Teaching systematic synthetic phonics is a ‘success for all’ approach

A Read, Write Inc. Case Study by Sophie Rasic from Mr Brendon Madden, Principal, Toowong State School, Queensland

“Be prepared to see fast improvements”

Age group: Prep–Year 6 | Students on roll: 284

School context: Toowong State School is a well-established Brisbane inner-city school, based in its current location since 1910. The suburb is predominately a residential area. The school’s strengths are cultural diversity and inclusivity, having implemented both a bi-lingual and bi-cultural program for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Student demographic: The school is in the top 100 public primary schools in Brisbane for English and Maths academic results in 2017 (bettereducation.com.au). Of the student population, sixteen per cent speak English as a second language and six per cent are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

When did you start teaching systematic synthetic phonics?

Read Write Inc.
(RWI) was my introduction to overseeing the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics. After researching phonics-based approaches to teaching in late 2015, I chose RWI as the best fit for Toowong State School based on the program’s explicit connections for teachers between reading, writing, spelling and comprehension.

When did you implement Read Write Inc.?

Our staff attended a two-day training session with RWI consultant Hayley Goldsworthy in Term 4 of 2015.

Since then I have appointed a RWI Manager, carefully rolled out the program over three terms in 2016 with ongoing support from Hayley through the initial staff training to a consultation day and master class sessions – focussing on modelled lessons and feedback throughout the year from teachers.

Teacher aides, new, relief and ongoing staff have attended two extra rounds of RWI training in the last year to ensure the program remains current and imbedded in our school.

The children’s unwavering engagement in classes proves their enjoyment, particularly when teachers report of students who ‘bounce off’ to phonics lessons.”

How would you describe the RWI training you received?

RWI is a significant undertaking and training was essential to our school’s success.

Hayley was our trainer and consultant, and facilitated our school during Term 4 of 2015 to prepare staff to teach RWI the following year. In this critical time, Hayley worked effectively and closely with our RWI Manager to unpack the materials and set-up processes so that a clear step-by-step roll out of the program was achieved.

Alongside continuous training sessions for all staff, Hayley ensured we were prepared for RWI by connecting us to Oxford University Press who we were able to talk with directly when ordering our resources that make up our catalogued texts and teaching kits.

The payoff for their effort and commitment is in the results of their students.”

Have you put any strategies in place for mentoring and coaching staff to help everyone adopt RWI? 

RWI training is a key part of the induction process for all staff at our school, and we undertake refresher training days to ensure everyone at Toowong State School is on board.

Our RWI Manager is an integral staff member for mentoring and coaching at our school. The support teachers receive has ensured consistency of RWI practice. Teachers have reported, continuous feedback given by the RWI manager based on data collected keeps teachers and students both focussed and motivated for each six-week teaching cycle – rarely has a student shown no progress.

How has your school as a whole changed as a result of implementing RWI?

Now that RWI is a program fully integrated in our school, there’s a greater sense of understanding and confidence from our teachers and students. Some of our teachers have worked in the industry for over fifteen years, and now they feel they can articulate how they teach students to read clearly. Teachers have even higher expectations for all students to become capable readers. The payoff for their effort and commitment is in the results of their students.

How have your students benefited from RWI?

Knowledge of spelling and its application in writing is very strong across all years.

The children’s unwavering engagement in classes proves their enjoyment, particularly when teachers report of students who ‘bounce off’ to phonics lessons. When asked to write about their favourite part of the day, a Year 1 student wrote, ‘Morning tea is the best part of the day because next it is time for RWI!’

Have you seen any impact on your results?

Students’ results are significantly higher than years prior to the implementation of RWI, and as a school we are proud to announce that by the end of 2017, the impact in PM Reading Level results for Prep & Year 1 students show progress up to two years ahead of their grade level. Last year’s NAPLAN results, for students beyond Year 2, who had undertaken twelve months of the RWI program showed great improvements, particularly with reading skills.

What would you say to other schools considering adopting RWI?
It works. RWI is a program that takes a ‘success for all’ approach. RWI addresses differentiation and additional needs between students, keeping them engaged through the Tutoring program. One-to-one tutoring sessions are supported by plenty of online resources and a handbook to help students who require extra guidance.

Do you have any practical tips for other schools to help them be successful?

Commit to the program! For RWI to have the maximum positive impact on students’ learning, the program needs to be implemented in its entirety. Assigning a RWI Manager is central to initial and ongoing success – this position is responsible for managing planning, feedback and training sessions for both existing and new staff, particularly within the first year of introducing the program.

Be prepared to see fast improvements in students’ reading, writing, spelling and comprehension; plan extension programs for very capable students in Years 1 & 2 who exit RWI early, and buy quality reading materials for those engaged readers – this is a new, but exciting challenge to expect!