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Reading & Writing at Columba

"Explicit teaching of alphabetic decoding skills is helpful for all children, harmful for none, and crucial for some." C.Snow and C. Juel (2005) Harvard Graduate School of Education.

At Columba, we provide explicit and targeted instruction in reading which students then apply to their spelling and writing.

Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) is built on the alphabetic principle. It is a structured, multi sensory and evidence-based method of teaching reading whereby students are taught the link between letters and the speech sounds they represent rather than the alphabet. Our students learn sounds (phonemes) are represented by letters (graphemes). We teach children that phonemes can be blended or ‘synthesised’ to form words. Systematic Synthetic Phonics is a bottom-up approach in that instruction starts not with whole words, but with the most basic sound unit, the phoneme (sound). The reading process involves decoding or segmenting words into separate sounds that are blended together to read an unknown word. At Columba Catholic Primary School, children learn how blending and segmenting words is a reversible process; if you can read a word, you can spell it! 

Columba Catholic Primary School introduced asystematic synthetic phonics in 2022 after partially trialling the program in 2021. We aim to teach ALL our children to read, write and spell confidently. Our program is supported by evidence-based research and includes phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary knowledge, fluency and comprehension. Jolly Phonics is sequenced into seven stages, allowing us to teach children the 44 sounds of the English alphabet in a sequential way. 

There are five key skills for children to master: 

  • learning the sounds of letter symbols, 
  • letter formation (handwriting), 
  • segmenting sounds in words, 
  • blending sounds together 
  • and learning ‘tricky words’ which do not follow the normal patterns of phonics, for example, was, he, said etc.

Screenshot_2023_04_03_123403.jpgAlongside these skills children are also introduced to the main alternative spelling of vowels, for example, a - ai, ay, ey   o - ow, ough, oa

We do not encourage children to guess the identity of an unknown word based on pictures, context, or the first letter of the word.

Nor do we have children memorise long lists of sight words.

Not all phonics approaches are the same

Our Junior school students take home decodable books which are specially designed to support students in using their letter-sound skills to decode words rather than guess. After they have solid ‘code-cracking skills’ (they can read!), students take home a variety of levelled fiction and non-fiction texts to enjoy.


Why teach using synthetic phonics?

Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols to construct or derive meaning (reading comprehension). Our brains are not hard-wired to read, and it is not a straightforward process of lifting the words of the page or learning by exposure to rich text. 

Phonemic awareness and systematic synthetic phonics instruction help students use the alphabetic principle to learn relationships between written language letters and spoken language sounds. The English language has complicated spelling patterns or a deep orthography, and this means that many letters can have multiple sounds associated with them. English has 26 letters but 44 unique sounds. Our synthetic phonics approach at Columba Catholic Primary School will teach these 44 sounds from simple to complicated. Using synthetic phonics gives children the skills to crack the code! As students move through the school they will learn grammar, punctuation, vocabulary and comprehension skills and will apply this knowledge to read and write more complex texts, never forgetting to take time to develop enjoyment and love for reading and writing.

Some links which you may find helpful:

Preventing literacy failure and shifting the whole Bell Curve up

What is systematic synthetic phonics?