Data Retention

Data Retention – AKA: “Can I keep this SEN file?”

 

Frequently I see the same questions asked and the same (wrong and unlawful) responses given.  Even when I evidence my answer with the guidance that should be adhered to I find the original individual will ‘prefer’ a response to the one that is given.  Well, if you want to stay on the right side of the law, not breach GDPR and ensure that you don’t have sleepless nights, here is what you need to know.

What do I need to pass on?

Primary-Secondary transition, or mid-year transfer in any phase

You are required to pass on all of their file without weeding any content out (unless it’s a duplicate or should have been destroyed previously).  You MUST NOT keep a copy of the file in electronic or print format.  You must transfer the information within 15 school days of confirming their new enrolment.

EXCEPTION 1: The parent has just applied for an EHCP and you know you are going to have to help the secondary with the application.  It would be reasonable to keep a copy of relevant materials to help you with this.  But get consent from the parents and don’t keep it for longer than necessary.  In theory you shouldn’t need it longer than half a term and certainly not more than 20 weeks.

EXCEPTION 2: The parent is suing the school for not meeting needs.  If this is the case there is a good chance there is a legal team involved and they will have asked for copies of the files.  YOU do not need to keep a copy, but they may need to.  Let them deal with it.

They’ve reached 16/18, or they’ve left the country/gone to Home-Ed (any age)

As the last known school, you are required to keep their file until they reach the age of 25 or 31 if they were on your SEN register (with any status).  25 years because that’s how long an EHCP could be valid for + 6 years for the statutes of limitation…in other words the 6 years they’re still allowed to pursue a claim for if they disagree with their provision/education etc.  Some LA will store the files for you if the child has left the country or gone to home education.  Others will tell you to keep it.  You must do so until the ages above.
Some people assume this means it only applies to children with an EHCP.  It doesn’t, it applies to any child who is on the SEN register. 

“It’s OK I’ve passed on their paper file; I’ll delete my Google drive when I’ve got time!”

You are beaching the data protection act and GDPR.  You are keeping information without consent or due purpose.  You MUST remove electronic copies at the same time as your paper files and also ensure that no back-ups exist with the information.

“It’s the second week of term and I still haven’t received information from their last school.”

They have 15 school days from notification that they are on your role (assuming you both had the same term dates.)  So, three weeks.  Of course, earlier is better.

Primary schools should know which secondary schools their pupils are going to and many will pass on the files at the end of the Summer as soon as the pupils go into guest status on the secondary school MIS.  Even if the child then appeals their school place and goes to another school, it is reasonably easy to track down their file.  However, it is understandable with the new rules around GDPR that schools want the children physically on roll before they will transfer the information over.  Catch 22.

How do I destroy the information?

Information must be destroyed in an appropriate manner.  Apparently dousing in petrol and burning on your own bonfire or throwing away with last year’s lesson plans is not a secure method of disposal!  The IRMS toolkit gives guidance on the type of security measures that must be taken when undertaking destruction of personal data. 

Where can I find more information…and what exactly are we talking about (with reference to files) here?

The IRMS Toolkit for Schools.  This should be your bible.  Whilst it does state that it is not statutory, the DfE guidance on Data Protection (which is statutory) directs you to the IRMS guidance.  For SEN purposes the pages you specifically need are 12-15 (around what the file consists of and what you must transfer/keep) and page 92 (which is specific to SEN although does have the wrong heading – it is the second table entry headed Attendance!)

https://irms.org.uk/page/SchoolsToolkit

 

SUMMARY:
* Transfer files within 15 school days *
* Transfer everything – no weeding allowed *
* Do not keep copies *
* If you are their final school, keep the file until they are 25 *
* or 31 if they are SEN, regardless of SEN status *
* Destroy data securely *

 

If you’d like to hear me talk about this in more depth then please visit my YouTube Channel SENsible SENCO and watch the video on Data Retention.

https://youtu.be/YH_pO8TlPuI

 

NQT/SEN Advice

I was asked to write a blog post for Nexus…topic anything!  That was a little bit of a wide range so I decided to write soemthing about being an NQT faced with your first class.

You can read the post here.

 

Safer Sexual Behaviour (Board Game)

Safer Sexual Behaviour: A board game for children

Laura Walker and Carol Laugharne.  Loggerhead Publishing.
https://loggerheadpublishing.co.uk/product/safer-sexual-behaviour-board-game-children/
£45.00

Laura and Carol didn’t stop at producing a story book and resource guide: see Billy and the Tingles.  They took things on to the next step and also produced a board game to be played with children, reinforcing and extending some of the ideas introduced in a manner which children can easily open up and discuss.

First of all, I love the fact that it is packaged in a study plastic box!  This is so less likely to get battered and fall apart than a carboard box.  Secondly, I love that we get to play a game around things that are considered taboo.  As an individual who trained as a science teacher and controversially developed the “Sperm Race” for my final assignment when training, this is right up my street!

The game itself is a simple track, rolling a dice allows your token to move and where you land the colour dictates a scenario card that you need to discuss.  I think it’s important that this is not about getting answers right or wrong but simply playing a game to generate which question is posed.  For those students who resent board games and the concept of a winner (whoever gets to the end first) simply replace the board and numbered dice with a coloured spinner.  I also think that for a group of students who might need regular reinforcement the cards provide suitable prompts for a 5-minute circle time each day for a focussed few weeks.

The scenarios presented can also be found in the accompanying booklet along with an outline answer.  The answer presented isn’t the only correct one, but can be useful in those awkward silences (or nervous panics…not everyone is comfortable using the words penis and vagina in front of students) to guide responses. 

Scenario cards are from 8 everyday situations: trips out, toilets, walking home, PE & games, lunch, play time, classroom, school bus.  And there are ‘fun’ rainbow cards too.

It’s certainly not a game that will be out on the desks during wet break, but is one that teachers can dip into to support their PSHE or SRE delivery alongside working with students who need a more bespoke sexual behaviours intervention.  

Whilst this complements Billy and the Tingles (Helping Children to learn about safer sexual behaviour: A narrative approach to working with young children and sexually concerning behaviour) well it can also be used as a standalone resource.

Billy and the Tingles

Safer Sexual Behaviour (Board Game)

Safer Sexual Behaviour: A board game for children

Laura Walker and Carol Laugharne.  Loggerhead Publishing.
https://loggerheadpublishing.co.uk/product/safer-sexual-behaviour-board-game-children/
£45.00

Laura and Carol didn’t stop at producing a story book and resource guide: see Billy and the Tingles.  They took things on to the next step and also produced a board game to be played with children, reinforcing and extending some of the ideas introduced in a manner which children can easily open up and discuss.

First of all, I love the fact that it is packaged in a study plastic box!  This is so less likely to get battered and fall apart than a carboard box.  Secondly, I love that we get to play a game around things that are considered taboo.  As an individual who trained as a science teacher and controversially developed the “Sperm Race” for my final assignment when training, this is right up my street!

The game itself is a simple track, rolling a dice allows your token to move and where you land the colour dictates a scenario card that you need to discuss.  I think it’s important that this is not about getting answers right or wrong but simply playing a game to generate which question is posed.  For those students who resent board games and the concept of a winner (whoever gets to the end first) simply replace the board and numbered dice with a coloured spinner.  I also think that for a group of students who might need regular reinforcement the cards provide suitable prompts for a 5-minute circle time each day for a focussed few weeks.

The scenarios presented can also be found in the accompanying booklet along with an outline answer.  The answer presented isn’t the only correct one, but can be useful in those awkward silences (or nervous panics…not everyone is comfortable using the words penis and vagina in front of students) to guide responses. 

Scenario cards are from 8 everyday situations: trips out, toilets, walking home, PE & games, lunch, play time, classroom, school bus.  And there are ‘fun’ rainbow cards too.

It’s certainly not a game that will be out on the desks during wet break, but is one that teachers can dip into to support their PSHE or SRE delivery alongside working with students who need a more bespoke sexual behaviours intervention.  

Whilst this complements Billy and the Tingles (Helping Children to learn about safer sexual behaviour: A narrative approach to working with young children and sexually concerning behaviour) well it can also be used as a standalone resource.

Billy and the Tingles

Billy and the Tingles

Billy and the Tingles…

(Helping Children to learn about safer sexual behaviour: A narrative approach to working with young children and sexually concerning behaviour.)

Laura Walker & Carol Laugharne.  £30.99 Speechmark Publishing, but available on Amazon.

I responded to a couple of Facebook posts (one from a worried Mum, the other from a SENCO) a few months ago around children displaying concerning behaviour of a sexual nature. 

As neither had received any responses, I did a little research and sometimes you realise just how small the world actually is – when you discover one of your neighbours wrote the resource you were looking at on Amazon…so a trip next door to borrow a cup of sugar and ask to have a good look through the materials!

This resource has two parts.  A story book for children, called Billy and the Tingles, and a supporting guide with the slightly longer title at the top of the page.

Billy and the Tingles

I really enjoyed reading the story, my 8-year old son was able to access the text easily (he didn’t read all of it, although I wouldn’t have any concerns with him doing so) and the illustrations helped to convey the message.

I loved the way that the Tingles were depicted as little gremlins, over which we can exert control.  As someone who deals with SEN pupils it is important to be able to turn abstract ideas into concrete items and I could see how these gremlins might be used in future conversations with some students.

The book is written in such a way that it can be easily used with primary aged pupils; I would even argue up to Year 8 and possibly beyond for those with special educational needs.  The book is just the right length to provide enough information without being scant on detail, whilst at the same time not providing overload by being too long and ‘boring’.

I’m not sure it belongs on the library shelves or in the classroom readers because this book is well supported by a comprehensive resource package…

Helping Children to learn about safer sexual behaviour: A narrative approach to working with young children and sexually concerning behaviour.

This resource book is jam-packed with everything you need to follow-up the story of Billy and the Tingles.  Like most individuals I cringe when I see prices, but when you realise you are getting a photocopiable resource and a comprehensive series of guided sessions it becomes a very reasonable price to pay.  I think I take comfort in knowing that the research and experience of the authors underpins what is written in the book rather than the vagueness of a ‘google search’ when hunting for a suitable program.

The 9x 1-hour session (suggested) program consists of…

  • All about me
  • All about bodies
  • Naming the problem
  • Uh oh…Here comes the problem!
  • Sparkling moments
  • Telling new stories
  • Problem solving
  • Helping hand
  • An audience for the child

And as each one is explained it is accompanied by everything you could possibly need.

For example: Problem solving acknowledges that the problem might rear its head again, gives examples of ‘safe plans’ for home and school, demonstrates trigger times and calm cards, discusses special events, shows door signs and then considers ‘other scenarios’.  In other chapters there are sample letters, worked examples, weblinks, games and scaling systems.  The very nature of the work being delivered means that a lesson plan would be inappropriate…but short of this there is everything provided to cover a bespoke intervention package.

I think many of the activities and resources lend themselves nicely to generating a personal 5-point scale for students on the autistic spectrum.

Is this for parents or schools?

A little of both.  Whilst the resource guide is not particularly appropriate for a parent to work though (although I would suggest that a looked-after child may benefit from a carer working through the activities) the book is certainly something to share with families.  It is important that the resultant plan is owned by everyone involved and this can only happen if families are on board.

I think this resource is one that schools need to have in their store cupboard, not just for the new SRE expectations about to rain down on us, but also as a proactive approach to dealing with the issues presented in schools.

The best thing is, Laura and Carol followed up their book with a board game too…review to follow!

 

Billy and the Tingles

School Exclusion: The Parent Guide

School Exclusion – the book is released!

It’s no secret that I quite enjoy writing.  Although, to be fair, I can’t write in a formal and proper manner.  It may be that I find that style of writing a little ‘boring’ to read.  So, I write the way I talk.  From the heart, with a large dose of honesty and a pinch of dry humour.

It also comes as a surprise to others in my field, how quickly I can produce work.  My first book – The SENDCO, took me a weekend to write.  To be fair, it had been in my head a lot longer and wasn’t something I needed to research.  My second book – Approach It, Map It, Manage It, took just over a week of concentrated effort, followed by two weeks of hunting for the spelling errors.  My Christmas break was spent writing two books (!) one on Dyscalculia and one on Dysgraphia.  These both required a little bit of research to support what I was writing, and trying to track down the images for those books was incredibly time-consuming.

The book that has taken me the longest to write was “School Exclusion: The Parent Guide”.  Back in February, I realised that I was responding to lots of parents on Facebook about their child’s exclusion.  I flippantly suggested I needed to write a book about it and was inundated with requests.  So, I sat down, did my research and discovered that much of what has been written and is available on the market, is designed to avoid exclusions rather than what these individuals were asking – “My child has been excluded…what now?”

So, starting from the DfE guidance written for schools and translating this into ‘parent speak’, alongside using the questions I’d been asked on social media, and my experience of dealing with exclusions, I was able to construct “School Exclusion: The Parent Guide”.  I have no doubt that it probably misses out someone’s very specific example, and I’m sure my inbox will still end up full of requests for support…(version 2?)…but now there is something for families to refer to other than the books that have very obviously been written for the educational/academic audience.

For anyone who doesn’t know about self-publishing, it means that I am free to write what I want without the censorship of anyone else.  It also means I don’t get paid for writing the book in the first place!  There’s no lump sum or up-front fee.  Just an author squeezing in time to write between whatever it is that they do for work to pay the bills.

I played about with the pricing of the book for a long time.  On the one hand, I need to reflect the number of hours I’ve put into writing the book working every evening (usually through to the early hours) and weekend since February…on the other, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m asking vulnerable families to pay for something during a time of crisis.  As a result, I agreed with my husband that I’d price the book at £12.99 for the first two-weeks of publication (so that all those wonderful families on Facebook that supported me could grab it ‘on offer’) and that after that I’d price it at £17.99.  Honestly, for a 207 page non-fiction book, it is a reasonable price and for the advice contained within, it would cost much more to consult a solicitor or specialist advisor.  One parent told me it costs them £200 to have a 30 minute chat with their solicitor!

So, until May 15th School Exclusion: The Parent Guide, is on offer for £12.99 going up to £17.99 at that point.  I promise, by the time KDP/Amazon have taken their cut for printing, hosting, dealing with the order and delivering, I don’t make an awful lot of profit…so every purchase counts!

 

 

https://amzn.to/2DDFeAL

Carters Yard Phonics – Flashcards

Talking Phonics Flashcards

Carter’s Yard Phonics

 

I am a massive fan of augmented reality.  From the first programs that I experienced with dragons crawling out of holes on my floor, desk, settee – through Pokemon Go – to a virtual chicken in my conservatory whilst I was learning Spanish and convincing my eldest son there was a ghost in the room that could only be seen using the phone camera!

 (It’s OK the Dog didn’t notice – he is real!)

Carter’s Yard Phonics have developed a set of flashcards which use augmented reality to introduce young children and those learning the sounds of the English language to phonics.  The company very kindly sent me a set of their cards to experiment with (I’m pleased to announce there were no elephants, chickens or ghosts!)

Zappar is a free to download and use app available from the App Store and Google Play.  It looks a little like a QR reader, utilizing circular ‘zaps’ rather than the linear box we are used to seeing. 

Zaps are read quickly by hovering the camera of your device over them. 

The talking phonics flashcards have a zap in the top right corner of each double-sided phonic card.  Hovering over them opens a series of buttons which can be clicked on to generate new events.

Following traditional phonics structures the first card is /s/

The four options provided are image, sound, word (or phrase), blending.

Image brings up a picture of the item on the card (in case you have moved your screen away from the card). 

Sound plays a clear recording of the pure phonic sound.  I’m pleased to say that the accent is very British and not digitized or American (which is often the issue with phonic audio tracks.)

Word clearly announces the word associated with the phonic.  In this case ‘sock’.

At higher levels this is replaced by Phrase where the short sentence or phrase is read out.

Blending takes the phonic sounds in the target word and sounds them out before citing the word.  The pace for blending is appropriate and the audio is unbelievably crisp. 

I enjoyed playing with the cards, but the true test would be their target audience – children!

My youngest is only 2 (literally 2 days ago) so a little too young to appreciate the nuances of phonics and the next son up is 8 where we would hope he knew all his phonic choices by now!  (The eldest two are teenagers.)  Fortunately, all my children are used to working with me on my projects, so I borrowed them to give me an opinion.

We were really pleased to see two cards showing the difference between the /th/ sounds – hard /th/ in ‘the, ‘this’ and soft /th/ in ‘think’ and ‘three’.  My husband (who comes from south of the Watford Gap) wasn’t too keen on the /oo/ sounds.  My children and I with our Midlands accents were happy with the /oo/ making a short /u/ sound.  Hubby, however, would have preferred his longer /ew/ sound instead.  Fortunately, there were no pictures to start a path, bath, castle argument! 

Everyone agreed the images were appropriate and would help with recognition of the words and sounds which is of vital importance if using with EAL students.  My eldest son pointed out that the /igh/ card used an /igh/ sound written with a different grapheme (letter combination) which he found confusing.  (The sentence reads ‘high in the sky tonight’), whereas the other one said that the long /oo/ card used a phrase (need the loo soon) that many children who have learned English as a foreign language would not have come across. 

My 8-year-old has a visual difficulty and although he could see everything on the cards and the screen easily he did have some problems trying to click the option he wanted.  At one point he asked me to find the settings to stop the display from spinning (it’s quite slow) but this wasn’t an option.  Perhaps @Carters_Phonics might like to consider this for the future.

The target audience is 3+ years and EAL learners.  I would conclude that this is appropriate for use by those groups.  As someone who spent a good chunk of their career working with much older students who still needed to secure their phonics knowledge I could also see a use for these in those classrooms.  Although, I’d probably be tempted to generate a large sheet with the sounds and the zaps, but without the pictures and words, for older pupils.  I imagine the targeting of the camera would have to be very accurate at this point!

I’d love to see the characters on the cards animate – for example the ‘toad on the road’ going off on a short hop, or the ‘train in the rain’ shunting off down the track.  Perhaps this could be a development for a ‘teacher’ version of the cards with the smaller ones then being used for follow-up in the classroom either by small groups or individually, or at home.

All in all, an innovative use of augmented reality to deliver basic skills. 

For more information visit: http://cartersyardphonics.com

Available for purchase on Amazon:

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Or…if you are a school/nursery contact the Carters Yard team directly for bulk discounts:

RRP £9.99/deck

10-29 decks (£7.19/deck ex VAT).  30-99 decks (£6.39/deck ex VAT).  100+ (£5.59/deck ex VAT)

 

Revision

I’m in need of hair dye this week or maybe a wig…

Son #1 is in Year 11 and has all his exams coming up.  Son #2 is in Year 10 and moved schools recently.  As he had already completed two-years of study in a couple of subjects that are no longer on offer, we’ve taken the plunge to enter him for those subjects.

Trying to get Son#1 to revise is a little like trying to extract the proverbial blood from a stone.  If he’s in the mood and the topic takes his fancy we can get some time out of him.  If it involves copying notes verbatim in pretty colours onto flash cards I also stand a good chance.  Heaven forbid I should attempt to get him to apply anything he might possibly have gleaned!  He will, however, sit in the same place for several hours without moving.

Son #2 takes mum’s advice on board.  We have a revision schedule and he is diligently sticking to my 12 word rule (from 1 page of revision notes he can highlight no more than 12 words/phrases).  Unfortunately, he has the attention span of a gnat on speed!  So far today, he has taken several long toilet reins, tidies his bedroom twice, volunteered to the a shopping trip, organised lunch and made me enough cups of tea to fill the garden pond.

I’m holding onto the hope that the pair of them ‘pull it out of the bag’ in time for the exam as they seem to have done in the past.

Whilst trying to get the eldest two to revise I have to throw into the mix Son #3 who needs to learn his times tables and Son #4 who will be 2 next week and is currently toilet training although having been unwell the last few days it has gone decidedly backwards.  And then there’s me…I’m trying to write my book on exclusions, I have notes for all the chapters but I just can’t motivate myself to string it together into sentences!

Revision (and homework) is the bane of most households.  I’ve never forced my boys to do their homework, I was never very good at setting it as a teacher either.  If they know they’re going to get a detention for not doing it, then they generally scrabble something together.  I always ask if they have any and if they need any help, but nothing more.  I’m pleased to say that they do complete most of their work and if they don’t they face the consequence of that action.  I’m most proud of the fact that they will come and ask me questions related to their work which I think is far more important than regurgitating something on a piece of paper where the teacher has no idea who really ‘wrote’ the answer.  I never made the boys read at home, and yet by the end of Key Stage two sons #1 + 2 both had reading ages over 15.  Son #3 probably won’t have (he has a visual impairment) but he has more common sense and his mathematics and general knowledge is better that theirs.  Maybe I made a rod for my own back when it came to revision!

Anyway, every year in school I had to deliver revision sessions.  There is a habit in schools of handing out exam questions, answering and then going through the answers.  I’m not convinced this works for the majority of students…those questions are not the ones that come up on the exam!  Although, they do give them practise in seeing how questions might be phrased and the time limits they have to work to.

The most successful method I’ve used with students over time involves using a commercial revision guide (CGP offer fairly cheap ones although my boys prefer the Letts guides).  First, we break the revision into chunks…how many pages today?  (Let’s say 10). Then they take a highlighter and read through one page in the guide.  After reading they are allowed to highlight just 12 words/phrases.  Some students like to write these out and if they choose to do so I suggest using a reasonably sized index card (one side).

At the end of the block of revision they look back over their highlighted words/phrases and try to reduce it to 3 or 4 really key ones.  If they wrote out an index card they highlight those 3/4.

Finally, they reduce their 3/4 key points into a single ‘heading’.  With the index card they then write this on the opposite side.

The next time they continue with the next chunk of revision.  Once all the unit has been covered they have a set of index cards or ‘key headings’.

We then take these and from the heading alone come up with a ‘question we might be asked’ and write this down.  Underneath they jot down the key things they would include in the response.  By checking back they should have included their highlighted 3/4 points (or key points).  If they were to write an extended answer they would include all 12 points.

Now, with my own students I used to have them do this at the end of each unit of work, so they didn’t have to create them towards the end of the course!  A little complaining throughout the year, but they were very grateful come the end of the course!  (This is the only homework I would set…I don’t have to mark it and if they don’t complete it it doesn’t affect the next lesson…they just have more work to do when it comes to revision at the end of the course.)

 

Learning to Read

Learning to read…

I love books.  Have done since I was a little girl sitting on my mother’s knee learning to read my Peter and Jane Ladybird books whilst she operated an overlocker (a sewing machine with a pretty sharp knife attached!)  When I entered school at 4 years old and read a book straight out to the class the teacher didn’t really know what to do with me.  Poor Mrs Trueman sent me to the library and I was left to my own devices.

I didn’t learn phonics and I know how to read words by breaking down the little words in them.  It didn’t do me any harm!  In fact, as a scientist, I think it did me some favours.  I can read some wonderfully, complex scientific words and I know what they mean even without having met them before, because I am using the roots, prefixes and suffixes rather than a random mish-mash of sounds.

When it comes to spelling, I tend to say the word how it is spelled in my head.  Wednesday has a ‘d’ pronounced loud and clear.  Other words I have a motor memory for, I’ve written Escherichia Coliformes so many times now, that it just flows out the end of the pen as a single shape rather than single letters.

I’ve met many children over my teaching career who have struggled with learning to read and spell, and they all have one thing in common…they were all taught using a phonic based system.  ‘S’ makes the sound ‘sssss’, like snake.  Well, yes it does, but it also makes the sound ‘zzzz’ as in buzz (usually at the end of words: e.g times, flows, sounds, letters.)  And when it is followed by an ‘h’ it makes a ‘sh’ sound as in ‘shop’.  The English language has 26 letter shapes but 44 phonic sounds and even then it doesn’t always follow its own rules.  I came into teaching around about the time of the ‘Rose report’.  This small scale piece of research looked at the use of phonics in a number of schools and praised the progress children made.  The government at the time, jumped on this idea and published programmes such as PiPs (Progress in Phonics) which was later replaced with Letters and Sounds.  

Whilst I have no doubt that for a good chunk of children the phonics approach works, when it doesn’t the solution seems to have been to throw more phonics at them.  Ruth Miskin, THRASS, No Nonsense Phonics, Jolly Phonics, even the first few pages of Toe by Toe.  For those it still doesn’t work with the approach seems to have been multisensory phonics, sounds work, and perhaps a little bit of phonics!  I believe there are a number of children for whom a phonic approach just doesn’t make sense and that a whole word method is more sensible.  I’m pleased to see precision teaching is becoming more commonplace in schools with rapid recognition and fluency of the ‘whole’ word as a focus.  I have to say, that in my teaching, I’ve had some students who needed yet another dose of phonics (bear in mind the latter half of my career I spent in secondary schools) but the vast majority needed something different.  Instead of walking out of my lessons with a few sounds and still not able to read or write the words they wanted to use (at 11 and 12 years old), they walked out with the ‘sight knowledge’ of words relevant to them.

It has its limitations.  If I don’t teach the specific words they need then many of my students didn’t have the skills to always find the ‘little words’ and break things down (and I have a limited time in which to undo the past and correct things) .  If I had only taught one variation of a word they didn’t always understand or recognise it with a new ending (book, booked, books, booking), but they stood far more chance than they had done previously!

And for spelling?  Well, remember what I said about Escherichia coliformes?  I like a clear joined handwriting script in order to be able to remember how to spell the words.  If I’m typing (or teaching children to type) then the whole word has to be completed in one motion…not hammering individual keys down.  The fingers will then automatically go towards the right keys if practised enough, without even thinking about the individual letters involved. 

So, not a solution to reading and spelling problems, but certainly something to consider in establishing whether phonics really works for some pupils and perhaps a new idea is needed.

I spoke to some of my older pupils (they’re in their 20s and 30s now) about the whole-word approach I had used with them.  Some of those children had entered my secondary school all those years ago with the reading age of a 4 year old.  Some, admitedly, still struggle.  One young man (gosh, I feel old) told me he still forgets to read the endings on words, but he can ‘read’ well enough to follow a newspaper article and he holds down a job in a supermarket.  A young lady said she was reading with her children and the phonics made sense to her now that she had words to work with.  She has 3 children and her eldest is struggling with phonics too, so she has begun to pick out key words for him to ‘know’ and learn in each story.  One of my students I taught back in my primary days described sitting his exam papers, “I couldn’t read everything, but I could read bits of the words.  So, I did that.  I got the tenses wrong on the English paper, but it didn’t lose me many marks as I was writing about the right things.  I needed a C in maths, science and English to go to College…I got a C in English, a B in maths and AA in science.  I couldn’t have a reader in the English exam so that was hard.  I did A-level science and maths and I had a reader in all the exams but I had to read things myself to revise or do practise papers.  It was OK.  I highlighted the bits of words I knew and then read it again.  Worse bit was doing homework when they gave us a chapter to read and make notes on.  It was guess work sometimes but I didn’t do any worse than my friends.  At university, I still do the same thing.  I write all my new words on cards and in a notebook.  I use lots of pictures and label them.  You’d be really proud of my handwriting, Miss!  I think I’ll get a 2:1, I got that at the end of the second year, and I’m happy with that.”

I suppose my message, as always, is that one size doesn’t always fit all and sometimes we have to do something different.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”  (Which wasn’t really said by Einstein, but is often quoted as such!)

Learning to Read

Learning to read…

I love books.  Have done since I was a little girl sitting on my mother’s knee learning to read my Peter and Jane Ladybird books whilst she operated an overlocker (a sewing machine with a pretty sharp knife attached!)  When I entered school at 4 years old and read a book straight out to the class the teacher didn’t really know what to do with me.  Poor Mrs Trueman sent me to the library and I was left to my own devices.

I didn’t learn phonics and I know how to read words by breaking down the little words in them.  It didn’t do me any harm!  In fact, as a scientist, I think it did me some favours.  I can read some wonderfully, complex scientific words and I know what they mean even without having met them before, because I am using the roots, prefixes and suffixes rather than a random mish-mash of sounds.

When it comes to spelling, I tend to say the word how it is spelled in my head.  Wednesday has a ‘d’ pronounced loud and clear.  Other words I have a motor memory for, I’ve written Escherichia Coliformes so many times now, that it just flows out the end of the pen as a single shape rather than single letters.

I’ve met many children over my teaching career who have struggled with learning to read and spell, and they all have one thing in common…they were all taught using a phonic based system.  ‘S’ makes the sound ‘sssss’, like snake.  Well, yes it does, but it also makes the sound ‘zzzz’ as in buzz (usually at the end of words: e.g times, flows, sounds, letters.)  And when it is followed by an ‘h’ it makes a ‘sh’ sound as in ‘shop’.  The English language has 26 letter shapes but 44 phonic sounds and even then it doesn’t always follow its own rules.  I came into teaching around about the time of the ‘Rose report’.  This small scale piece of research looked at the use of phonics in a number of schools and praised the progress children made.  The government at the time, jumped on this idea and published programmes such as PiPs (Progress in Phonics) which was later replaced with Letters and Sounds.  

Whilst I have no doubt that for a good chunk of children the phonics approach works, when it doesn’t the solution seems to have been to throw more phonics at them.  Ruth Miskin, THRASS, No Nonsense Phonics, Jolly Phonics, even the first few pages of Toe by Toe.  For those it still doesn’t work with the approach seems to have been multisensory phonics, sounds work, and perhaps a little bit of phonics!  I believe there are a number of children for whom a phonic approach just doesn’t make sense and that a whole word method is more sensible.  I’m pleased to see precision teaching is becoming more commonplace in schools with rapid recognition and fluency of the ‘whole’ word as a focus.  I have to say, that in my teaching, I’ve had some students who needed yet another dose of phonics (bear in mind the latter half of my career I spent in secondary schools) but the vast majority needed something different.  Instead of walking out of my lessons with a few sounds and still not able to read or write the words they wanted to use (at 11 and 12 years old), they walked out with the ‘sight knowledge’ of words relevant to them.

It has its limitations.  If I don’t teach the specific words they need then many of my students didn’t have the skills to always find the ‘little words’ and break things down (and I have a limited time in which to undo the past and correct things) .  If I had only taught one variation of a word they didn’t always understand or recognise it with a new ending (book, booked, books, booking), but they stood far more chance than they had done previously!

And for spelling?  Well, remember what I said about Escherichia coliformes?  I like a clear joined handwriting script in order to be able to remember how to spell the words.  If I’m typing (or teaching children to type) then the whole word has to be completed in one motion…not hammering individual keys down.  The fingers will then automatically go towards the right keys if practised enough, without even thinking about the individual letters involved. 

So, not a solution to reading and spelling problems, but certainly something to consider in establishing whether phonics really works for some pupils and perhaps a new idea is needed.

I spoke to some of my older pupils (they’re in their 20s and 30s now) about the whole-word approach I had used with them.  Some of those children had entered my secondary school all those years ago with the reading age of a 4 year old.  Some, admitedly, still struggle.  One young man (gosh, I feel old) told me he still forgets to read the endings on words, but he can ‘read’ well enough to follow a newspaper article and he holds down a job in a supermarket.  A young lady said she was reading with her children and the phonics made sense to her now that she had words to work with.  She has 3 children and her eldest is struggling with phonics too, so she has begun to pick out key words for him to ‘know’ and learn in each story.  One of my students I taught back in my primary days described sitting his exam papers, “I couldn’t read everything, but I could read bits of the words.  So, I did that.  I got the tenses wrong on the English paper, but it didn’t lose me many marks as I was writing about the right things.  I needed a C in maths, science and English to go to College…I got a C in English, a B in maths and AA in science.  I couldn’t have a reader in the English exam so that was hard.  I did A-level science and maths and I had a reader in all the exams but I had to read things myself to revise or do practise papers.  It was OK.  I highlighted the bits of words I knew and then read it again.  Worse bit was doing homework when they gave us a chapter to read and make notes on.  It was guess work sometimes but I didn’t do any worse than my friends.  At university, I still do the same thing.  I write all my new words on cards and in a notebook.  I use lots of pictures and label them.  You’d be really proud of my handwriting, Miss!  I think I’ll get a 2:1, I got that at the end of the second year, and I’m happy with that.”

I suppose my message, as always, is that one size doesn’t always fit all and sometimes we have to do something different.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”  (Which wasn’t really said by Einstein, but is often quoted as such!)

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