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Teaching phonics

Teaching phonics
Professor Des Hewitt
Wednesday 2nd May 2012 by C. Freeman

Language and special needs specialist, Professor Des Hewitt spoke to teachers about the importance of teaching and understanding phonics, which is the relationship between the spoken and written form of language.

Professor Hewitt gave an hour-long talk including practical exercises to 60 teachers and education professionals who were invited to Brooke Weston as part of our Teaching School Alliance training. The focus was on how to continue phonics teaching, often the mainstay of infant education, effectively through the primary and secondary phases.

Professor Hewitt, who lectures at the University of Derby, has a background in both linguistics and special needs. He said: ‘The lecture is about the systematic teaching of synthetic phonics which is a key Government priority at the moment. When they carry out a school inspection all inspectors have to hear a child read, whether it is in reception class or Year 11. There is a culture in infant school of looking at phonics, which is how you relate the sound of the English language to how it is written down. It is reduced in Key Stage Two and hardly features at Key Stages Three and Four.

‘The key aspect for teachers is if you don’t understand about the phonemic structure of English and how the sounds relate to the letters it is very difficult to teach. There are a whole host of children going through schools that have got an undiagnosed difficulties, particularly in relation to dyslexia.

The first activity I am doing with this cohort of teachers is read out a story which has got an “i” sound in it and every time they hear the “i” sound they have got to stand up. It is an active form of learning and you can do that with children because it switches on their auditory discrimination.’

Teacher Mrs Angela Brown said: ‘Those attending were from the wider Teaching School Alliance, including some from the East Midlands group. They included primary and secondary teachers, people from Government agencies and higher education institutions; it was a whole range of people interested in education.

'Professor Hewitt’s talk was fantastic. As we are running a school based teacher training programme the aim is to build a systematic synthetic phonics strand into that so that when we get newly qualified teachers they are aware of phonics across classroom disciplines so it can form the basis of lesson-based action research.'

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