• Purple Pulpo

We don't do phonics in Primary.....

It has taken a long time for synthetic phonics to become part of the curriculum in Spain and many teachers have invested in paying for their own training courses or have been proactive in implementing it into their infant department in schools. English teaching hours are few in the state schools and there is much to cover in the English course books and pupils books.

It has been a lengthy process, yet the instruction and delivery of synthetic phonics can vary immensely and there is no formal screening used in many schools to check that the children are acquiring the phonic knowledge correctly or using it in a proficient way. At times, the instruction of the 42 sounds is enthusiastically taught, however the expansion of digraph sounds and tricky words are skimmed over as, in many cases the teachers are not secure about how to explore these sounds or provide contextual cues to promote learning.

Many newly qualified infant or primary English teachers question why the synthetic phonics method is not part of their teaching practice in university. Globally, the teaching of phonics implementation in schools has increased over the past 10 years, with instructional courses being part of the teaching itinerary and how to use it in a cross curricular way.

Schools that have been using the method have acknowledge that issues such as pronunciation, decoding and segmenting words and children’s reading and writing skills have improved. In a bilingual teaching environment, vocabulary acquisition is a high priority, as is understanding the grammar structures. Although synthetic phonics cannot provide all of this, it does address the difficult English spelling and pronunciation by eliminating many of the ´false´ sounds that can be transposed into writing later on, such as ´estar´ and not ´star´ for example.

This platform of knowledge is sadly not being promoted in primary. Instead of a ´whole school approach ´to phonics, it is seen as a good resource for infants, as it is a highly visual, audio and holistic approach associated with Early Years teaching methods. The introduction of CLIL materials has allowed for a new cross curricular approach to learning English through a range of subjects, giving children a broader scope and interest base than before. The inclusion of grammar and embedded phonics has to some extend resolved the issue of having to use a huge range of teaching materials and extensive planning.

The variety of CLIL course books in upper primary and secondary varies. Equally the level of phonics as many books repeat the very basic letter sounds that children already know, with little variation in activities. Or, make the assumption the child already knows a digraph, for example /ai/ and introduces activities with /ay/ and /a_e/ sounds without enough reading, writing and spelling choices.

Many teachers admit they have a ´tokenistic´ approach to these activities, completing the unit without expansion or further investigation. The biggest problem being time , experience and not to use phonics in isolation but make references to letter sounds, spelling or alternative spellings etc in other parts of the materials or resources. Many publishing houses have conquered this issue by providing instructional sound bites and videos on how to deliver the session, the ´coffee-break´ tutorial.

Generally, children are being prepared for the B1, B2 English exams or the knowledge of the increasing modules in English there will be at university. At the moment, the B1 level is required for university entry and it may be the case that in ten years time, it may be the B2. One of the biggest issues in secondary is practising speaking or listening activities as there is just not enough time to get the free writing and the grammar requirements fulfilled.

Imagine the possibilities if phonics in conjunction with grammar was being endorsed in primary, helping to get children to write 100 words freely and to demonstrate a knowledge of verb tenses, grammatical structures etc.


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