Classroom practice - case study

Commentary on case study

Some of the practices mentioned in this account will be familiar in many classrooms, whatever form of phonics teaching is adopted: an emphasis on active teaching and learning; an expectation that all children will engage; the use of familiar games and routines; the employment of visual, aural and kinaesthetic ways of learning; the linking of reading and writing and the eagerness of the young learners to participate. There are also familiar games and practices, such as the parallel learning of phonemes and their graphemes and the use of letters to aid word building. The correct naming of vowels and consonants and encouraging children to pay explicit attention to letter position is also common practice in many classrooms.

Readers will, however, be struck by the heightened pace of the introduction of new sounds (up to four a week) and the amount of time given to phonic teaching (30-40 minutes per day). This is in line with an approach that sees synthetic phonics as a ‘fast and first approach’. At this rate all the phonemes can be introduced within a term. The literacy session concentrates on teaching and practising the phonemes and blending them to make words. Little time in this session appears to be given to reading sentences or extended prose. The use of decidable books is not specifically mentioned in this account but is often promoted as part of more radical synthetic phonics programmes. Proponents of synthetic phonics advocate giving children books they can read, which involves restricting the vocabulary to the phonemes taught. There is also no use of segmenting words to help children see letter patterns and draw analogies to help with spelling and reading other words.

The phonic sessions are structured into a familiar routine – just as the literacy hour in England follows a fairly fixed structure. Such a regular routine can be supportive of learners as they know what to expect; routines help to establish a community of learners and so the social practices adopted in this classroom are taken as the norm by the children. The teacher’s commitment to the programme comes through clearly. Such commitment is likely to impact on outcomes. The teacher’s commitment was strengthened by professional development support.