPD.  This is something that is a never-ending cycle, you can always learn more and improve your practice.

This is why I think collaborative learning is so important, I’m sure that many of you already do it.  In fact I know you do because that is where some of my ideas have come from.  All schools will have staff that have a lot to offer in terms of school improvement.  CPD isn’t just going out on a course (and having a nice lunch, although that is definitely a perk!).  Sometimes you don’t need to use external CPD providers, you may have the expertise in house already!

Here are some ideas on how you can keep within budget yet ensure all staff have quality CPD that meets their needs (and the schools needs).  Just things that I have used or come across on my journey to reduce workload and create a better work-life balance;

  • An obvious one but often forgotten or lost, you need to prioritise.  What does your school need to improve first?  Ensure all staff understand this and that they are on board.  Set milestones to achieve over the course of the year.
  • Showcase lessons – Use the skills of existing staff.  Pick out strengths and development points for all members of staff.  This should be done with that staff member.  Then hold open classrooms internally so that Teacher 1 (who wants to develop their Phonics teaching) can watch Teacher 2 (who is a strong Phonics teacher).  Allow all staff to share their strength in some way with others.  We found that the teacher’s responded much better to each other than SLT.  It is helpful to have a debrief session after this to discuss what they saw and to ask questions.  A word of warning, just ensuring that teacher’s are showcasing what you want them to.
  • Provide good quality books and time to explore the content.  We used a book called ‘Making every primary lesson count’ by Jo Payne and Mel Scott and we built this into our staff meetings.  You could also buy copies for the staff room!
  • Pair up teacher’s in Year groups or Key Stages for PPA.  Sometimes all you need is someone to bounce ideas off.
  • Team plan – Get your subject leads to plan and teach lessons together to build confidence and consistency in teaching and learning across the school.  Also, use your ‘stronger’ teacher’s to team plan.  If Teacher 3 is really good at adding challenge into Maths lesson, pair them up with Teacher 4 who needs support with this.  Again, teacher to teacher support is always much more effective than SLT to teacher support.
  • Share planning – Create a central platform to share planning and resources, like Google Drive.  You can also share out planning responsibilities for some subjects.  For example, in Reading and Topic, our Years 5 and 6 teacher’s take it in turns to plan.  One teacher plans Reading one half term while the other plans Topic etc.  That’s one less subject to plan each week.  Bonus!
  • Provide teacher subscriptions like Twinkl.  Although you don’t want endless worksheets and no thought going into planning, Twinkl can be a lifesaver and dramatically reduce workload, the same as TES.  Paying for this as a school rather than expecting teacher’s to pay for it themselves or always make everything for scratch, will go a long way to support staff well being.  Happy staff, happy children!
  • Make staff meetings relevant to all staff and don’t have them for the sake of it.  Also, ensure that staff understand how this is relevant to them and the purpose.  Make sessions practical so that they actually get time to ‘do’ the things you are telling them about.  For example, if you leading a meeting on improving spelling, give them time to plan a lesson or play with the games and resources, or make them.  Use this time wisely and ensure that the staff see this as CPD.  Get them to feedback on it’s effectiveness.
  • An obvious one, but if you are paying for someone to come in and provide CPD, such as an Inset session or a twilight, invite other local schools or even your MAT schools to split the costs.
  • Create subject teams – I got this idea at another school recently.  Based on strengths and interests, teacher’s join either a Maths or an English team.  These subjects will still have a leader, but they also have a number of other teacher’s on their team to help create more of a whole school approach and responsibility for that subject, improving accountability too.  It helps to get everyone on board.  It is helpful to have representatives from across the school on each team so that all key stages (including Early Years) are represented.  This way, when new changes are implemented, the lead can have feedback from across all year groups as to what worked well and what didn’t.  Teacher’s will also feel like they are part of the process rather than feeling like it is just being ‘done to them’ and that they have no freedom as a teacher.  It is also helpful from the leaders perspective to have that support network and fresh ideas.  Provide times, such as briefings or staff meetings (not additional though) for teams to meet.
  • Hubs – Join and sign up to working with your local Maths Hubs or school improvement projects in your area.  These are often free and are a really good way to get high quality CPD and new, fresh ideas.
  • Reach out to other local schools, visit them, talk about practice and what works or doesn’t work.  Look at their planning and books.
  • Attend or create network meetings.  For example, I created an EYs network as a support group for our NQTs who were new to Early Years.  They visited each others settings to look at provision, timetables, planning and to moderate.  I just sent out emails to other schools to see who was interested.

I hope this was helpful and I’d love to hear your ideas.  Work collaboratively with me, follow my blog and social media for more teaching inspiration, resources, ideas and planning.

Thanks for reading.

How to implement whole class reading!

Last academic year, Reading was a huge priority area in our school.  Our children were achieving well in EYs and KS1 in both Reading and Phonics.  But throughout KS2 children were starting to slip behind age related expectations and this was reflecting in our KS2 results.  We also wanted to promote that love of reading and enjoyment when reading.  We wanted our children to choose to read and to read for pleasure.

Our English lead led the changes in our school, she has a real passion for Reading herself and is very driven.  This has been important for our journey as school, she has been the backbone and the support that has kept everyone afloat and she is one of the reasons that this change has had such a positive impact on the children, parents and on school results.  I think this is the first important step, the person leading the change needs to have a real passion for it, they need to be doing it themselves and they need to believe in it, modelling it and sharing their practice, setting that example.

At the end of the day, it is not about results on a piece of paper (although this does help get people off your back and give you back the freedom to teach properly!), but it is about the children and whether they have all the skills they should have to allow them to be successful in the next part of their journey.

I think, in our case, it wasn’t that the teaching was bad in KS2 or that assessment was inflated in EYFS or Year 2, it was that the expectations were just constantly getting higher and more challenge needed to be in our lessons.  All children needed to be exposed to that high quality challenging text too.  We needed to be teaching (and modelling) reading more explicitly and the skills involved, not just phonetically but with a focus on comprehension, especially for those children who are not necessarily practising and being exposed to wider reading opportunities at home.  This is when we decided to teach reading as a whole class.

Using quality texts 

If you follow my Instagram then you would have seen examples of the quality texts I am talking about.  I will write a blog post with example quality texts that work well for each year groups too, so look out for this and follow my blog if it will be of interest.  The quality text is the starting point, but an important one.  If possible, your text should;

  • Link to your topic or theme but without comprising on quality.
  • Be challenging yet accessible for all children in your class.
  • B appealing and interesting to the children, to motivate and inspire that love of reading.
  • Most importantly – be an unfamiliar text that the children wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to in their home life.  Therefore, not a book you would find in a supermarket etc.  We need to be introducing them to something new and different.  Look out for the next blog post to help you find these books!

When you have found your text, you need to read it thoroughly and consider how you want to use it with the children.  You need to consider your children’s needs, what do they struggle with?

I know this sounds time consuming and in a way it is, but this will be planning that you will be able to reuse the following year (with a tweak).  It is also important that you share whole school, especially if staff move year groups.  We plan in key stage teams at the moment and have a rolling two year plan, this helps reduce workload as the teacher’s take it in turns to plan Reading.  The planning does take time BUT it’s worth it, planning and teaching in this way is really enjoyable.  I love teaching whole class reading and I look forward to the lessons.  We all know that if the teacher is enjoying the lesson, the children are more likely to enjoy the lesson too.  It’s like that contagious smile!

The Skills

There are many different schemes and programs you can use, I know VIPERS by The Literacy Shed is very popular but we use DERIC.  This is not something we developed ourselves, we ‘borrowed’ it from another school who supported us on our journey.  I believe that it is used in quite a lot of schools now.  It stands for;

  • D – Decode – Focus on the reading and fluency of reading.  This is mainly an EYFS/KS1 skill.
  • E – Explain – Looking at vocabulary and the meaning of words and the skills to help children unpick new language.
  • R – Retrieve – Looking for answers that are in the text (or pictures).  You can highlight the answer.  This also covers skills like summarising.
  • I – Interpret – Reading between the lines and finding clues in the text (or picture).  This also covers skills like prediction.
  • C – Choice – Looking at the authors choices.  Why they have used the vocabulary, language, sentence structure, colours, pictures, font etc.  This is a skill that we focus on more in KS2.

There are little symbols that go with skills, we put these on our planning to help the children relate to the skill that they are learning how to do.

icons

Stay tuned and follow my blog for example texts/songs and planning that I have made and used over the last two years, coming very soon.  Here is an example we were given when we first looked into it as a bit of a taster.

eric-blog-2
eric-blog

The KS1 Teacher – A play based approach in KS1

Are you like me, a real lover of learning through play? If so, please follow me on this journey, transforming the teaching and learning in KS1 to a play based approach.  I would love to hear all about your ideas too!

I think my love of play probably comes from my EYFS background, I specialised in ages 3 to 7 and then taught in FS2 for seven years, however, I am now teaching in Year 2.  I have seen the significant impact quality provision can have on progress and I really want to develop play based provision from FS2 into Year 1 and through to Year 2.  I have wanted to do this for such a long time, but we have never been in the right place as a school. However, now we are and it is all starting to come together for us, I’m so excited!

To help us on our journey, we have been working with Early Excellence, as part of a cluster project. Through this project, we get CPD to support our understanding of quality play, focusing on skill development. We get support from a consultant in school to develop our provision and we get ideas for resources too.

We have just had our first consultant visit and it was a huge success.  She listened to our vision and how we wanted it to work for our children and she helped us develop our ideas.  She offered fresh eyes and helped us identify next steps.  It was so inspiring and nice to have time to just sit and talk things through, as a team.  Everyone is buzzing and inspired now too! I’m not alone, we all have the same vision!

Now, in an ideal world, I’m sure we would all love to pick up the Early Excellence catalogue and buy the complete classroom sets, right?  But in reality budgets don’t stretch that far unfortunately.  I feel extremely lucky that we have been able to be part of a project in the first place!  Our consultant understood this and although she showed us lots of Early Excellence products and resources, she also gave us lots of practical tips, using what we already have.

Like;

– taking cupboard doors off to create open shelving instead of buying in new furniture from the beginning.  She talked about how this will give us more time to think about what we actually want anyway and what will work in our classrooms too.

– creating areas and having tables that are linked to that area yet not in that area as we still need to be able to teach whole class.

– prioritising the areas we need, like small world and construction to ensure all curriculum areas are taught effectively.  A must for our Year 2’s has to be small world and imaginative play as this will help them be more creative in their writing and develop understanding in their reading.  Also, an enquiry area, to get that really high quality Science teaching and learning in a more purposeful and enjoyable way.  Our construction area is also going to be a focus, all linked to structures and mechanisms.  Having this in provision will allow our children lots of time over the year to play and refine ideas rather than one or two weeks here and there!

Keep tuned to follow our journey and to see what quality KS1 provision looks like in practice and how we can make it work!

silhouette of person holding glass mason jar
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com