Written by Charlotte Lever
StoryTime Phonics at The Lantern Community Primary School
Written by a Year 1 teacher who attended workshops, lesson observations and training from Michelle Larbey (English Advisor) and training from Dr Fiona Maine (Lecturer) and took active steps to put into practice the messages and strategies explored in relation to StoryTime Phonics.
The Lantern Community Primary schools is a 2-form entry school serving the cathedral city of Ely in Cambridgeshire. Most pupils at the school are white British and the proportion of pupils who receive pupil premium is below average. The proportion of pupils supported through school action, school action plus or with a statement of special educational needs is below average.
I became involved in StoryTime Phonics through my role as the phonic leader after observing the impressive impact that StoryTime Phonics had upon the Reception children and their progress. I was keen to ensure the implementation with Year 1 and in September 2016 will be rolling StoryTime Phonics into Year 2. For me, the biggest impact has been upon the excitement that my children show towards phonics and their learning. To have a class full of children who are passionate about learning is all any teacher wants and this is what I now have thanks to StoryTime Phonics. I have a class of children who are keen to read and write and how many teachers can say this?
I’d like to share my learning journey from the beginning through to the moment when my Year 1 class begged me to let them all stay in at break-time and read books to themselves. These are the same children who used to sigh when the word phonics was mentioned!
It was a big decision to change the concept of phonics and its teaching at the Lantern. Previously with our phonics sessions, children worked in set groups taught either by the teacher or trained TAs; this meant (often unintentionally) we were placing a cap upon our children’s learning and as a class teacher it often felt like I didn’t have a clear picture of my own class’ phonic ability. Lessons followed the standard format – a rushed 20 minutes, lessons lacked imagination and creativity and most tellingly children were often reluctant to go to phonics sessions.
For the Lantern, the turning point for investigating a new scheme for phonics came from previous results in the KS1 phonic screening. With results falling below the national average, we were keen to look into new ways that we could teach phonics and instil a love for real books.
Three key things immediately struck us that were different about StoryTime Phonics, the first being teaching children within a whole class environment. How would this differ from our set groups and how would we ensure that all children were making progress?
The second thing was the freedom to become creative teachers. We felt empowered that we could teach phonics in an inspiring way to capture our children’s imaginations. The teacher support videos were such a phenomenal resource because we were able to see StoryTime Phonics in action. After watching such inspirational teachers we were encouraged and filled with new enthusiasm for teaching. Gone were the phonic frames and repetitive sentences – we were ready to start hunting for words in mud and embracing our inner cave man! Finally, through StoryTime Phonics we were re-embracing our passion for teaching through a multi sensory approach.
The last and maybe the most important was the use of high quality texts to hook children into their learning. Suddenly children were developing a passion for reading and seeing a real reason why they should learn their sounds, two things that should go hand in hand but are often forgotten in other schemes. Reading for pleasure is a huge element of the National Curriculum and through the use of StoryTime Phonics, I know that I can say that my class are passionate readers.
Whole class teaching is embraced for Maths and Literacy so why not phonics? Across many schools it is standard procedure for phonics to be set. With StoryTime Phonics that is a thing of the past. By teaching your whole class you, the class teacher, are instantly aware of the progress your children are making and the support that they may need. Class TAs are able to fully support the class teacher and they are also aware of all the sounds being taught and can use these to support all the children. I have found that I am no longer placing a cap upon my children’s learning as all of my class are given the same opportunities to access a wide range of ”challenges” through the continuous provision.
During a recent observation, my headteacher awarded me an outstanding. He was most impressed by the enthusiasm, quick pace of the session and how engaged the children were throughout. He also commented on how engaging the lesson is, pitched correctly for all children whilst extending the more able. The tasks enthused the children due to the contextualization through the story and the multi sensory approach.
As class teacher and phonics lead, the pace of StoryTime Phonics is very impressive. The Reception children complete phases 2 and 3 before Christmas and staff were able to show evidence of them using their phonic sounds to read and write independently.
Children in Year 1 and Reception who have specific learning and developmental needs are also still able to access the whole class phonics thanks to the multi sensory approach that StoryTime Phonics encourages – all the children enjoy digging in slime or creating curd tarts. As one child said ”phonics is fun when we can play”. The open ended challenges that we have introduced into Year 1 allow the children to explore the sounds at their own pace and to work with peers to challenge themselves.
For me, the unique aspect that makes StoryTime Phonics so successful is the children are central to everything. Michelle has clearly thought very carefully about the texts that she has chosen – with such a rich bank of books, children are sure to find a new favourite. The introduction of the Phonic Fairy has also led to Reception children searching for her within the library. The magic that this captures is what books should be about, awe and wonder. The children are always keen to see where the Phonic Fairy will be next and what adventures will be taking place during the StoryTime Phonic films. These are truly inspirational, connecting real books with real magic.
As my class’ reading ability and confidence have grown, I have been able to use the Talking Bookmarks to support and further develop their comprehension skills. By developing a greater understanding of key vocabulary and asking open ended questions, these also support out TAs to develop good practice.
So would I recommend StoryTime Phonics? Yes, wholeheartedly! Regardless of my thoughts on StoryTime Phonics, the passion that is has awoken within my class would be enough to have me shouting from the rooftops. But StoryTime Phonics hasn’t just allowed my children to fall in love with reading but allowed me to be the creative teacher I want to be. My children are applying what they have learnt in phonics across all their learning. To hear my children linking their sounds to our newest text is a fantastic feeling; the sighs that used to greet the words ”phonic time” have been replaced by chanting and excited sounds.
I know and my class know that the minute I put on my fairy wings that something magical is going to happen and to me that is what teaching should be all about. Thank you Phonic Fairy – now I do believe in fairies.
Written by Charlotte Lever
Year 1 Teacher, The Lantern Community Primary School