Reading is a skill we all use on a day-to-day basis. You are using it right now. It is a vital life skill which all children must be taught to enable them to be successful in their education and reach their potential. And that’s where phonics comes in. We all know the importance that has been placed on phonics and reading in the early years and key stage one. OFSTED have made it quite clear in the New Inspection Framework that reading will be given priority during inspections and will always have a ‘deep dive’.
Phonics is seen as the go to method for learning to read. It teaches children how to ‘decode’ the majority of words and allows children to make the connection between spoken words and markings on the page. The awareness of phonics begins in the early years with activities that focus on listening, hearing sounds, recognising sounds and producing sounds. It then moves on to linking the sounds we hear in words with the graphemes or symbols written on paper.
So, with all this importance on phonics, why, when children reach the end of key stage one does the use and importance on phonics seem to disappear unless there is an obvious need for further support? Phonics is certainly not the only important facet in learning to read: children must also develop fluency and comprehension so that they can actually understand what they are reading and give reading its intended purpose. Equally, phonics is all too often replaced by the concept of ‘comprehension’ in KS2 – but doesn’t that also have a place in KS1? It’s all a bit confusing!
Phonics is primarily seen as a tool for reading, but it also provides an important link between prior and current learning.
The English language is so very complex and so called ‘spelling rules’ are not really rules because they have so many exceptions. We have 44 sounds in the English language and anyone with any knowledge of maths at all will recognise that that means that there are a huge number of combinations in which those sounds can be combined to make words. The most recent number given by the Oxford English dictionary is that we have over 170,000 words currently in use in our English language so why are we not giving children the best possible chance at learning to spell these by continuing to use their phonic knowledge for spelling?
There is much more to spelling than just phonics. We can use morphology – the study of words, how they are formed and their relationship to one another – or we can use etymology – the study of the origin of words and how they have changed over history. But the primary way into looking at words is to first be able to break them down into their parts and then to know how each part breaks down into phonemes. We need to know the phoneme grapheme correspondences to then be able to record these words.
By the end of KS1 children should know an increasing amount of words and be able to spell proficiently. So, as words become more complex, we need to ensure that we are giving our learners concrete ways of being able to access the spelling patterns for as many of these words as possible. Children spend upwards of four years learning phonics but knowledge is forgotten if it is not used and revisited regularly so by continuing to place importance on the phonic knowledge children develop in the Early Years and Key Stage One, we keep this knowledge alive whilst also giving them invaluable tools for writing and spelling.
If you would like to know more about phonics in and beyond the early years why not check out our series of five webinars on this topic. You may also be interested in our full day courses or webinars on spelling.
Let’s get phonics and comprehension to work together – and make sure more children can confidently and competently read from the world around them.
Published on 26 August 2020