Teeching speling yousing fonix in Kee Stayj Too

Just to clarify, my colleague Rebecca (@ReBuckEdu) is the brains behind this! She’s taught me so much and this wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for her so I don’t want to take credit where it isn’t due. Please go follow her on Twitter – she’s FULL of cracking ideas. She’s also started to blog here: https://rebuckedu.wordpress.com/2021/03/15/the-writing-revolution-in-lks2/

We all know how it goes: print off the lists of 10 words on a Monday morning; ask a TA to cut them up whilst the children file in; show them a quick PowerPoint about the rule of the week (e.g. about how to add the suffix -ment to a variety of random root words); hand out a few crosswords, wordsearches and questionable spelling-related activities and pray something clicks; cheer for joy when they seem to get nearly full marks on their Friday test; cry in despair when the following week, none of that seemed to transfer to their writing. Rinse and repeat. Sound familiar?

Throughout this blog post, we will look at:

  • Who: our backgrounds with teaching spelling
  • Why: the reason we felt change was desperately needed
  • What: a toe-dip into the massive ocean of research we have used to inspire the spelling programme specific to our school
  • How: a detailed look into our long- and short-term spelling planning
  • So what?: the impact thus far

References and disclaimer: this blog is definitely not intended to replace attending any official training, but rather to:

  • expose the issues with teaching using spelling rules
  • present our opinion that continuing phonics across KS2 is important
  • share how we have used our experience and knowledge to make a spelling programme work in our specific context
  • inspire people to find out more!

WHO

We both come from different experiences of spelling teaching.

Sophie: I have only ever taught using rules with no training (since university) on how children learn to spell. I have always hated teaching spelling and been aware that whatever I’ve been doing hasn’t worked, but struggled on anyway as I didn’t know an alternative (and I had to ‘tick a box’ to show I was ‘teaching’ spelling!)

Rebecca: I, like Sophie, had exactly the same experience until being fortunate enough to find myself on a Sound Reading System (SRS) training course around 11 years ago. This changed how I understood the process of learning how to spell and taught me a system whose intention is that all children can learn to spell, rather than just the lucky few with a good memory for the ‘rules’.

WHY

As a school, we’ve been passionate about a ‘mastery’ approach with our teaching and learning ethos firmly rooted in Rosenshine’s Principles. Rebecca has been a huge advocate of ‘maths mastery’ for years and is currently working on making sure it is embedded through the school; Sophie has been passionate about whole-class reading since teaching carousel guided reading and realising it didn’t achieve the results it was intended to.

Luckily, it seems that differentiation by task is slowly become obsolete and people are realising that ‘teaching to the top’ and scaffolding as appropriate is a much more successful means of promoting achievement for all.

We aim to apply these principles to all areas of the curriculum, but spelling seemed to run by its own rules (pun intended). As the children get older, the gaps in their knowledge widen and, as many of you will have experienced, the disparity in spelling ability in a Year 6 class can seem like an unsurmountable obstacle: we are here to tell you that that obstacle can, in fact, be surmounted! (Pedagogically, of course!)

(Side note: as we are writing this collaboratively, I – Sophie – wrote ‘of course there are exceptions’, as I always try to pre-empt the naysayers. However, having taught this way successfully for a number of years – and making huge impact on children with considerable learning delays surrounding spelling and reading – Rebecca made me stand our ground and delete the comment. So here I am not sitting on a fence!)

Teaching by spelling rules has always felt instinctively wrong. It carries a high cognitive load due to the vast number of facts you have to remember and be able to apply correctly. Tom Sherrington beautifully illustrates (via Oliver Caviglioli) the importance of thinking through the learning process carefully in his blog post “A model for the learning process. And why it helps to have one.”

https://teacherhead.com/2020/03/10/a-model-for-the-learning-process-and-why-it-helps-to-have-one/

Spelling lessons need to be based on the same principles: the less you give the children to remember, the more likely they are to remember it.

Take the UKS2 National Curriculum (NC) spelling rule of adding the suffix -ment. The NC gives this non-statutory guidance for this ‘rule’: If a suffix starts with a consonant letter, it is added straight on to most root words without any change to the last letter of those words. Exceptions: (1) argument (2) root words ending in –y with a consonant before it but only if the root word has more than one syllable.

Here are some examples of words you might use in your spelling list that week to practise this.

Clear root wordUnclear root word
equipment
management
enjoyment
movement
replacement
statement
government
environment
parliament
document

There are some clear pitfalls with this. Firstly, the number of exceptions to these rules that we expect children to just ‘remember’. Secondly, the number of words (in this case) with unclear etymology. Thirdly, the issues with the root words themselves: the /n/ sound is pronounced in the word ‘govern’, but not in the word ‘government’; the /k//w/ sound in ‘equip’ being represented by the ‘qu’ grapheme; the /dʒ/ sound in ‘manage’ by ‘ge’… we could go on.

Whilst some may think cognitive load has been reduced by only teaching one thing in this case (adding -ment as a suffix), when investigated a little further, it reveals a whole host of other spelling issues that would need to be addressed.

This is where the research of Diane McGuinness – and many others around her – reveals the answer!

McGuinness analysed the complete spelling code for the English language to find that “it could be reduced to 176 common spellings for the 44 sounds in English. This is sufficient to cover about 90% of words in print.” (SRS Teacher’s Handbook by Nevola, 2007)

“Our brains do the work for us… Once the structure of the spelling code is set up visually, numerous features and patterns come to light. The only active memorization required is to learn the 40+ phonemes (sounds) in the language and their spellings. Spelling alternatives for each phoneme can be mastered through controlled exposure and varied repetition… Use of these patterns can dramatically speed up learning while reducing memory load, and is essential for setting up a sequence of instruction.”
Diane McGuinness, p59, Early Reading Instruction, MIT Press 2004

Despite these phonics-based schemes clearly being an effective way of teaching spelling, we decided that we couldn’t adopt any pre-written scheme completely: partially due to finances, but we also wanted something that was very specific to our context and curriculum.

In light of this, we have used the 44 phonemes and cross-referenced them to words in line with the National Curriculum’s spelling rules. For example, the word ‘outrageous’ could be taught under the Year 3/4 spelling rule of adding the suffix -ous. However, via a phoneme-centred approach suggested by McGuinness, the word ‘outrageous’ could appear in multiple places throughout your spelling curriculum: under the /aʊ/ sound (here spelt ‘ou’); the /e‍ɪ/ sound (here spelt with the split digraph ‘a-e’); and the /dʒ/ sound (here spelt ‘ge’). Drawing attention to the suffix in this word but not making it the main focus means that other words with the suffix -ous would appear throughout different weeks rather than all at once. This regular exposure to the same word – but through different phoneme lenses – provides a good opportunity for retrieval practice.

Fiona Nevola, the founder of SRS, advises that “word and spelling patterns must be introduced in sequence from simple to complex, and from common to rare. The teaching is incremental: building up knowledge in careful steps.” (2007)

These ideas – as echoed by Rosenshine’s Principles – should be reflected in a spelling programme in order for it to be successful. The children’s learning in KS1 should be built on in KS2, not taught using an entirely new approach.

WHAT

Sept 2018: Sophie joins the school and Rebecca is on maternity leave. KS2 are using a spelling scheme that is supposedly consistent with KS1 but, in reality, is not at all appropriate for UKS2 and over-reliant on teaching spelling rules. Despite knowing this wasn’t working, Sophie didn’t know what to replace it with so reverted to a different scheme – whilst more age-appropriate, its results were the same: not fit for purpose.

Jan 2020: Following discussions with Sophie, Rebecca re-introduces a method of teaching spelling (based on the principles of SRS) that she had previously used with success in her class. However, she was aware that this did not meet all the needs of our specific children and the wider curriculum we had worked so hard to develop.

Summer 2020: We both spent hours creating a comprehensive spreadsheet which contained:

  • an analysis of what our children were taught during KS1
  • an analysis of the rules and spelling knowledge as per the NC
  • a separate page for each phoneme
  • on each page, a breakdown of the graphemes for each phoneme
  • lists of words containing each grapheme, cross-referenced to the NC (both the spelling rules and the statutory word lists)

See an example below of the page for the /i:/ phoneme (obviously this is still a work in progress and is being added to and edited continuously).

We began by listing the graphemes and words that the children had been exposed to in KS1. We included words from both the Year 3/4 and Year 5/6 statutory word lists as well as those suggested in the NC spelling appendix for each rule. Structuring a spelling programme this way meant that it didn’t even have to be adapted due to possible learning loss over lockdown – this system already caters for large gaps in children’s phonetic knowledge as the teacher is in control of how many graphemes the children are introduced to at one time. It can therefore be differentiated for any context and situation making it inclusive.

We then created a long-term plan to decide when each phoneme would be covered by each phase. This was based on SRS’ recommended structure of teaching, starting with the vowel sounds and then progressing to consonants. Due to SATs, the key sounds in UKS2 had to be covered before May.

See an example below of how we mapped out the sounds across KS2 and linked them to the National Curriculum where appropriate.

This phoneme-centred approach meant that the children were overlearning many of the words suggested by the NC. I remember getting to a week where we had encountered the word ‘mischievous’ for about the 5th time – the children almost rolled their eyes because they had become so confident at spelling this word where previously they may have only ‘learnt’ it once during the year.

HOW

We teach spelling for 15 minutes a day, five days a week. ‘Setting’ the spellings on a Monday and ‘testing’ them on the Friday removes the accountability from parents to practise them at home as all the necessary practice is done at school. Of course, parents can consolidate this if they wish, but we make it clear that there is no need for this.

A general overview of a week of spelling lessons would look like this.

MonHighlight sound and sort into grid
TuePartner test
WedSound buttons
ThuSound-sort grid
FriTest
  1. Highlight sound and sort into grid

At the start of the lesson, children are introduced to the sound of the week and are given a list of words containing that sound. (As we are mixed years, each year group is given a different list but each containing the same sounds – this is part of our 3D curriculum which was built on Clare Sealy’s principles of remembering e.g. in Year 3 they may encounter only five graphemes for the phoneme /i:/ – they will build on this each year by recapping previous years’ graphemes and learning new ones). They must then identify the sound of the week, highlight it and sort the words into the correct grapheme. This activity can be used to draw attention to any patterns that may occur, e.g. ‘y’ at the end of a word making an /i:/ sound; ‘ei’ occurring after ‘c’ making a /s/ sound. As an extension, children could find their own words to add to the grid.

2. Partner test

In pairs, children test each other on the spellings for the week and highlight those they cannot yet spell. Through direct instruction, they learn how to analyse those words and identify their ‘tricky’ parts; these words will have been carefully selected so that the ‘tricky’ parts often include the sound of the week. However, there will of course be parts of the word which aren’t relevant to the week’s sound: these parts will be covered in another week’s spellings. The focus is that they learn to spell this particular week’s sound correctly.

For example, for a week where you are focusing on the /i:/ sound, a child may come across the word committee (in the Year 5/6 word list). We would rather the child spell it ‘comitee’ than ‘committy’ as the focus is on the /i:/ sound being spelt correctly, not the other parts of the word – they will come across these in another week. Of course, if they can spell it all correctly, that is a bonus!

This then generates another list of what the children don’t yet know how to spell – this is what they can then focus on throughout the rest of the week’s lessons or other relevant activities (e.g. handwriting or dictation). We suggest that this is capped at five words per child

3. Sound analysis

Using their knowledge of phonics, children identify the individual phonemes in each word. This can be done as a whole-class activity which children can then do independently with their chosen words. The more complex the words become, the more discussion is generated around it! This is also a good opportunity to link to etymology for specific words if relevant.

4. Sound-sort grid

Children are given a blank version of the grid from Monday’s lesson showing the graphemes for that week’s sound. The words are read aloud to the children who then must write them in the correct section of the grid. Children are encouraged to discuss these with a partner and test out different graphemes for the sound. As with the partner test, it’s important to celebrate the child selecting the correct grapheme for that week’s sound, and not whether the rest of the word is spelt correctly.

5. Spelling test

This works as a standard spelling test and can be adapted to whatever would best suit your class. We’ve tried different methods: partners testing each other on their individual spellings, an adult reading out the whole list or dictation (example below for the /i:/ sound). We have found dictation to be most successful as they are then recording the words in context.

1. There is a piece of dust on the ceiling.
2. I guarantee you will win forty pounds.
3. You must complete the test immediately.
4. This magazine seems familiar.
5. I found peace and quiet by the chimney.

Again, as previously mentioned, we would be celebrating the phoneme of the week being represented by the correct grapheme, as opposed to the entire word being spelt correctly (although that is a bonus!)

Where possible, this can be integrated into other timetable activities such as handwriting. We have also included words pertinent to our wider curriculum, e.g. electricity to link with our science units.

SO WHAT?

Rebecca has been doing this with her Year 3/4 class since January 2020, so they have received 7 months of in-school instruction and 6 months of remote spelling instruction over lockdown. Over that time, the children have completed three NFER spelling tests, which produce a scaled score (with 100 being the age-expected standard). With the NFER standardised scores, children show ‘progress’ by maintaining their scaled score (as the assessments are in line with the amount of time children have spent in that year group) – therefore, an increase in scaled score is an indicator of accelerated progress.

These are our results so far in terms of quantitative data.

 Average scaled score Jan 2020Average scaled score March 2021
Year 499105
Year 598103
Specific examples of SEND children  
Y4 child (dyslexia)8790
Y5 child (MLD)Unable to score89

The Year 6 results were particularly pleasing as they have only received this style of spelling teaching since September 2020 (as opposed to Jan 2020 like the rest of KS2). These were their results from three spelling SATs papers.

Anecdotally, we have both also seen a huge improvement in not only the spelling in children’s writing, but their confidence too. It actually now feels like learning is happening in spelling lessons rather than just task completion. For me personally (Sophie), I had a similar feeling to when I changed from carousel guided reading (way back when!) to whole-class reading – a sense that progress was actually being made as a result of my teaching, and not just as a coincidence. It is a really inclusive way of teaching spelling – no more printing off five different spelling lists for each week and no more putting limits on children to what they can achieve.

References, resources, further reading and disclaimer

This blog is not at all intended to replace any formal spelling instruction training. Rebecca has previously attended formal training and we have used our own knowledge of current pedagogical research (e.g. Rosenshine’s Principles) to ensure our spelling lessons are in line with the mastery approach we’ve adopted for the rest of the curriculum. Any terminology we have used hasn’t been intentionally taken from a specific scheme, but rather a generic term for said activity or strategy (unless otherwise referenced). Many of these activities and similar can be found on general teaching resource websites, such as Twinkl (the Irish version of which has a full phonics scheme similar to the strategy we’ve discussed in this blog post). The current practice in Australia is strongly influenced by this approach and there are many Australian websites which discuss it.

Rebecca whole-heartedly endorses teachers participating in the Sound Reading System training for a 1:1 intervention and to understand how the strategies can be employed across the whole school. There are lots of incredibly useful resources, information and details about SRS training courses on Fiona Nevola’s website here: https://soundreadingsystem.co.uk/

From hearing many positive endorsements, Sounds Write is a fantastic literacy programme worth looking into (particularly in light of the recent DfE guidance on phonics programmes): https://www.sounds-write.co.uk/

Please also consider exploring the work of Diane McGuinness: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=diane+mcguinness&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

Another marvellously helpful website is Spelfabet, where you can find words for every phoneme: https://www.spelfabet.com.au/spelling-lists/sorted-by-sound/

Just to make clear once again: this blog is definitely not intended to replace attending any official training, but rather to:

  • expose the issues with teaching using spelling rules
  • present our opinion that continuing phonics across KS2 is important
  • share how we have used our experience and knowledge to make a spelling programme work in our specific context
  • inspire people to find out more!

*UPDATE 24/4/21*

Here is the spreadsheet we created which organises words by phoneme and grapheme for KS2 (linked to the NC statutory word list & rules). The grid is editable but hopefully should provide you with a basis. Words are colour coded to those referenced in the NC.

This took away a HUGE chunk of our summer last year (and hours this year keeping it updated) so please consider donating a book to us in return by contacting Bookwagon (email Bronnie at info@bookwagon.co.uk) to select a discounted book from our list with free P+P! Just mention that it is for Sophie and Rebecca 🙂 (We really wanted to support an independent book seller with this.) We’re in no position to demand but are relying on good will 🙂

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/ks2-spellings-organised-by-phoneme-and-grapheme-linked-to-nc-12521952

Author: missiebee1

Year 6 teacher.

28 thoughts on “Teeching speling yousing fonix in Kee Stayj Too”

  1. This is fab and really interesting. Are you able to share your ks2 scheme from year 3-6 to see how you have organised the sounds and words as I would like to try this.
    Thankyou

    Like

    1. Unfortunately not – we’re not au fait with publishing and/or copyright rules (especially as a lot of it is inspired by the research of others). Until we have professional support with that, it’s safer to keep them to ourselves. However, it’s definitely worth looking into SRS and/or Sounds Write Literacy (we link to both at the end of the blog)

      Like

  2. This is great!
    How do you identify the words used in the spelling test? From your example lesson, Monday’s grid looks jam packed with all the different graphemes, so how would this be whittled down to just 5? Would you not give them that many graphemes to start with?

    Like

      1. So, you give them all graphemes for one phoneme on a Monday and depending on their partner test they just choose 5 from any grapheme they didn’t know? Or do you tend to focus on 2/3 graphemes at once?

        Like

      2. I’d love to know a little more about the testing too! So keen to try this in school from September and trying to get all our ideas together. Once they’ve done the partner test, how do they choose the 5 ? All from one grapheme or split across different ones? Thank you so much!

        Like

  3. This is great! Many things about the way I’ve taught spellings hasn’t sat right with me, but I feel like this blog has clarified that for me perfectly!

    Am I right in saying that you no longer set a fixed number of spellings/graphemes for the phoneme on the Monday?

    Like

      1. So sorry to be a pest but I want to make sure I have this right as I know it’d be so amazing if I can implement this with my class… so you explained that you set 10words (ish) for a phoneme but no set number of graphemes… so for /i:/ would you select a few from each grapheme list so they get a range of all of them? Or split this into several weeks and focus on 2 or 3 graphemes a week? Thanks!

        Like

      1. Wow! Thank goodness! I have always found that teaching spelling in KS2 has never had the impact it was supposed to have had. Thank you so much for sharing your research which clearly has taken hours. Definitely something I’m going to try and will certainly follow up your links. I really hope you get the recognition you deserve! Thank you!

        Like

  4. Hi, I love the sound of this approach. I have discussed this with the other teacher in my year group and we would like to try using it. I know this is really cheeky, but do you have the resources somewhere? I thought I saw a link to them in the Y5/6 Facebook Group but can’t find it now.

    Like

    1. We’ve just shared our spreadsheet – I’ve put the link on the bottom of this blog 🙂 we’re asking for a donation of a book in return as it took us SO long to compile!

      Like

  5. Hi Sophie, This looks great. I’d love to see your LTP for this approach, so I can see how it differs per year group. Are you thinking of sharing this? Thanks

    Like

  6. Hi, I have just arranged ordering a book 🙂 Thanks so much for all your work on this and sharing! I was wondering how you set your word lists for each week that go home? Do you send a mix of words with different graphemes in (eg. 10 words that have a mix of “ee” “ea” “e-a” etc)? If so how do you choose which 10 for week’s where there’s many more, and how do you deal with when there’s less than 10 for a sound?
    Your doc where you map the sounds across ks2 looks so helpful – are you sharing that at some point or not able to?
    Thanks 🙂

    Like

    1. Thanks so much! Our word lists don’t go home. If there’s fewer than 10, we either leave it at that or supply more words for the same grapheme. If there are too many, we narrow it down by prioritising statutory words and those including rules mentioned in the curriculum. I’m afraid we’re not sharing the mapping document!

      Like

  7. This looks great. Are you able to share how you have mapped out the sounds across the year?

    Thanks

    Like

    1. I’m afraid we’re not – we didn’t want to give over absolutely everything as it isn’t necessarily a “pick up and use” – it has to be crafted based on knowing your kids and reading a bit more into this method of teaching spelling.

      Like

  8. Hi Sophie, wonderful blog, really helpful, thank you. Can I just ask, if there are a lot of graphemes for the phoneme that week, do you split them so you take two weeks to cover that phoneme?
    Thank you,
    Gemma 😊

    Like

  9. Hi! I really love this idea and am considering trying in my class next year worth a view to rolling out across the school and possibly trust. Could you just clarify how many spellings the kids take as their spellings from the Tuesday partner test? I know we are taking the pressure off parents and I think that’s fantastic, but for those that want to practise at home how many do you identify to send and then do they do their test with their partners? Thank you!

    Like

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