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The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment

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THE EFFECTS OF SYNTHETIC PHONICS TEACHING ON READING AND SPELLING ATTAINMENT

CHAPTER FIVE PUPIL AND TEACHER QUESTIONNAIRES

5.1 In this chapter we examine the children's attitudes to reading in their last year at school and also report the teachers' views of the programme.

ATTITUDES TO READING

5.2 In June of Primary 7, the children filled in a questionnaire that asked them about their attitudes to reading (ATR2, Ewing and Johnstone, 1981, see Appendix 2). An overall score was calculated, the higher the score the more positive the child's attitude, see Table 5.1. In Ewing and Johnstone's (1981) original study, girls were found to have a more positive attitude to reading than boys. There was a similar finding in the PIRLS study of 10 year olds in 35 countries (Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez, & Kennedy 2003), where it was also found that more girls than boys reported reading fiction, while comparable percentages of girls and boys read non-fiction.

Table 5.1
Primary 7 ATR2 Attitudes to Reading Questionnaire, mean score (standard deviations in brackets)

Boys

Girls

Attitude score

53.6
(13.3)

61.1
(13.3)

N

116

108

5.3 The maximum possible score was 90. A one way analysis of variance showed that the girls had a more positive attitude to reading than the boys, F(1, 222)=17.7, p<.001.

5.4 We added three questions of our own ( See Appendix 2)

Are you a member of a public library outside school?

The mean for the boys was 1.5 and for girls it was 1.3, F(1,221)=4.7, p<.001. As a higher score for this question indicated more 'no' responses, this means that fewer boys belonged to a public library than girls.

How much do you like reading?

It was found that girls reported liking reading more than boys (mean for boys 3.2, mean for girls, 3.8), F(1,222)= 14.3, p<.001.

How much fiction/non-fiction do you read?

A higher score here indicated greater fiction reading. The mean for boys was 3.4, and the mean for girls was 3.3. There was no significant difference in responses made by boys versus girls, F(1,222)<1. The mean scores indicate that the children's average score fell between the category of reading equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction and the category of reading more fiction than non-fiction. Thus there was a slight skew towards more fiction reading in the sample. Most studies show boys to read more non-fiction than girls (Mullis et al 2003), so this was an atypical finding.

TEACHERS' VIEW OF THE SYNTHETIC PHONICS PROGRAMME

5.5 At the end of the seven year longitudinal study, a short Questionnaire was distributed to each of the eight schools in the study to find out the teachers' reactions to the effects of the synthetic phonics programme on reading and spelling attainment. All were returned, some completed by teachers who had delivered the programme, others by the head teachers themselves. It should be noted that these comments do not necessarily relate to the programme when it was first implemented, and may relate to the programme as currently implemented. The teachers' responses are as follows:

5.6 Do you feel that the teaching of reading, spelling and writing has become more accelerated in Primary 1 since the synthetic phonics programme started?

School

Teachers' Responses

1

Yes, definitely accelerated. However, for the last two years, composite classes have had to be used and this type of management slowed down the pace.

2

Yes. Best results ever achieved - never seen before in 30 years of teaching. One child writing own story aged 4. Writing and spelling amazing. I would normally have expected such work at Primary 3 stage. Children also very motivated. (Primary 2 teacher).

3

Yes.

4

Yes, without doubt. Teachers, pupils and parents enjoy the challenging pace, the systematic approach and the daily routine.

5

Yes. There is a quicker pace to the teaching of phonics and writing. The reading scheme was introduced six years ago and complements the skills taught in the synthetic phonics programme.

6

Yes. Previously only worked on 26 single sounds in P1 - blending didn't start to P2. Holistic approach has seen acceleration and improved attainment in reading/spelling scores.

7

Yes.

8

Children read faster, using phonological awareness to aid independent writing. Care should still be taken to balance pace of lessons, consolidation and retention. Children have more ownership and understanding of why they need sounds and how they read.

5.7 Do you feel that since the programme started teachers have higher expectations of the level that can be achieved in reading, spelling and writing in Primary 1?

School

Teachers' Responses

1

Teachers do have higher expectations though it can depend on the teacher e.g.a late entrant to teaching and a composite class.

2

Yes. Children are reading earlier because they are blending the sounds that they know. Improved confidence is helping their spelling and writing too.

3

Yes.

4

Yes. When staff are challenged, this helps to motivate them to challenge pupils.

5

Yes, there has been a raising of overall expectations of the children. This is especially so with children who require additional support in these areas.

6

Definitely. Building on success and earlier intervention to support less able pupils keep up with the pace and this is paying dividends. We know our children can achieve therefore don't make excuses e.g. 'this is an area of deprivation'. We make a difference and we can prove it!

7

Expectations were raised initially. The accelerated pace of teaching and learning became the norm. Over 7 years the pace has varied.

8

Much higher expectations but with the appropriate supports given as suggested in the programme and use of personal judgment.

5.8 Do you feel that children needing learning support are detected sooner? At what stage are they identified now and at what stage would they have been typically identified before the programme started?

School

Teachers' Responses

1

We have always tried to identify children needing learning support as early as possible, usually before Christmas. However with the synthetic phonics programme we can now recognise whether the problems are auditory/visual.

2

Yes. Children are now being identified by the end of the Christmas term in Primary 1. Before the programme started this was probably not done until the end of Primary 1 and into Primary 2.

3

Yes. We are monitoring progress in Primary 1 and beginning catch-up groups in the summer term. Learning Support in place for children by early Primary 2. Often this would have been P3 before the programme started.

4

Yes. Identified pre-Christmas. Prior to the programme, pre-Easter.

5

Due to the steps in teaching phonics, we are able to offer support earlier by utilising our support staff in activities modelled in class by teachers. We have found that for some children this "catch-up" group situation whereby they have additional 10 minutes support time regularly is all that is required to support their learning.

6

Yes. Support for Learning is involved in providing support for those pupils who require extra reinforcement or who have had a period of absence (necessary because of pace of programme) in flexible groups from November of P1 onwards. Previously Support for Learning intervention would have been at the beginning of P2 because pace of teaching was so slow in P1.

7

Gains are identified clearly due to having baseline assessments. Any children who are not gaining in line with expectations are noticed quickly. Teachers would use a range of informal/formal assessments, professional judgment being to the fore. Children would be identified as they are currently - what we would have done about it is another question.

8

Yes. By the end of the first set of letters children who may have difficulty can be highlighted. By Christmas some of these children will no longer by a concern as they needed time to settle and adapt to school. By January, Primary 1, it is very clear who will need significant support.

5.9 Please add any other comments you would like to make.

School

Teachers' Responses

1,2,3

No extra comments.

4

Synthetic phonics sets the standard'

5

We have found the synthetic approach very positive and effective. Our pupils in P1-P3 continue to achieve steadily. We continue to review and monitor the learning and teaching programme in this area and the support strategies that we have in place.

6

Involvement with synthetic phonics was a professional 'life-changing' experience that changed the teaching of English language in our school.

7

The children are very good decoders and encoders to a certain level. Comprehension levels are not in line with the decoding and encoding skills. *

8

Synthetic phonics has provided staff development opportunities alongside curricular development and has empowered both teachers and pupils .

*It should be noted that there are limitations on increasing reading comprehension, such as listening comprehension, verbal ability, general knowledge and memory. These factors have less effect on the development of word reading and spelling skills. Therefore it is harder to increase reading comprehension that word reading and spelling.

5.10 It can be seen that teachers have found that the children's literacy skills are much improved, that the less able pupils seem to gain particular benefit and that the children experiencing difficulties can be detected much earlier than they were before. It is also evident that teachers now have much higher expectations of what their pupils can achieve.

SUMMARY

5.11 In this chapter we examined children's attitudes to reading and teachers' views of the programme.

  • It was found that the girls showed a more positive attitude to reading than the boys, and made more use of the public library, despite having lower word recognition skills
  • No difference was found between boys and girls in the extent to which they read fiction, contrary to the findings of an international study of 10 year olds in 35 countries
  • The teachers felt that reading, spelling and writing skills had been greatly accelerated by the programme
  • In terms of detecting children needing learning support, teachers reported that they were now able to do this much earlier.