Thursday, 8 June 2017

From My Professional Blog

A Hunch Forms - Early Phonemic Awareness and how it can be missed without us even knowing...


"This blog post is taken from my professional blog"
This week we have had some interesting discussions around the staff room table.  We have a small group of year 5 students, girls and boys (about 6 children) that just seem to have some major building blocks missing in terms of phonemic awareness.  They have gotten to a particular point with their writing and seem to have stalled.

These children have been part of good phonetic programmes throughout their time at school, but they just don't seem to have made solid connections.

In a stroke of genius our lovely Shelley decided to take them right back to initial letter sounds, rather than presuming they had them, she wanted to find out if they did.

Low and behold these children all had major gaps in their very basic letter/sound knowledge.  They all found this, something we would expect our Year 2 children to have nailed, difficult.  Good on Shelley for not presuming...perhaps we presume to much?

Now these children can read...they are not miles ahead, but neither are the miles behind...have they struggled, yes...but it is not their reading that is of concern, in fact if we were just looking at their reading ability, it is unlikely that these children would have been identified for support.  We would never have picked up this huge looming gap in alphabet knowledge if we had not identified them through their writing.

I guess this makes complete sense.  In reading I can learn words as a whole, if I am visually savvy I can work out enough to read a text fluently, in other words I can fill in the gaps if I have fairly good comprehension and vocab.

But writing is different, you can get to a certain stage, but if you lack alphabet awareness writing would be an incredibly frustrating and spelling would be just about impossible.  In fact my writing would be incredibly hard to read, it would appear quite nonsensical.

This is true for these children, writing has become their barrier and now it seems painfully obvious why,....the initial building blocks of literacy that is our alphabet has not been firmly cemented in the learning wall...thus it is falling over.

And so I got to thinking...how have we missed this, how have they gotten through each year level without us realising their alphabet knowledge was so lacking?

I have some hunches on this:

1) If a child is not cognitively ready for school when they start, they are going to miss that early phonetic learning simply because these connections are not yet ready to be made.
2)We pick most children up early because of their reading progress, or lack of it...we are often more delayed with picking up their writing in terms of invented spelling or lack of it.
3) By the time children are cognitively more ready for making these early connections we have moved onto word families and blends...so they start to pick up this knowledge, but individual sounds may be a mystery to them, and we just expect them to know.
4)There is a strong link to numeracy progress here and helping in one area, seems to also benefit the other.

So what can we do to ensure these children get picked up earlier and we can cement those initial bricks in the wall firmly so it does not fall over later?

**I think we just need to reframe what we look for in terms of early indicators....particularly looking for invented spelling and the ability to sound out words with dominant sounds....if this is not happening by the end of the  first 18 months or second year  it is probably a good sign that early phonetic awareness is not in place and we should leap in and help those connections to be made before frustration and bad habits along with writing reluctance sets in.
I will be adding this as an indicator when looking at target students.

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