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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 EIGHT PRIMARY 1 to PRIMARY 7

UNDERACHIEVING CHILDREN

PROPORTION OF UNDERACHIEVERS FROM PRIMARY 1 TO PRIMARY 7

8.1 In previous sections, analyses have been carried out on the same sample of children from Primary 2 to Primary 7 for word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension. This was so that an exact measure could be made of how much performance on these tests increased year by year. However, this procedure excludes all of the children that were not present for testing in even one year, and therefore may leave out some low achievers.

8.2 The question arises as to how to define underachievement. In studies of reading disorders, performing more than two years below chronological age is considered to constitute a severe literacy disorder so this categorisation has been adopted here. The numbers who were more than 1 year behind chronological age also have been calculated . (See Table 8.1)

TABLE 8.1
Number of pupils in May/June of Primary 2 more than 1 and 2 years behind chronological age in word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension, percent in brackets

More than 1 year behind

More than 2 years behind

Boys

Girls

Total

Boys

Girls

Total

Word reading
N=268

5 (3.5%)

1 (0.8%)

6 (2.2%)

0

0

0

Spelling
N=265

3 (2.2%)

0

3 (1.1%)

1 (0.7%)

0

1 (0.4%)

Reading comprehension
N=258

8 (6.0%)

5 (4.0%)

13 (5.0%)

0

0

0

8.3 As the children were around 6 years 8 months of age at this stage (Primary 2) and the lowest scores obtainable on these tests was around 5.0 years, a child could only be over two years behind chronological age in literacy skills if they had entered school a year late. However, it can be seen that the proportion of children reading and spelling more than 1 year behind was very modest. The vast majority of the children had made a good start in literacy acquisition.

TABLE 8.2
Number of pupils in May/June Primary 3 more than 1 and 2 years behind chronological age in word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension, percent in brackets

More than 1 year behind

More than 2 years behind

Boys

Girls

Total

Boys

Girls

Total

Word reading
N=251

4 (3.1%)

1 (0.8%)

5 (2.0%)

2 (1.6%)

0

2 (0.8%)

Spelling
N=253

8 (6.1%)

2 (1.6%)

10 (4.0%)

1 (0.8%)

0

1 (0.4%)

Reading comprehension
N=245

25 (20.5%)

19 (15.5%)

44 (18.0%)

2 (1.6%)

1 (0.8%)

3 (1.2%)

8.4 By Primary 3 it is feasible to examine whether some children were showing a serious lag between their age and their literacy attainments (see Table 8.2). The children were around 7 years and 8 months old (primary 3) and it can be seen that only a small proportion were performing below a 5 years and 8 months level (See Table 8.2 above).

TABLE 8.3
Number of pupils in May/June Primary 4 more than 1 and 2 years behind chronological age in word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension, percent in brackets

More than 1 year behind

More than 2 years behind

Boys

Girls

Total

Boys

Girls

Total

Word reading
N=252

11 (8.6%)

4 (3.2%)

15 (6.0%)

0

0

0

Spelling
N=249

13 (10.3%)

9 (7.3%)

22 (8.8%)

1 (0.8%)

0

1 (0.4%)

Reading comprehension
N=245

23 (18.9%)

15 (12.2%)

38 (15.5%)

1 (0.8%)

3 (2.4%)

4 (1.6%)

8.5 The children were around 8 years and 8 months old at this stage (Primary 4) with a very small proportion performing below a 6 years 8 months old level (See Table 8.3 above)

TABLE 8.4
Number of pupils in May/June Primary 5 more than 1 and 2 years behind chronological age in word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension, percent in brackets

More than 1 year behind

More than 2 years behind

Boys

Girls

Total

Boys

Girls

Total

Word reading
N=245

15 (12.1%)

6 (5.0%)

21 (8.6%)

4 (3.2%)

0

4 (1.6%)

Spelling
N=239

17 (14.3%)

13 (10.8%)

30 (12.6%)

3 (2.5%)

1(0.8%)

4 (1.7%)

Reading comprehension
N=240

23 (19.2%)

23 (19.2%)

46 (19.2%)

9 (7.5%)

1 (0.8%)

12(5.0%)

8.6 At the age of around 9 years and 8 months of age (Primary 5) a modest proportion of children are behind in word reading and spelling, but more children are experiencing problems with reading comprehension. (See Table 8.4 above)

TABLE 8.5
Number of pupils in May/June Primary 6 more than 1 and 2 years behind chronological age in word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension, percent in brackets

More than 1 year behind

More than 2 years behind

Boys

Girls

Total

Boys

Girls

Total

Word reading
N=239

16(12.3%)

20 (17.0%)

36 (15.1%)

10(8.3%)

10 (8.5%)

20(8.4%)

Spelling
N=235

20 (16.5%)

17(14.4%)

37(15.7%)

6(5.0%)

1(0.8%)

7(3.0%)

Reading comprehension
N=235

36 (30.8%)

33(28.0%)

69 (29.4%)

21 (18.0)

17 (14.4%)

38(16.2%)

8.7 At around 10 years and 8 months of age (Primary 6) there been a noticeable increase in children with low levels of word reading ability, and reading comprehension problems are more apparent. (See Table 8.5 above)

TABLE 8.6
Number of pupils in May/June Primary 7 more than 1 and 2 years behind chronological age in word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension, percent in brackets

More than 1 year behind

More than 2 years behind

Boys

Girls

Total

Boys

Girls

Total

Word reading
N=236

12(10.0%)

16(13.6%)

28(11.9%)

8(6.7%)

5(4.3%)

13(5.6%)

Spelling
N=237

27(22.5%)

30(25.6%)

57(24.0%)

14 (11.7%)

12 (10.3%)

24(10.1%)

Reading comprehension
N=228

36(31.0%)

27(24.0%)

63(27.6%)

21(18.1%)

11(9.8%)

32(14.0%)

8.8 At 11 years and 8 months of age (Primary 7) the proportion of word reading problems had fallen back a little from Primary 6 levels, but the level of reading comprehension problems was static.

8.9 The skills trained by the synthetic phonics programme -word reading and spelling- showed quite low levels of children experiencing severe problems. However, it will be necessary to collect control data to establish what would be typical levels of underachievement in a non-synthetic phonics programme.

8.10 The proportion of children having difficulties in reading comprehension is much higher, although given that mean performance was still significantly above what would be expected for chronological age, the proportion of children in difficulty may be modest compared with other literacy programmes.

8.11 What is not clear from the above analysis is the extent to which literacy problems were stable. That is, does the child who makes a slow start always lag behind? Juel (1988) has argued that this is so. In the next section we examine in detail the progress of one low achieving child from Primary 1 to Primary 7 and compare his progress with that of a group of 16 children who in Primary 4 were reading 12 months or more behind chronological age.

A CASE STUDY

BACKGROUND

8.12 AF was one of the pupils involved in the research study. As a pre-school child, he was described as being globally poor with both receptive and expressive language. He had attended a Pre-5 Language Unit housed in the school for an extra year. Multi-agency services, in conjunction with AF's mother, made the decision to defer his entry to formal schooling for one year to improve his self esteem and confidence, his social and emotional development and enhance his life experiences. On entering Primary 1 in August 1997, his chronological age was 5.9 years and he was allocated a Supervisory Assistant to support his learning.

PRIMARY 1 to PRIMARY 3

PRE AND POST TESTS

8.13 Two weeks after entering school in September, pre-tests were carried out with all of the children who would be involved in the research, including AF. Receptive vocabulary knowledge was tested using the British Vocabulary Scale (Dunn & Dunn, 1982). This yielded a score of 54 for AF giving a percentile ranking of below -1. Pre-tests were then carried out on the following range of literacy and phonological awareness tasks and AF's scores are given.

Test used

AF's response

Literacy skills, letter knowledge, word reading, spelling and nonword reading.

Letter knowledge:26 letters- names sounds

AF knew one letter name (3.8%)
He did not know any letter sounds.

British Ability Scales Word Reading

Nil score.
Notional reading age of 4.9y (59m) recorded.

Schonell Spelling Test

Nil score
Notional spelling age of 5.0y (60m) recorded

Nonword reading - 20 CVC words

Nil score

Phonological Skills, phoneme segmentation and rhyme generation.

Yopp-Singer Test -22 words

Nil score

Rhyme Generation -12 words

Nil score

ANALYTIC PHONICS TAUGHT FOR TERMS 1 AND 2, PRIMARY 1

8.14 AF's class was one of the Primary 1 classes allocated to the Analytic phonics and phonemic awareness group (AP+PA). With the AP+PA classes, a phoneme-and-rime awareness programme was carried out for 10 minutes a day for 8 weeks before Christmas and 8 weeks after Christmas, involving the analysis and synthesis of sounds in spoken words without reference to print (Cunningham, 1990). Daily phonics teaching was also carried out for 10 minutes per day using a systematic but gradual analytic method, whereby one letter sound per week was introduced in the initial position of words together with learning to form letters.

8.15 The pre and post test results for both the AP+PA group and for AF are shown in Table 8.7. Irregular word reading was also included for the post-test ( see Chapter 2), the words being selected from the BAS Word Reading Test judged as being difficult to read by sounding and blending. The BPVS test was not repeated for the post-test in March of Term 2.

TABLE 8.7
AF's pre and post test scores compared with scores of the analytic phonics + phonemic awareness research group (AP+PA) in September Term 1 (pre-test) and March Term 2 of Primary 1 (post-test) 1997/98.

Pre-Test
Primary 1 September
Post-Test
Primary 1 March

AF

AP+PA

AF

AP+PA

Chronological Age (years)

5.9

5.0

6.3

5.4

BPVS

54

90.2

-

-

Reading Age (years)

4.9

4.9

4.9

5.4

Spelling Age (years)

5.0

5.0

5.0

5.3

Letter knowledge (names)

3.8%

12.3%

0%

12.03%

Letter knowledge (sounds)

0%

4.73%

42%

59.19%

Phoneme segmentation

0%

2.7%

0%

34.7%

Rhyme generation

0%

21.9%

0%

36.4%

Nonword reading for sounding and blending CVC sequences

0%

0.6%

0%

15.8%

Irregular words

0%

15.3%

8.16 It can be seen from the above figures that AF has progressed to some degree in his knowledge of letter sounds (42%) (11 letter sounds). However, until pupils can blend 3 sounds together accurately, they do not have an adequate self-teaching system and both AF's reading and spelling remained at floor level, as they were at the pretest. AF had had 2 terms in school being taught by analytic phonics, paying attention to the initial letter of words and guessing the rest of the word. So far, the blending process with print had not formed part of the daily programme. It must also be worthy of note that in spite of being in the AP+PA programme and receiving very specific phoneme and rime awareness training without alphabetic stimuli, AF has made no progress in developing phonological awareness skills compared with the rest of the AP+PA research group (n =78) who now had mean scores of 34.7% for phonemic awareness and 36.4% for rhyme generating ability respectively.

PRIMARY 1 JUNE TERM 3

SYNTHETIC PHONICS TAUGHT TO ANALYTIC PHONICS + PHONEMIC AWARENESS GROUP AND THE ANALYTIC PHONICS ONLY GROUP

8.17 After the post-test analyses had been carried out in March of Primary 1, all of the children in the analytic phonics and AP+PA groups (including AF) were taught using the synthetic phonics programme. In May of the following school year, Primary 2 (1999) all of the children were re-tested on the BAS Word Reading Test, the Schonell Spelling Test and the reading comprehension Primary Reading Test (France, 1981). Table 8.8 shows that AF's reading age had increased by 8 months, now that he can follow a systematic procedure to read unknown words. His spelling age still remained at floor level but this could have been due to slow development of his handwriting skills. Both AF's reading and spelling age are well below the average ages for the children in his AP+PA group.

TABLE 8.8
AF's scores compared with the scores of the analytic phonics + phonemic awareness group (AP+PA) in June of Term 3 Primary 2 (1999) alongside AF's post-test scores in Primary 1 March of Term 2 for comparison.

PRIMARY 1 MARCH TERM2PRIMARY 2 JUNE TERM 3

AF

AF

AP+PA

Chronological Age ( years)

6.3

7.6

6.7

Reading Age (years)

4.9

5.6

7.6

Spelling Age (years)

5.0

5.0

7.4

INDIVIDUAL EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMME (IEP)

8.18 AF had a history of delayed speech and language development coupled with a hearing difficulty which had a direct bearing on his speech abilities. In November of Primary 2 the multi-agencies involved with AF highlighted the following areas of concern and agreed upon achievable success criteria. It was also noted that AF needed immediate feedback and constant reassurance.

8.19 Areas of concern which were highlighted were poor coordination and delayed language development.

  • POOR CO-ORDINATION. A motor movement programme was initiated to improve spatial perception, spatial awareness and fine motor control.
  • DELAYED LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT. A language therapy programme was implemented, to be taught and monitored by the speech therapist and the learning support teacher, to improve poor articulation, oral communication, listening and attention skills, spatial concepts, and understanding of grammatical structures. Listening ability was deemed an area of comparative strength that should be fostered, whilst continuing to improve his sound blending, visual memory, visual discrimination and visual closure.

IDENTIFYING % OF LOW ACHIEVERS

8.20 At the end of Primary 2, an examination was made of how many children in the total sample (i.e. all 3 initial research groups) were experiencing reading problems. Only 2.2% of the children had reading ages more than 12 months behind chronological age. From the above Table 8.8, it can be seen that AF was included in this 2.2%, performing 24 months below his chronological age. Although his chronological age was 11 months ahead of the other children, AF had of course received the same amount of schooling as the other children.

8.21 Table 8.9 below shows the mean reading and spelling ages for total sample in Primary 3 (n=251) who were now reading 17 months ahead of chronological age and spelling 9 months ahead of chronological age. AF's reading age at this time was 6.1 years, 31 months behind his chronological age of 8.7 years. The proportion of children reading 12 months or more behind chronological age was now 2.0%, AF being now more than 2 years behind his chronological age. No score for AF's spelling was available for this test period. It is likely that AF had not been presented for the class spelling test as it required a written response and his handwriting skills were developing at a slow rate.

TABLE 8.9
AF's chronological, reading and spelling ages compared with the chronological, reading and spelling ages of the total sample of pupils in June of Term 3 of Primary 3 (2000).

PRIMARY 3, JUNE TERM 3

Total sample

AF

Chronological Age ( years)

8.7

7.75

Reading Age (years)

6.1

9.2

Spelling Age (years)

-

8.5

8.22 The following figure (Fig.8.1) traces the differences between AF's chronological age and word reading age from the initial pre-test in September of Term 1 Primary 1 to June of Term 3 of Primary 3. It is noteworthy that there was no improvement between AF's reading age at the start of schooling and at the end of the second term, during which period he was being taught by an analytic phonics and phonemic awareness training programme, 4.9 years being the score we assigned to non-readers. However, once he had been introduced to the synthetic phonics programme and he was able to sound and blend successive letters to read unknown words, his word reading began to improve.

FIGURE 8.1

Figure 8.1 Differences between AF's chronological age and reading age from Primary 1 to Primary 3

PRIMARY 4 TO PRIMARY 5

DETAILED EXAMINATION OF LOW ACHIEVERS, Term 2 PRIMARY 4.

8.23 In January of Primary 4, 30 children recording a reading age of 6 or more months below chronological age at the end of Primary 3, plus 2 teacher referrals of children who were giving cause for concern, were selected for a more detailed examination on a range of related tasks. 10 children were found to be reading 12 months or more below their chronological age at this time (including AF).

8.24 The results for AF for the detailed examination in January of Primary 4 are shown in Table 8.10 alongside the results for the post test in March of Primary 1 (Table 8.7) and the scores for the children reading 12 months or more behind chronological age. In general, the total sample was tested in May/June each year but supplementary testing of underachievers was carried out in March.

Table 8.10
AF's scores for literacy and phonological skills in March of Term 2, Primary 1 (Table 8.7) and his scores in January of Term 2 Primary 4, compared with literacy and phonological awareness scores in January of Primary 4 for children reading 12 months or more behind chronological age for comparison.

AF Mar P1

AF Jan P4

Pupils 12months or more behind CA, Jan P4, N=9

Chronological age (years)

6.3

9.3

8.4

Reading age (years)

4.9

6.8

7.2

Spelling age (years )

5.0

7.0

7.0

Letter knowledge (names)

0%

7.7%

78%

Letter knowledge (sounds)

42%

100%

87%

Phoneme segmentation

0%

100%

66.7%

Generating rhyme

0%

0%

75%

Nonword reading,sounding and blending CVC sequences

0%

100%

87.2%

8.25 The above Table 8.10 demonstrates that AF now had a higher level of letter sound knowledge and phoneme segmentation than the average for the other 9 pupils reading more than 12 months behind chronological age. His score on the non-word reading test shows that he could now sound and blend letter sounds to pronounce CVC unfamiliar words - the critical skill in the synthetic phonics approach. AF's reading age was now 30 months below chronological age. At this time he carried out a spelling test with written words and we now have a score for his spelling. AF was spelling at 28 months below his chronological age at the start of Term 2, Primary 4.

ANALYSIS OF READING AND SPELLING INACCURACIES IN JANUARY OF PRIMARY 4.

8.26 An analysis of AF's inaccurate responses for the BAS Word Reading Test is quite revealing. The following examples reveal that he is processing all of the letters in each word, e.g.

JANUARY PRIMARY 4 - WORD READING

Test word

AF's attempt

Test word

AF's attempt

ring

rink

skin

skip no- skin

sport

sp-or-t
initial consonant blend correct, could not blend sounds into the word

climb

c-l-i-m-b sounding each letter, could not blend sounds into the word

ladies

ladies using the short /a/ vowel sound

lawn

l-a-nn not yet recognising vowel digraph /aw/

8.27 We can see that AF can use the phonics letter sound procedure he has been taught but that he is still having difficulty with the blending process. There are a number of such examples in his responses e.g. sport, climb and lawn. However, he managed to realise that 'skip' was incorrect and changed it to the required 'skin'.

8.28 AF's inaccurate attempts at spelling also demonstrate that he was using phonics to spell the word, e.g.

TEST DATE JANUARY PRIMARY 4, SPELLING

Test word

AF's attempt

Test word

AF's attempt

hay

hai

call

col

year

yeer

boat

boot

From AF's attempts the teacher can gain an insight into what is required for teaching purposes e.g.

  • 'hai' for 'hay' -AF has the wrong spelling for the vowel digraph. He needs to know that /ai/ is used in the middle of a word, and that /ay/ is used at the end of the word; the same goes for /oi/ and /oy/. This is a spelling rule that he needs to learn.
  • 'yeer' for 'year'- AF needs to know when to use /ea/ and when to use /ee/, i.e. to know when the word 'looks right'.
  • 'boot' for 'boat' - AF also needs to distinguish the /oo/ and /oa/ sound. AF seems to know that he needs a vowel digraph but is not sure which one 'looks right'.
  • 'col' for 'call' - This is a phonic spelling but AF needs to know that the short vowel /o/ sound can also be spelt as 'a' as in 'call'.

HANDWRITING SKILLS

8.29 Looking at AF's handwriting in the spelling test:

  • his letter formation was recognisable
  • he was using a 'flick' on appropriate letters
  • there were no reversals of letters and
  • he was not joining up the letters

JUNE OF PRIMARY 4

8.30 In June 2001, at the end of Primary 4, the 10 children who had been reading 12 months below chronological age in January were again assessed in reading and spelling along with the total sample of children. It was found that no child in the sample was 2 or more years behind in reading, AF's reading age now being 23 months below chronological age

8.31 Research studies of reading disorders for this age group typically select children who are 2 or more years behind in reading. Therefore, on this criterion, none of the children would be categorised as being severely reading disordered. Nevertheless, there was continued concern for AF.

8.32 At this stage an analysis of the reading and spelling errors made by all children identified as reading 12 months or more behind chronological age was carried out. There were now 16 children in this category. Although the principle of sounding and blending had been grasped, it seemed likely that the children had not taken the next step for themselves and seen the regularities in English orthography. However, one of the peripatetic Support for Learning (SfL) teachers had observed that some of the children expected to read words automatically and appeared to have forgotten the synthetic phonics procedure for tackling unknown words. They had forgotten what to do and needed to revisit the more complex phonic rules. It was decided to design a supplementary programme to help these 16 pupils (7% of the total sample) overcome their weaknesses. It was envisaged that this programme, Phonics Revisited, could be started in Primary 5 after the diagnostic testing had been administered.

DIAGNOSTIC TESTING IN PRIMARY 5

8.33 In Term 2 of Primary 5 (March 2002), the 16 children described above carried out reading, spelling and vocabulary tests. It was found that only 11 of the 16 pupils (including AF) were still reading 12 months or more behind chronological age after testing, a drop from 7% to 4.5% of the total sample. We also administered a diagnostic test of phonics knowledge using nonwords to assess the ability of the children to read various orthographic structures. (See Table 8.11) Using nonwords is a better test of phonic skill than using real words, as it removes the effects of specific word knowledge. Five different types of one syllable nonwords were generated, there being 12 of each type, namely

  • initial consonant blends e.g. 'plud'
  • final consonant blends e.g. 'wolp'
  • vowel digraphs e.g. 'yoot'
  • vowel lengthening silent 'e' e.g. 'sode'
  • initial consonant blends and vowel digraphs e.g. 'blain'

8.34 The diagnostic test of phonics knowledge (Table 8.11) showed that items with initial and final blends were read well. Difficulties with vowel digraphs and vowel lengthening silent 'e' were found. However, it is noteworthy that AF scored well above the average, recording 49 correct from 60 nonwords. His few inaccuracies were in the categories of silent 'e' and vowel digraphs. It is also interesting to note that his BPVS score (a measure of vocabulary knowledge) was now 75 (a percentile rank of 5) compared with a score of 54 in September of Primary 1, Term 1. This is, however, still below the average of 101.1 for the other 10 pupils being tested.

TABLE 8.11
AF's scores for reading, spelling, vocabulary and nonword reading in February/ March of Term 2, Primary 5 together with the average scores for children reading 12 months or more behind chronological age

AF

Pupils 12m or more behind CA, N = 10

Chronological age (years)

10.3

9.4

BPVS (Receptive vocabulary knowledge)

75

101.1

Reading age (years)

9.08

7.9

Spelling age (years )

8.9

7.8

Initial consonant blends

91.6%

72.5%

Final consonant blends

100%

75.8%

Vowel digraphs

100%

39.9%

Vowel lengthening silent 'e'

75%

19.2%

Initial blends and vowel digraphs

75%

51.6%

8.35 AF's reading and spelling ages were 9.1 years and 8.9 years respectively. He was now reading 15 months below chronological age, and spelling 17 months below chronological age, compared with reading 30 months below and spelling 28 months below chronological age in January of Primary 4.

ANALYSIS OF A F's READING AND SPELLING INACCURACIES IN FEB/MARCH OF TERM 2 PRIMARY 5

8.36 AF's reading and spelling responses were very illuminating. For example, on the BAS Word Reading Test in January of Primary 4, AF reached item 26, before he started to struggle with the words, pronouncing each letter sound accurately but being unable to blend them together. This did not now prove to be the case in March, Primary 5. AF read the first 60 words fluently and accurately. The attempts for the final 30 words again demonstrated that he was using the initial synthetic phonics procedure well, processing all of the letter sounds in each word and he attempted every word in the test.

EXAMPLES OF AF's ATTEMPTS

Test word

AF's attempt

Test word

AF's attempt

Test word

AF's attempt

territory

territor

ceiling

keeling

tentacle

ten-tackle

obscure

obscurr

exert

eexert

diameter

dime-etter

velocity

vello-kitty

criterion

critteron

jeopardy

joe-pardy

His weaknesses seemed to be:

  • not knowing when to use c/k
  • when 'c' sounds hard or soft
  • when 'u' sounds its name instead of the short vowel sound /u/

8.37 However, looking at the attempts above ('ten-tackle' for 'tentacle', 'ime-etter' for 'diameter', 'vello-kitty' for 'velocity' and 'joe-pardy' for 'jeopardy') AF was beginning to break up the long words. The principle of sounding and blending letters was now firmly established and he was starting to take the next step for himself, namely blending syllables. This was important, as his SfL teacher could now concentrate on the procedure for blending syllables into words.

SCHONELL SPELLING TEST

8.38 In January Primary 4, AF attempted 30 words. This time, i.e in March of Primary 5, he attempted 70 words. Examples of incorrect spellings in Primary 4 had included 'hai' for 'hay', 'col' for 'call', 'yeer' for 'year' and 'boot' for 'boat'. The spelling of all of these words was now correct. In the first 35 words, the only inaccuracies were 'pay' for 'pie', 'site' for 'sight' (although 'might' was correct) and 'brote' for 'brought'. However, his knowledge of the vowel digraphs 'igh' and 'ough' was still weak. In the next 35 words, there was evidence that after he had written a word, if he did not think it 'looked right' he scored out/rubbed out and tried again.

8.39 From his attempts, however, it was obvious that he was using phonemic spelling e.g. 'slipery' for 'slippery', 'pashent' for 'patient', 'generis' for 'generous'. This too was a valuable tool for the teacher to decide when to introduce syllable spelling, i.e.

  • breaking a word into syllables
  • spelling each syllable and
  • blending the syllables into the desired word.

8.40 For some of the words, we wondered if AF was hearing them correctly e.g. 'safedy' for 'safety', 'count' for 'account', 'simala' for 'similar'. However, a conversation with the SfL teacher did not support this idea. He did, however, have a speech problem and perhaps it may be that when he repeated the word to be spelt, this is how he 'heard' his own voice.

8.41 A further reason could be how he linked auditory language with the visual aspect, he may have thought 'account' was 'a count', count being the noun. The word 'account' could be outwith his aural vocabulary. AF did however spell correctly words such as 'mistake', 'stayed', 'join', 'direct', 'final', 'bargain' and 'library'.

HANDWRITING

8.42 Looking at AF's handwriting on the spelling response sheets, the letters were recognisable and the words were written within the spaces on the grid. However, there was still no sign of him joining up the letters and the letters M, J and L were written using the upper case version although they were written the same size as if they had been lower case. There were also examples of where he knew the word did not 'look right' e.g. 'fair' for 'fare', 'voo' for 'view', both of his first attempts being scored out.

PHONICS REVISITED

8.43 The Phonics Revisited programme was designed to be implemented by the class/SfL teacher, and was distributed to the relevant teachers during the second half of Primary 5. Phonics Revisited dealt with the more complex phonic rules that needed further reinforcement, based on the analysis of the test response sheets of the pupils reading 12 months or more behind chronological age. Rules covered were, for example,

  • silent 'e'
  • silent letters 'l','b','k','w','u'
  • vowel digraph rules ay/ai, oy/oi, ow/ ou, ow/oa, aw/au, ie and ue
  • the concept of word families.

8.44 By June of Term 3, Primary 5, the whole sample of children including the low achievers were again tested on the BAS Word Reading Test, the Schonell Spelling Test and the reading comprehension Primary Reading Test (France 1981) along with the total sample of children. AF's scores and the mean scores for all of the children are shown in Table 8.12.

Table 8.12
AF's chronological, reading, spelling and comprehension ages compared with the chronological, reading, spelling and comprehension ages of the total sample of pupils in June of Term 3 Primary 5 (2002)

AF

Total sample

Chronological Age ( years)

10.6

9.7

Reading Age (years)

9.2

11.6

Spelling Age (years)

8.9

10.3

Primary Reading Test (years)

8.0

9.9

8.45 AF was reading 17 months and spelling 20 months below his chronological age, compared with the total research cohort who were now reading 23 months, and spelling 8 months, above their chronological age. This time we had a reading comprehension score from AF of 8.0 years, but he did not attempt all of the examples on the last page.

8.46 The following figure (Fig.8.2) shows AF's chronological, reading and spelling ages in Primary 4 and Primary 5. It is noteworthy that there was now very little difference between his reading and spelling ages. Furthermore, there had been a noticeable improvement from the Primary 4 to the Primary 5 testing which may have been due to the implementation of the Phonics Revisited programme.

FIGURE 8.2

Figure 8.2 Differences between AF's chronological age and reading and spelling ages in Primaries 4 and 5

PRIMARY 6

8.47 In March Term 2, Primary 6, the 11 pupils who had been reading 12 months or more below chronological age in June of Primary 5 were tested again for BAS Word Reading, Schonell Spelling and nonword reading. Only 9 of these pupils then remained in the category of reading 12 months or more behind chronological age (including AF). The diagnostic nonword test still highlighted weaknesses with vowel digraphs and silent 'e'. This was not the case with AF, however. He now only recorded 3 inaccuracies; i.e., for 'folt' he read 'fawlt', for 'kour' he read 'koor' and for 'troag' he read 'troog'.

8.48 Table 8.13 shows that AF's reading age was now 10.2 years, 15 months below his chronological age. His spelling age was 10.1 years, 16 months below his chronological age. The Table also shows that for the first time, AF's reading and spelling ages were ahead of the remaining 8 children who were reading more than 12 months behind chronological age.

Table 8.13
AF's chronological, reading and spelling ages in March of Term 2, Primary 6 (2003) compared with the average chronological, reading and spelling ages for children reading 12 months or more behind chronological age.

AF

Pupils 12 months or more behind CA,N=8

Chronological age (years)

11.4

10.4

Reading age (years)

10.2

8.02

Spelling age (years )

10.1

7.9

ANALYSIS OF READING AND SPELLING INACCURACIES IN TERM 2 PRIMARY 6

BAS WORD READING TEST, MARCH OF PRIMARY 6.

8.49 In March of Primary 5, when the underachievers were tested, AF had read the first 60 words fluently and accurately. He now read the first 74 words fluently and accurately including the words 'territory', 'ceiling', 'tentacle' and 'jeopardy' which had been inaccurate in Primary 5. Again, AF attempted to read all of the words and only 13 words were inaccurately read, including those , which were also incorrect in Primary 5:

EXAMPLES OF AF's ATTEMPTS IN PRIMARY 5 AND PRIMARY 6

Test word

AF's attempt

Test word

AF's attempt

Test word

AF's attempt

P5 obscure

obscurr

exert

eexert

diameter

dime-etter

P6

obscur

exert

exet

diameter

di-meter

P5velocity

vello-kitty

criterion

critteron

jeopardy

joe-pardy

P6

vel-oticity

criterion

criteron

jeopardy

jeopardy

P6 nomadic

no maydic

lethal

leh thal

aborigine

a borigin

8.50 The Primary 5 analysis showed how AF was beginning to break up the words into smaller parts but he appeared to need more practice at blending the syllables together. AF was in the process of being introduced to this procedure at this time by the SfL teacher.

SCHONELL SPELLING TEST.

8.51 In March of Primary 5, AF attempted 70 words. In the first 35 words this time, the words 'pie' and 'sight' were now correct but for the word 'brought' AF still wrote 'brote'. In the second 35 words, 'slippery' and 'patient' were now correct but 'jeneris' for 'generous' was still inaccurate. AF still appeared to be using phonemic spelling e.g. 'headick' for 'headache', 'incress' for 'increase', 'copys' for 'copies', 'gest' for 'guest'. For the longer words, he did not seem yet to be breaking up the word into smaller parts to facilitate spelling, e.g. 'instushonn' for 'institution', 'orkrista' for 'orchestra'. AF was concentrating on the procedure for using spelling rules at this time. The next procedure for him would be:

  • learning to break up the desired word into syllables
  • spelling each syllable and
  • blending the syllables together into the required word.

HANDWRITING

8.52 From the spelling response sheets, there were a number of examples where he had attempted 'joined-up' writing, the combinations g and h, g and e, e and a, e and e, and e and n were joined. There was still evidence of some upper case letters being used, e.g. M, L and R, but written in the same size as the lower case version would have been.

8.53 We also administered the One Minute Reading Test to the total sample of children taken from the Manual of The Dyslexia Screening Test (Fawcett and Nicolson, 1996). The manual states that "this test is different from other English tests of single word reading, because it demands that the child produces a speeded as well as an accurate performance" The test provides an At Risk Index and each child's score falls into one of the following categories. Table 8.14 below also shows the number of the 9 pupils reading 12 months or more below chronological age alongside the numbers of the remaining pupils forming the total sample (n = 233) falling into each category.

Table 8.14
Scores for speed and accuracy of performance on the One Minute Reading Test of 9 low achievers reading 12 months or more below chronological age (including AF) compared with scores for the remaining 233 pupils of the total sample of pupils in June of Primary 6 (2003).

Category of Performance

Low achievers,
N=9

Remaining total sample of pupils
N = 233

Above average +

0

70

Mid-range 0

2

154

Below average 1

1

9

Well below average 2

6

0

Exceptionally poor 3

0

0

8.54 AF scored 55 compared with the mean score for the other 8 children of 16.5. It is certainly noteworthy that AF falls into the "mid-range performance" and indeed his score was the highest of the 9 children tested.

INDIVIDUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME (IEP) FOR LANGUAGE.

8.55 At this time, just before AF entered Primary 7, in his Individual Education Programme (Language) the SfL teacher was concentrating on:

  1. spelling rules and alternative spellings, i.e. does the word 'look right', 'try the other digraph' type of approach
  2. introducing the blending of syllables for tackling unknown words,
  3. investigating AF's problems with handwriting,
  4. investigating AF's problems with reading comprehension.

IEP FOR READING AND SPELLING.

8.56 The SfL teacher had noticed that AF was succeeding in tasks where he had a systematic, defined procedure to follow i.e. the synthetic phonics systematic procedure for tackling unknown words for reading and spelling - seeing, sounding and blending successive letters to read words, and hearing, sounding, writing and blending successive letters to spell and pronounce words. She was now introducing the blending procedures for tackling unknown 2/3 syllable words, identifying syllables, sounding and blending successive letters of the separate syllables then sounding and blending successive syllables to read the word. As the SfL teacher was concentrating on spelling rules and alternative spelling, it would be some time before she could introduce the procedure for spelling 2/3 syllable words. She only worked with AF for the three 45 minute sessions per week.

IEP FOR HANDWRITING

8.57 The SfL teacher continued to be concerned about AF's handwriting so she arranged for him to see an Occupational Therapist. The Occupational Therapist worked with AF in conjunction with a Physiotherapist who concentrated on strengthening his handwriting skills. The SfL teacher and supervisory assistant were also involved in carrying through the handwriting programmes on a daily basis. More emphasis was put on recording through using the computer and learning to touch type to boost his confidence to enable him to work faster and more efficiently.

IEP FOR COMPREHENSION

8.58 AF's performance for reading comprehension did not match his performance in word reading. AF was unavailable for this test in Primary 6. However, at the end of Primary 5, his chronological age was 10.6 years whereas his reading comprehension age was 8.0 years (noting that he did not actually complete the paper). It could be that the effort involved in reading the words left little processing capacity for him to comprehend what he was reading (Stanovich, 1986). To read both fluently and with comprehension, it is crucial that AF should proceed beyond reading at the surface level of the text without comprehension, graduating to reading with both fluency and comprehension.

8.59 To start to help AF move towards this goal, and bearing in mind how successful AF had been with tasks where he had a clear procedure to follow, the SfL teacher devised specific initial procedures for AF to follow starting at sentence level, e.g. identifying a sentence in a piece of text, highlighting key word(s) in a sentence, reading the key word, reading round the key word, returning to the beginning of the sentence and reading the whole sentence again. She would then ask questions about the sentence to which he responded orally. This was to help him read and get the meaning of a sentence and to build up his self-esteem and confidence. The SfL teacher devised a series of progressive procedures for comprehension that AF could follow to help him achieve the goal of reading fluently and with comprehension.

PRIMARY 7

8.60 AF's Individual Education Programme for reading, spelling and comprehension was implemented during Primary 7. At the end of March of Term 2, Primary 7, when low achievers were tested, only 9 of the original 16 pupils in the category of reading 12 months or more behind chronological age remained available for testing (including AF) Table 8.15 shows the scores for AF and the mean % scores for the remaining 8 children. The BPVS test was not administered at this time. For the first time, AF's reading age was now above his chronological age. For comparison the scores for March of Term 3 Primary 5 are also shown.

TABLE 8.15
AF's chronological, reading and spelling ages and scores for nonword reading categories together with the average chronological, reading and spelling ages and scores for nonword reading categories for children reading 12 months or more behind chronological age in March of Term 2 Primary 7 (2004) and March of Term 2 Primary 5 (2002) for comparison

MARCH PRIMARY 5MARCH PRIMARY 7

AF

Pupils 12m or more behind CA,
N=10

AF

Pupils 12 months or more behind CA,
N=8

Chronological age (years)

10.3

9.4

12.4

11.4

BPVS

75

101.1

-

-

Reading age (years)

9.08

7.9

13.1

8.8

Spelling age (years)

8.9

7.8

10.5

8.3

Initial consonant blends

91.6%

72.5%

100%

81%

Final consonant blends

100%

75.8%

100%

78.6%

Vowel digraphs

100%

39.9%

100%

46.4%

Vowel lengthening silent 'e'

75%

19.2%

100%

52.4%

Initial blends and vowel digraphs

75%

51.6%

100%

53.6%

8.61 Not only is AF's reading age now 9 months above his chronological age but for each category of the nonword diagnostic reading test, he scored 100%, well above the average scores for the other 8 pupils reading 12 months or more behind chronological age. Although AF's spelling was now 23 months below chronological age, it is still well above the average for the other 8 pupils.

ANALYSIS OF READING AND SPELLING INACCURACIES IN MARCH OF TERM 2 PRIMARY 7

BAS WORD READING TEST

8.62 At this time, AF's reading age was now 13.1 years, 9 months above his chronological age. He read the first 85 words of the test fluently and accurately except for the word 'dough' for which he read 'do'. Of the 5 remaining words, he read 'jeopardy' accurately again. His inaccuracies were: 'choose' for 'chaos', 'emharassing' for 'emphasise', 'aborine' for 'aborigine' and 'criteron' for 'criterion'. As all of the other words had been read swiftly, fluently and accurately, he tried to read these words in similar fashion and did not attempt to use the blending of syllables strategy which he had been learning.

SCHONELL SPELLING TEST.

8.63 AF's spelling age was 10.5, 23 months below his chronological age. AF again attempted 70 words. For the first 35 words, he was 100% correct. For the second 35 words, he scored 20 correct. The following errors were noted:

'ireland' for 'island': 'fair' for 'fare': 'irn' for 'iron': 'cam' for 'calm': 'headake' for 'headache': 'logh' for 'lodge': 'stile' for 'style': 'cushoin' for 'cushion': 'acount' for 'account': 'institoin' for 'institution': 'simaler' for 'similar': 'jenerasse' for 'generous' and 'ocustra' for 'orchestra'. Some of these inaccurate attempts are 'good' attempts e.g. ireland, fair, headake, stile, cushoin and acount.

8.64 AF also seemed to be using the alternative spelling strategy of whether or not the word 'looked right'. There were a number of examples where he had scored out his first attempt and tried another version. It is hoped that learning to use syllabic spelling will help AF as much as the syllable reading seems to have done with the multi-syllabic words.

HANDWRITING

8.65 There was a noticeable improvement in AF's handwriting from the spelling response sheet. The words were written with 'joined-up' writing, they were written in ink, there was only one example of using the upper case M instead of the lower case version.

PRIMARY 1 TO PRIMARY 7

8.66 The following figure (Fig.8.3) shows AF's chronological, reading and spelling ages from Primary 1 to Primary 7.

FIGURE 8.3

Figure 8.3 AF's chronological, reading and spelling ages from Primary 1 to Primary 7.

SPELLING

8.67 It was disappointing to see that AF's spelling at the Primary 7 testing was below his chronological age by 23 months whereas this had been 16 months below in Primary 6.

The spelling element of his Individual Education Programme for Language had been concentrated on spelling rules and alternative spelling. The blending procedure for spelling 2/3 syllable words was currently being taught. It has already been noted that there was a noticeable improvement in his handwriting on the spelling response sheet. It is possible that AF had been concentrating on this as he gained more confidence with his 'joined-up' writing.

READING

8.68 From the above Figure (Fig.8.3) it can be seen that the crucial times for AF's reading age improvement were:

  • at Primary 2 AFTER the introduction of the systematic synthetic phonics procedure
  • at Primary 5 AFTER the Phonics Revisited programme, and
  • at Primary 7 AFTER the introduction of sounding and blending successive syllables for reading unknown 2/3 syllable words.

8.69 At the end of Primary 7, the comments by the SfL teacher on AF's School Report included:

  • Motivation to learn has greatly improved
  • Handwriting has improved and is much more legible
  • He is a good reader.
  • His fluency has improved and his ability to find answers in the text has greatly improved with the introduction of a number of strategies.
  • His spelling is fairly good.

OBSERVATIONS

8.70 After the initial analytic phonics+phonemic awareness programme, AF was a non-reader and a non-speller. His reading received a boost after carrying out the synthetic phonics programme. He also benefited from the Phonics Revisited programme, which he carried out in Primary 5, and learning to blend syllables in Primary 7. From a most unpromising start he ended his primary schooling reading 9 months above chronological age, although spelling was nearly two years below chronological age. However, his spelling was only a year below the average for the chronological age of his class.

8.71 This study has highlighted the need to identify children whose literacy skills lag behind those of their classmates as early as possible. Diagnostic testing could take place earlier than it was done in this case study to cater for individual needs and weaknesses. However, we found that the need to revisit the more complex phonics rules, e.g. problems with vowel digraph and vowel lengthening silent 'e' words were common to all of the low achievers.

DEVELOPING CRITICAL BLENDING SKILLS

8.72 It has already been pointed out that sounding and blending successive letter sounds to pronounce unfamiliar words is the critical skill in the synthetic phonics approach. In January of Primary 4, we saw that once the principle of sounding and blending letters had been firmly established, AF made a tentative start towards taking the next step for himself, i.e. blending successive word parts of longer words. This indicated that he was probably ready to be taught the systematic procedure for sounding and blending successive syllables to read and spell unknown words. The syllable reading procedure formed part of his Individual Education Programme for reading in Primary 6 and 7.

8.73 This successful procedure, providing pupils with a strategy for reading and spelling words of more than one syllable, could follow on from the initial synthetic phonics programme, probably in Primary 2/3. Indeed, this development of blending procedures for both spelling and reading has been taken forward from the phonemic levels to the levels of syllables, morphemes and word parts of multi-syllabic words. Programmes have been devised in conjunction with the Clackmannanshire Primary Adviser with the Literacy Development Officer and a working group of teachers to incorporate syllable/morpheme sounding and blending for spelling and reading, and sounding and blending successive word parts for spelling and reading multi-syllabic words. This programme is at present being piloted and evaluated in different schools and could be implemented from Primary 2/3 right through to Primary 7.

SUMMARY

8.74 This chapter (a) examines the proportion of underachieving children and (b) examines in detail the progress of one low achieving child from Primary 1 to Primary 7, comparing his performance with that of parallel groups of low achieving children reading more than 12 months behind chronological age at each stage.

  • In the early years of the study, after the synthetic phonics programme, it was found that the level of underachievement was modest but had increased by Primary 7
  • There was a small core of low achievers. Some children improved with extra help. Others, not initially experiencing problems, fell back over the course of the study
  • One child with severe learning difficulties was able, with support for his learning, to read well above the level expected for his age and level of verbal ability