Some children failing to acquire phonics do so because of poor phonological awareness skills – what can we do to help?

Some children failing to acquire phonics do so because of poor phonological awareness skills – what can we do to help?

But for some children learning sounds is a rote and largely meaningless exercise. Phonemes are fleeting bytes of sound, graphemes are somehow ‘one-dimensional’ and those elusive and abstract concepts of syllables, sequencing, segmentation, alliteration & rhyme remain a complete mystery. How do we identify these children and what can we do to help before it’s too late?

To find out more about phonological awareness click here

There is plenty of research out there which proves the importance of phonological awareness in the successful acquisition of literacy. All this seemed very theoretical until the work undertaken by Jim Rose. His definitive report ‘An independent review into the teaching of reading (2006), recognised the crucial role that language in its broadest sense (including phonological awareness) plays in the acquisition of literacy and how phonics teaching alone is not enough. We ignore the crucial, earlier-developing skills at our peril.

The time to specifically teach phonological awareness has been squeezed out of the timetable in most settings – apart from the informal singing and rhymes which happen in Nursery. We rely on a child’s early experiences to fill in the gaps. As with every other aspect of language (and speech) development, this experience is just not available to many children.

Back to the classroom: children falling behind in terms of phonics fall into 2 groups:

Those with a degree of learning difficulty
Those at risk of specific literacy difficulty (or dyslexia)
In order to help them progress, time is well spent in assessing a range of phonological awareness skills, including the language we use when asking children to perform phonics-related tasks (‘find me something beginning with the same sound as…’ ‘which one rhymes with…?’). For some children it’s also worth checking those early ‘core’ skills which underpin any kind of learning, not just phonics (attention and listening, memory, sequencing and discrimination). If we can identify where children are struggling, appropriate interventions can be put in place.

So – as practitioners, how do we know where to start?

Nelson Mandela Primary school in Birmingham is just about to trial a project to identify strugglers, assess their phonological awareness skills and begin targeted interventions – building in measurement of progress over time. Last week TAs and teachers in Reception, year 1 year 2 received initial training and will then be supported by Soundswell speech and language therapists as they get underway. The assessment tool they will use is SPARRK (Phonological Awareness Readiness for Reading Kit developed in Sandwell in 2012). Largely forgotten, now is the time to blow the dust off this comprehensive resource which not only assesses the range of phonological awareness skills at each of the developmental levels of how children acquire them, but also the language concepts mentioned above. There are recommended resources to support practitioners to deliver interventions. To find out about more about SPARRK click here

Participants made huge gains in their pre- and post- course knowledge click here

Watch this space for regular updates on how the project is progressing.

Written by: Diana McQueen

November 5, 2020

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