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Phonics: How We Teach Needs to Change to Fit with How Children Learn


There has been a welcome focus on the science of learning over the last ten years, but has how we teach evolved to take this into account?

Being a phonics specialist, I have spent a great deal of time researching the key stumbling blocks to reading and spelling. I really couldn’t rest with calling words ‘tricky’ and ‘that’s just how it is you have to learn it that way’.

In the end, I created a system based on linguistics and colour-coding for sound which uses a truly multi-sensory approach. I believed it was really important to do the following:

1) Link spellings to sounds.

2) Show when letters are silent or don’t correspond to the sound that they make.

3) Give strategies for learning that fit with individual-appropriate pedagogy.

4) Explain why actually not all tricky words are tricky as many of these follow rules.

If children can see sound through consistent colour-coding, then they know how to pronounce it and are more likely to remember how to spell it.This makes teaching and learning much easier and using colour is so much more fun and less Victorian. Colour can be used for learning in Reception and KS1. Bring out the paints, felt-tips, or pencil crayons. If this worries you, it shouldn’t. Let me ask you a question – if you were given one minute to learn ten unfamiliar but similar words with a pencil and some felt-tips, would you reach for the pens to write out the words in colour or write only in pencil to help you remember? A very simple system where colour relates to sound, makes this a strategy that didn’t exist before, that’s exciting!

Now add monsters! Link sounds to colourful monsters that act as sound cues and the fun really begins. Monster Phonics is all about the monsters world, where the monsters work, who they are friends with and where they live. But behind every element is a learning objective or strategy.

I have to admit, I have devoted much of my time in the last few years and have probably lived in the monsters’ world too much. On visiting schools, I relish seeing joy in children learning phonics, hearing them talk about language and spelling in linguistic terms, commenting on how common or rare a grapheme is, and what other sounds a particular grapheme makes. That makes it all worthwhile. Once a teacher, always a teacher, because as we know, nothing feels as good as seeing a child make progress.

Monster Phonics is a National Curriculum teaching programme for KS1 and Reception. Free trials are available or email info@monsterphonics.com for more information. 

Monster Phonics have an upcoming FREE training session on Monday 21st January, which will provide teachers and LSAs with multi-sensory teaching methods to implement straight into the classroom. It does not require your school to use the programme but teaches the concepts of quality multi-sensory teaching. It will uplevel phonics teaching skills and knowledge to improve engagement and results. For further details or to confirm your place, email info@monsterphonics.com

Ingrid Connors is the founder of Monster Phonics, a BETT Awards nominated and DfE listed phonics programme. Having worked in education for most of her adult life, Ingrid is an advocate for educational access. Free resources for parents and schools are available at monsterphonics.com.

For more teacher tips and tricks, read this advice to help you Become an Outstanding Teacher

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