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Part 5 – Intervention teaching and testing

Ideas have been provided for children who have been struggling with their reading and writing for many years. They naturally feel bad about their experiences and need careful guidance.

Part 5: Intervention teaching and testing

Once a child has been assessed, it is necessary to decide whether one-to-one support is needed, or if the child can have extra teaching in a small group. The advantage of one-to-one teaching is that the pace can be matched to the speed that the child is able to learn. Older children are particularly in need of a fast pace: they have a great deal of catching-up to do. If the child knows most of the letter sounds in Step 1 but is poor at Step 2, start teaching Step 2 as fast as possible, using similar activities to those outlined in the section Preventing Reading and Writing Problems, Parts 3 to 5.

The aim is always the same: To assess how quickly the child can master the following:

  • Knowing the letter sounds in Steps 1 to 5
  • Fluent blending of new words that use the known letter sounds
  • Segmenting words and writing words neatly from dictation, using the known letter sounds
  • Reading and writing the tricky words in Steps 3 to 5 (blending and segmenting the regular parts and remembering the tricky bits)

With older children, it is sensible to discuss the issues. The child needs to be given hope that the problems can be solved. This means looking at the gaps in the child’s letter-sound knowledge together, as well as explaining what needs to be done to improve the blending, segmenting and writing. Encourage the child to take responsibility for his or her own learning. For example, you could say:

Do you think you can learn these two letter sounds, which we have been practising, really well by tomorrow and can you blend these words that use them? I’m going to put them in your envelope and I want you to practice blending them as many times as possible tonight and by tomorrow we’ll see how well you can do. See if you can learn those really well. [demonstration]

The children know very well that they are behind and they really would like to do something about it. The secret initially, as far as possible, is to always make the steps in the teaching small enough to bring success every time. Once the children start achieving their goals and feel successful, their poor attitude usually goes. Then the children are willing to work even harder.

Occasionally there is a child who persists in guessing. It can help to break this habit by using a card with the left-hand corner cut out. The idea is to reveal the letter sounds bit by bit as the child reads [demonstration]. This encourages the child to take notice of each letter sound in the word as it is revealed. Although fluency is the ultimate aim, in the beginning accuracy is more important. Fluency will start developing naturally as the child masters accurate blending and reads many decodable books.

Homework

Parents have usually struggled to get their difficult and unwilling children to do their homework. The last thing they want are more battles. Therefore it is important that the children understand that it is in their own interests to learn the alphabetic code quickly. This is their real chance of becoming a good reader. Once a child has started to feel success, it is worth suggesting that his or her progress would be much faster if (s)he started to do some work at home. A better attitude comes when the child, especially if the child is older than nine, takes responsibility for his or her own homework. It is really their responsibility to ask their parents or guardians to:

  • listen to them saying the letter sounds,
  • listen to them reading words, blending unknown words or reading decodable books,
  • call out letter sounds, words or sentences for them to write.

Parents nearly always want to be supportive. In the beginning, start with only a small amount of homework that is relatively easy, and give plenty of praise for what has been done. Gradually encourage the child to want to do extra homework; this brings more praise and the child feels even better about his or her progress. This is the moment when some children start to make huge improvements: they feel successful and actively push themselves to master the skills.

Once a child’s blending has improved, decodable reading books are invaluable. It is essential that these books only use the tricky words that have been taught and words that use the letter sounds that the child knows and can decode. (More information on decodable readers is available in the Phonic Knowledge section on the home page.) The aim is to get the children through the stage of needing decodable readers and on to free reading as soon as possible. This can happen when the children know the letter sounds in Steps 1 to 5 and they have confidence in their reading. Encourage parents to discuss the stories with their children and to help them understand the meaning of any words that they do not know.

What type of homework is needed?

Dictation homework is the most effective for learning the letter sounds and developing the skill of writing. Word lists or word boxes are important for blending practice and, when the time is right, decodable readers can also be sent home. It is also worth recording what you want the children to do in their homework books, so that parents can tick the items the children have done [demonstration].

Initially, everything the child is given should be relatively easy for him or her. The aim is to bring fluency and automaticity to the tasks, not to actually teach the skill at home. It might be appropriate to record the dictation homework on a voice recorder so that children can do that part of the homework completely on their own [demonstration]. The children quickly get used to doing this.

At the end of six months, it is worth checking on the child’s progress by giving him or her another reading and spelling test. The same test can be used, so long as there has been no teaching to the test, and there is at least six months between each test. Ideally, with the extra teaching, the child should have progressed at least three fold: that is an improvement of 18 months in the six months. If that is achieved, the child is successfully catching up with the children of a similar age. It is a good aim and can often be achieved with three to five sessions a week of one-to-one teaching.

Frequently, higher results can be obtained, as reported by Dr Marlynne Grant (whose longitudinal studies are mentioned in the section Preventing Reading and Writing Problems, Part 6). Just look at the results of this group of 20 children in Year 7, which is the first year of secondary education. The children were eleven to twelve years old. Over 28 weeks, they were taught synthetic phonics as a class for three out of their usual five weekly English lessons. You can see that there were no measurable scores for reading and spelling in the pre-test and yet six months later these 20 children were able to read and spell between eight years five months and ten years five months in the post-testing. This means that the weakest child was able to make three years five months progress in six months, and the most able child made five years five months progress. The other 18 children were somewhere between the two.

What really needs to be asked is why these children, after seven years of education, were unable to score at all on their first reading and spelling tests and yet, after six months of synthetic phonics, were able to make between three and five years’ progress. Obviously, there was nothing wrong with the children if they could make that kind of rapid progress. They were perfectly able to learn, so long as they had the right kind of teaching. Synthetic phonics teaching is best for all children but for some children, like these, it is absolutely essential.

 

 

 

 

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 1 - 3

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 1 - 3 - print letters

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 4 - 5

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 4 - 5 - print letters

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Tricky Words - Steps 3 - 6

    Print this sheet and ask the children to read the tricky words, recording any that are not known. Use dictation to find out how well they can spell them.

  • Tricky Words - Steps 3 - 6 - print letters

    Print this sheet and ask the children to read the tricky words, recording any that are not known. Use dictation to find out how well they can spell them.

  • Suitable words for testing the skill of blending

    These words are not frequently read by young children, so they are suitable for testing how well a child can blend unknown words. The words start with letter sounds the children learnt initially and progress to the more unusual letter sounds in Step 5.