I’m devoting my life to promoting the need for systematic synthetic phonics teaching and learning in the English language to teach reading and spelling.
So – this is about teaching beginners (whatever their age) to learn the MANY letter/s-sound correspondences of the English alphabetic code, to be able to decode new and unknown printed words very proficiently and independently (and understand about the notion of ‘pronunciation alternatives’); to be able to spell words (which includes the skill of oral segmenting and learning to handwrite the various spelling alternatives) – and understand about the notion of spelling alternatives (graphemes) as code for the ‘sounds of speech’ when spelling – which leads to raising awareness about the need to build up and recall spelling word banks.
Fundamental for gaining the best results possible for all the learners (and this is a LIFE CHANCE issue), is that EACH learner has his or her own practice and I suggest that there is nothing more fit-for-purpose (that is, no more sensible medium) through which to gain this practice than a core, multi-skills ‘Activity Sheet’ – a paper and pencil based routine – along with applying the knowledge and skills learned to a growing bank of cumulative sentences and texts for equally intensive practice!
On EACH ‘Activity Sheet’, the focus alphabetic code knowledge (the letter/s-sound correspondence/s) is included, plus a bank of cumulative words of all lengths and complexities, with handwriting opportunities linked to the focus code linking ‘sounds’ to ‘graphemes’. Vocabulary enrichment, phonemic awareness (the awareness of sounds in spoken words), spelling-with-editing – are all included. Activity Sheets are a pretty amazing, all- encompassing resource – and so simple to re-produce (photocopying or printing), so simple to mark and collate – and so simple to send ‘home’ to inform parents (and, if possible, work in partnership with parents).
More than that, they BELONG to EACH pupil providing a permanent, growing and substantial bank of words (and linked to these – paper-based cumulative sentences and texts). They celebrate and track progress, they inform ‘home’, they provide an instant bank of material of the core knowledge and skills for any revision necessary – and they can also include some quick drawing/colouring activities to both engage the learner and to act as a mnemonic system (aid to memory).
In short, they provide MASSIVE routine core knowledge and skills practice for EACH learner – to be accessed at the level of each learner and to be completed in a time-frame unique to the learner (as fast or as slow as the learner needs to work). Learners trained in the routines can undertake the activities independently or be supported appropriately by an adult as necessary.
They can be designed to be used with ANY AGE learner because it is the SAME alphabetic code knowledge and core phonics skills which need to be learned and embedded.
BUT – and this is a HUGE ‘but’…
In England, there is worryingly growing trend for leaders of teachers, and teachers themselves, to dismiss out of hand the use of anything perceived as a ‘worksheet’. Some schools boast of being a ‘worksheet free’ school.
Personally, I think this is the teaching world gone mad.
I totally understand that the daily ‘diet’ for many young learners may be, or may have been, a gross overuse of ‘worksheets’ of which at least some of the worksheets may have been badly designed and inappropriate – perhaps amounting to nothing more than ‘busy work’ or a ‘time filler’.
There are many subject areas where there ARE far more fit-for-purpose, inspiring, creative – and more appropriately memorable – methods for teaching and for learning than through using a stream of worksheets.
But surely this is not grounds for dismissing the potential role of worksheets with a blanket ban!
Teachers should be able to EVALUATE the methods and materials for delivering teaching and learning according to the subject-matter concerned, an understanding of the age of the learner, an understanding that no matter what the age of the learner, a variety of activities across a school day, and a school week, a school term, is always desirable.
Some things are better taught and learned in a simple, routine way – some things are better taught and learned in an active and creative way. Some things are better taught and learned calmly in the classroom, and some things are better taught and learned in the outdoor environment or further afield than the school.
But the blanket ban on ‘worksheets’ beggars belief in my opinion.
Surely everything we do and provide as teaching professionals needs a thorough and periodic evaluation – including our prevailing working and learning conditions.
There seems to be a trend in England where ‘multi-sensory’ means all singing, all dancing, all technology, or outdoors come what may, all entertainment, all ‘interactive’ – no matter what the knowledge and skills to be acquired.
The idea of ‘evaluation’ of what is truly ‘fit-for-purpose’ is not evident in some cases – and I am incredulous about those schools where there is a blanket ban on ‘worksheets’.
The TES thread (link above) provides some proof of my worst fears – that the banning of the ‘worksheet’ (no matter how fit-for-purpose it may be) is coming, at least in some cases, from some people in our teaching profession who hold high authority over teachers themselves – their line managers, their headteachers, their advisors.
What I predict is that those schools overseas where teachers are following the debate about synthetic phonics teaching versus other methods, and are taking on board the advisability of promoting consistent systematic synthetic phonics teaching – and who are not adverse to simple, routine, fit-for-purpose, core phonics practice – will get results streets ahead of those ‘anti-worksheet’ English schools.
Let’s watch this space.