Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sounds Write

I meant to report back on my visit to the Sounds Write open morning at Cherub's school last week, but time ran away with me ... catching up now before I forget the specifics.

I am very impressed with the Sounds Write programme, which is a phonics based literacy scheme, covering reading, writing and spelling simultaneously. We were given a talk about how the scheme works, and then the opportunity to watch a Sounds Write session. I particularly liked both the integrated nature - reading and writing together - and the way children start straight into blending and spelling simple words at the same time they start learning the alphabet.

The early stages are based on letter groups. The first group of letters they learn contains 'a', 'i', 'm', 's' and 't', and they quickly add the second group ('n', 'o' and 'p') because the number of words that can be made with the first few letters is very limited. First the sounds of the letters are taught, as phonetically accurately as possible ('mmm' rather than 'muh', for example), along with visual recognition of the letter symbols and correct letter formation. Then right from the first lesson they start learning to blend two and three letter words, and to separate words out into their sounds.

Before I describe the session I watched, a note about equipment, which is very simple. The children each have wo-wo boards ("write on, wipe off" white boards), marker pens and erasers, which they use much like old-fashioned slates. I must say, I wish that as a homeschooler I had known about wo-wo boards. Wrongly written letters and misspelled words can be easily replaced with correct ones, which fits nicely with Charlotte Mason's theory that children should have to look at errors (they can fix the wrong spelling in the mind), and also avoids tantrums from perfectionists who have "spoiled" their page! The teacher used sticky post-it notes with the letters written on and a white board - the letters can be easily moved and reaaranged by the children.

The session started with "symbol search", in which the teacher pointed at letters on a chart and the children made the letter sounds. Then she taught (or reviewed) the letter formation of 'a' and 'p', which the children practiced on their wo-wo boards. Next came working with a "letter line" to make the word 'pat'. The teacher spelled out the letter sounds p-a-t, helped the children to work out that there were three sounds in the word, and drew a line on the white board for each sound. She put sticky notes with the three letters on the board in random order, and got three volunteers to arrange them correctly on the letter line - she repeated the sounds very clearly, making it quite a simple task. Then a fourth child spelled the word by pointing to each letter in turn, saying its sound, and then saying the word (p-a-t, pat). Finally the children copied the word onto their wo-wo boards.

Next came "word swap" where the teacher asked the children to think about the word 'pot' and listen carefully to the difference between 'pot' and 'pat'. She put the letter 'o' on the board and asked for a volunteer to swap one of the letters over to change 'pat' to 'pot'. After that things got a little harder. She wrote the word 'pin' on the board in sticky notes, helped the children to spell out the sounds of the letters, than asked for a volunteer who thought they could read the word - which Cherub did correctly (well done Cherub!). Then more writing practice as they all copied the word 'pin'. Finally the teacher gave them a word (I can't remember what) verbally, and asked the children to try writing it.

The children worked in groups of fifteen, with a teacher and (for the two younger groups) a classroom assistant who helped any little ones having trouble with letter formation. The session lasted about 20 minutes (maybe a little more?), and I was very impressed with how engaged the children were. The progressive nature of the session meant they were all able to join in at their own level - whether it was recognising letters, slightly hit and miss attempts at writing, or being able to blend and break down simple words. Considering that they were a group of four year olds who had only been doing this for three weeks, I was very impressed at how much they were able to manage.

As for Cherub, in a month her letter formation has dramatically improved, she is practicing writing words at home (off her own bat), over the last week has really clicked with blending three letter words, and best of all seems to be thoroughly enjoying the lessons.


Like sunshine in the home said...

Sounds great. I'm going to a calculations day at my girls' school next week. They do maths so different these days us poor parents have asked for help. So next Thursday we're going to school to do our sums. :)

Thanks so much for your prayers for our niece, she's doing so much better. I really believe that it is prayer that has made the difference.

Missus Wookie said...

interesting - I agree white boards are a wonderful thing.