After the Year 1 Phonics Check: for school leaders

Analysing and responding to the results

The Phonics Check is a short, simple diagnostic tool for informing classroom teachers how students are progressing in phonics.

The structure of the Phonics Check details how it has been designed and organised, and also provides a summary of the letter-sounds checked.

The results of the Phonics Check provide a starting point to evaluate students’ current level of phonics understanding, and can assist teachers to identify students who are:

  • progressing in line with year level expectations
  • exceeding year level expectations
  • needing additional support.

Combined with other observation and assessment evidence, the results can give teachers a more complete picture of their students’ learning needs. Teachers can respond by designing differentiated learning in their classrooms.

School leaders can respond with aligned approaches across the school.

The Phonics Check enables leadership to:

… track progress across the whole school site; establish if our work is translating into expected outcomes; compare how classes are performing; and put measures in place to equalise phonics learning opportunities across the whole early learning setting.

–2017 Phonics Trial principal

School planning

Phonics knowledge and skills

The Phonics Check does not assess all letter–sound correspondences and does not represent the full scope of decoding skill. When students achieve the threshold score in Year 1, this does not mean that they no longer need phonics instruction, it means they have demonstrated at least the minimum expected level. They still have a lot to learn.

Through careful analysis of the Phonics Check results, school leaders and teachers can support all students to develop and strengthen their phonics knowledge and skills as an essential building block of reading.

Collaborative discussions, informed by data about student reading performance, can provide greater clarity about the most effective strategies for explicit phonics teaching.

Learning design and targeted teaching will be informed by explicitly mapping the grapheme–phoneme correspondences to be taught and using the Phonics Check to assess growth. Specific learning goals can then be set for individual students.

A synthetic phonics program, beginning in the first year of formal schooling, assures school leaders and teachers that all the letter–sound relationships the students are expected to know are covered.

This suggested sequence  for a Foundation (Reception/Preparatory) synthetic phonics program is mapped across word blending, knowledge and skills, special words and support activities.

Students who continue to struggle beyond Year 1 should be supported with additional explicit teaching strategies.

Phonics and the Australian curriculum

Phonics is integral to the Australian Curriculum. The Australian Curriculum National Literacy Learning Progression identifies indicators of literacy development necessary to successfully engage with the literacy demands from Foundation to Year 10.

Phonic knowledge and word recognition is one of three sub-elements of reading and viewing and is closely related to phonological awareness.

Professional learning teams

Working in professional learning teams to analyse Phonics Check results can lead to shared insights about the implications of the data for planning and teaching.

It is a powerful review and planning approach. Analysing student errors allows teachers to see students’ specific strengths and weaknesses in phonics and provides a means for selecting appropriate teaching strategies.

Professional learning teams could use the Guiding questions for Phonics Check analysis to support teachers as they work together, examining the results and discussing their implications for practice.

These prompts for discussion include:

  • What do you see in the data?
  • Are there any surprises?
  • What are the students doing well?
  • What are the gaps in students’ knowledge?
  • What trends did you notice in the data?
  • What are the indications for your practice?
  • Planning for differentiation

The team conversation after the testing was amazing … The screening process provided insights we didn’t have before: it made teachers evaluate what was working [in their phonics teaching] and what refinements were needed. It made us ask questions; for example, why there were scattered results for a student compared with other Big Six areas, and why we hadn’t picked it up before. It enabled us to hone in on an individual plan for individual students. Our teachers have good awareness of where their students are developmentally, but the phonics screening check gave us new insights.

– 2017 Phonics Trial principal

Parent and family involvement

Results from the Phonics Check could be used as part of school reporting processes to parents and families.

Schools and teachers could also:

  • offer workshops and provide information to raise awareness of the important role phonics plays in reading development
  • offer suggestions on how families can assist their children’s reading confidence with simple fun activities, such as ‘I spy’ and making up silly words
  • recommend lists of picture books, information texts, narratives and poetry books to be read aloud to children.

School resourcing

Choosing resources

Quality resources can assist in the teaching and learning of phonics and support students as they learn about the alphabetic system as letter–sound correspondences in a clearly defined, incremental sequence.

Well-chosen resources can assist students as they learn to:

  • recognise that letters represent the sounds in spoken words
  • identify the multiple ways in which letters represent speech sounds and vice versa
  • use their knowledge of letter–sound relationships to decode and spell words accurately.

Queensland University of Technology has developed resource evaluation criteria which will assist schools and teachers to select the best resources for their students.

Decodable texts

Decodable texts will contain words that conform to the letter–sound combinations that students have been explicitly taught.

Quality phonics programs provide opportunities for students to practise reading texts that contain a high proportion of these words.

This promotes fluency and the development of confidence for beginning readers.
While students are learning the basic code (single sounds and basic digraphs, and the more common graphemes – usually covered in the first year of a formal schooling teaching program), it is important that they predominantly use decodable texts when practising reading independently.

Once students begin to learn the more advanced code (less frequent and alternative digraphs) teachers can safely introduce a range of other literature.

There are a number of commercially available series of decodable texts. Book boxes can be made up from a range of commercial and self-made decodable texts.

The key is ensuring that the texts align with the grapheme–phoneme sequence being taught in the classroom.

 

 

Commercial programs

Many schools elect to use a commercial resource as the basis of their synthetic phonics program.

An effective resource will generally contain reference to the following 13 aspects:

  1. phonological awareness
  2. phonemic awareness
  3. concepts about print
  4. alphabetic knowledge
  5. the alphabetic principle
  6. sequence, rate and mode of phonics instruction
  7. decoding
  8. decodable texts
  9. reading fluency
  10. irregular/high-frequency words
  11. spelling
  12. writing
  13. regular assessment and review of progress.

These 13 aspects should be a feature of any synthetic phonics program and may provide a way to evaluate the potential value of a particular commercial resource.

Thirteen important aspects of a systematic synthetic phonics program provides greater detail on each of these key features.

The Australian Council for Educational Research has provided an overview describing how these 13 aspects appear in five popular commercial programs designed to support phonics teaching. Leaders and teachers could also review the relevance and appropriateness of available computer-based resources, all of which have been detailed in Commercial programs and digital resources – some examples.

These lists are not exhaustive but describe resources in circulation in schools across Australia.

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Phonics Check scoring guidance

Teacher guide

Advice about scoring, in terms of acceptable pronunciation.

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After the Phonics Check: what next?

Information

How to analyse and respond to results with suggested teaching strategies.

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Phonics and the Australian Curriculum

Information

Role of phonic knowledge and word recognition in reading and viewing.

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Phonics Check analysis

Information

Guiding questions to analyse Phonics Check data.

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Phonics Check: the most common student errors

Information

Describes the most common errors students make.

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13 important aspects of a systemic synthetic phonics program

Information

The key aspects of a systematic synthetic phonics program.

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Commercial programs and digital resources

Information

Describes a number of commercial products being used in Australia.

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Examples of structured synthetic phonics programs

Program

A poster which shows the scope and sequence of some structured synthetic phonics...

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