How schools can prepare for the Phonics Screening Check – a practical guide

Oxford University Press White Paper: Phonics is Knowledge by Ruth Miskin Training consultant Hayley Goldsworthy

The Federal Government last week announced its commitment to introducing literacy and numeracy checks for Year 1 students. The literacy component would include a Phonics Screening Check.

Oxford University Press has developed a white paper titled ‘Phonics is Knowledge’ to help guide schools as they prepare for the checks. The white paper is available on the Oxford University Press Australia’s phonics information page, but below is a summary of the key points.

What is the Phonics Screening Check?

The Phonics Screening Check is a five to seven minute reading check for Year 1 students. The purpose of the check is to provide early identification of students who are struggling with the essential foundation reading skill and require appropriate intervention. The check will provide feedback for teachers and schools about their instructional approaches and supply impetus to make improvements.

In the UK, the check was introduced in 2012. A report published in 2015 found that since its introduction, schools have made improvements to the teaching of phonics, with the proportion of students achieving the expected standard on the Phonics Screening Check in Year 1 increasing each year.

How can your school prepare for the Phonics Screening Check?

Using the check alone won’t improve reading in your school – it’s what you do with the information that matters. The following questions provide a starting point that school leaders can use to review how they teach reading and monitor reading progress and whether you are teaching phonics effectively.

  • What is your understanding of ‘phonics instruction’?
  • If you asked your teaching staff: ‘How do you teach phonics?’ would there be consistency in responses?
  • Do you have a shared understanding of the different types of phonics instruction, such as synthetic, analytic, embedded and incidental? See the phonics white paper for details of each.
  • Which approach do you employ? Is it consistent, or is it a mixture of more than one approach?
  • How do you know if your current reading instruction is effective?

How you can improve your school’s phonic teaching

The white paper suggests a range of ways in which you can ensure your school is teaching phonics effectively, including:

Teach phonics regularly – It is not an uncommon practice for some schools to focus on teaching a ‘letter of the week’, but schools that have achieved the best reading results teach a sound a day. Every day a new sound is explicitly taught, and previously taught sounds are reviewed and consolidated.

Use decodable texts that match the students’ phonic knowledge – Lessons should provide frequent and regular opportunities for children to apply their phonic skills by reading carefully matched, phonically regular texts. Children should only be presented with texts that are entirely decodable for them, so they experience success and learn to rely on phonemic strategies. As their knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences increases, so do the texts to practise reading.

Teach children to decode high-frequency words – Send home lists of sight words that can easily be decoded once a child knows a few sounds and can blend. Almost every word in the English language can be decoded; some are just trickier than others. Take the word ‘said’, for example, Children should be taught to identify the ‘tricky’ bit in the word – ai. The grapheme ‘ai’ in ‘said’ represents the /e/ sound. This way of representing the sound is irregular and is therefore the ‘tricky’ bit of the word. Understanding this will not only help a child to read the word ‘said’, but also to spell it accurately.

Carry out regular assessments – Ensure your assessments are used to inform teaching and learning. Assess children’s knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences, their enunciation of sounds, their blending ability, and their reading of words and non-words. Identify children with additional needs to address this and close the gap early.

Ensure teachers have the required level of knowledge and understanding to teach phonics effectively – The teaching of reading is complex and requires specialised knowledge and skills. Adequate preparation needs to be given to teachers, not only through their pre-service teacher education, but also through ongoing professional development.

Adopt a whole-school approach – A high-quality phonics program should be grounded in findings from rigorous, evidence-based research and a consistent, comprehensive whole-school approach should be adopted. All teaching staff should acknowledge that the teaching of reading is the shared responsibility of the whole school, under the direction of the principal and senior staff.

More detailed advice, including details of analytic, incidental/embedded and synthetic phonics, are available in the phonics white paper.



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