1.0 Background
1.1 Why is phonics important?

Phonics is an integral part of writing, spelling and reading.

It is one component of The Big Six components of reading.

In the Australian Curriculum English Language strand, alphabet and phonics language begins in Foundation (Reception) and continues till the end of Year 6, with ongoing application in years 7 to 10. From Year 3 onwards, knowledge about phonological and phonemic awareness will continue to be applied in written words as students develop their spelling knowledge.

1.2 What is the purpose of the Phonics Check?

The Phonics Check will confirm if students in Year 1 are developing the phonics knowledge they need to be successful in their reading, spelling and writing.

Using the results, teachers can review existing phonics programs, and design appropriate differentiated learning and intervention processes for reading, spelling and writing.

1.3 Your task as teacher
  • Administer the Phonics Check to your Year 1 students on a one-to-one basis.
  • Familiarise yourself with all the support materials to help make the process smooth, and to ensure you feel confident in managing the process.
  • Create a suitable space for the Phonics Check.
  • Allocate appropriate time.
  • Adapt the Phonics Check materials to suit the individual student needs.
  • Review the results to help in designing appropriate differentiated learning and intervention processes for your students.
1.4 Which students?

Any student in Year 1 can be included in the Phonics Check.

However, it is not appropriate for students who have no understanding of grapheme–phoneme correspondence, for example, a student who has recently arrived in Australia from a non-English speaking background, or a student who has a language or developmental delay.

Students who do not formally participate in the Phonics Check could be provided with a similar experience, for example, using a modified ‘practice sheet’ to include single letters or simple two-letter blends to allow them to demonstrate their skills.

2.0 Prepare for the Check
2.1 Online or offline?

The Phonics Check can be conducted online or offline.

Before you begin make sure you’re familiar with the Phonics Check materials – you’ll find more information about these materials as you work through this step-by-step guide.

Whether you’re working online or offline you’ll need:

If you’re offline you’ll use the paper version of the Phonics Check with printed answer sheets to record student responses.

If you’re online, follow the prompts to record the student responses.

2.2 Adapt for individual students

Most students will use the standard versions of the Phonics Check, but the materials can be adapted to meet the specific needs of students.

Some modifications may include:

  • changing the font or font size
  • having fewer words per page
  • using a coloured overlay if this is normal classroom practice
  • removing the imaginary creatures in the student materials for any students who might find them distracting.
2.3 For students with special needs

The objective of the Phonics Check is to make sure that the assessment is gathering accurate and reliable information about what the student knows and can do.

Always use the practice sheet with students before doing the Phonics Check with them – this might indicate if modifications need to be made. Some possible modifications are listed in Adapt for individual students.

You could also allow for a rest break. Or you could modify the sample script used to introduce the Phonics Check to the student, taking care not to refer to words in the actual Check.

2.4 How much time?

There is no time limit for completing the Phonics Check, so organise your schedule to allow for variations in time taken.

Most students will take 5 to 7 minutes to complete the Check.

Give students enough time to respond to each word – 10 seconds is usually enough.

Allow students short rest breaks if needed, but make sure the Phonics Check is completed on the same day.

2.5 The best setting?

The room in which you administer the Phonics Check should be:

  • quiet
  • comfortable
  • well-lit.
3.0 Get ready to score
3.1 Scoring the Phonics Check

Before you begin using the Phonics Check with your students, familiarise yourself with some of the guidelines around effectively and efficiently scoring your students’ results.

Phonics Check – Scoring guidance provides useful advice on acceptable pronunciations of both the real words and pseudo words your students will encounter in the Check. For example, the pseudo word blan uses the bl from black and rhymes with pan.

You’ll use the Answer sheet to record whether your students say the words correctly or not. Students score one point for the correct decoding of each word, for a total score out of 40.

3.2 Got it or Not yet?

When you’re scoring your students’ responses take the following points into consideration in deciding whether the students have ‘Got it’ or ‘Not yet’.

Score as ‘Got it’

Score as ‘Not yet’

Sounds out the phonemes, or names the letters, and then says the word

Sounds out the phonemes but does not blend the word (no prompting allowed)

Elongates the phonemes but then blends them to form the word

Elongates the phonemes but leaves gaps and doesn’t blend them

Uses alternative pronunciations of graphemes in pseudo words

Inappropriate pronunciations of real words, e.g. reading ‘blow’ to rhyme with ‘cow’

Corrects initial attempts and finishes with the correct pronunciation

Correctly attempts a word but then re-corrects and finishes with an incorrect pronunciation

Pronunciation difficulties, e.g. student usually says ‘fw’ for ‘th’

 

Words pronounced with the student’s accent

 

 

3.3 Annotating student errors

Recording incorrect student responses in a meaningful way will give you a much clearer way of analysing the data collected by the Phonics Check.

This example of Annotating student errors illustrates just one way you could record errors made while a student is decoding a word.

You may prefer to develop your own approach as long as it provides you with consistent and meaningful records for later analysis.

4.0 Do the Phonics Check
4.1 Introduce the Phonics Check to your student

Introduce the Phonics Check to each student as consistently as possible, providing enough information to any students who do not initially understand the task.

See the sample script for a useful example of how to introduce the Phonics Check.

Use a printed version of the double sided practice sheet to familiarise your student with the task. It has four pseudo words on one side and four real words on the other.

Provide guidance about using the practice sheet to ensure the student understands the task.

Remind your student that the sounds must be blended together to say the whole word and demonstrate what you mean using one of the practice words.

However, DO NOT give this instruction once the student has begun the Phonics Check!

4.2 Guide your student through the Phonics Check

Offer encouragement and support during the Phonics Check, but do not indicate whether the student has decoded a word correctly or not.

It is important to tell your student if there are real words or made up words that match pictures of funny creatures on each page.

You may prompt the student to move to the next word but be careful not to do so while they are in the process of decoding the word.

You can indicate which word comes next but be careful not to provide decoding clues, e.g. pointing left to right.

4.3 Online or offline version?

If you are using a paper version of the Check, you’ll use the printed answer sheets to record the student responses.

If you’re using the online Phonics Check, follow the prompts to record each student’s responses.

And add your own comments along the way to help in planning future phonics teaching, e.g. student found blending difficult and did not know a grapheme. It’s important to record both the error and the nature of the error.

4.4 You know your student best!

You will recognise if your student is tiring and when it is appropriate to take a rest break. Make sure though that the student finishes the Phonics Check on that same day. You may also feel it’s appropriate to completely cease the Phonics Check.

5.0 What next?
5.1 Results – what to expect

The expected minimum achievement level of 28 out of 40 items will provide you with a sense of what is reasonable to expect for a Year 1 student, given the requirements of the Australian Curriculum. 

This is NOT a pass/fail mark. Rather it is an indication of the score a student might achieve if their phonics learning is progressing as expected.

With few exceptions, all students should be able to achieve the expected minimum achievement level.

With high quality phonics instruction, many students will be able to achieve 40/40.

5.2 Some questions to consider
  • Did your students do as well as you expected?
  • Were there any surprises? Which students performed better/worse than expected? Is it clear why?
  • How close to mastery of the grapheme–phoneme correspondences are your students? What do they need to learn next?
5.3 Analyse and respond!

The most valuable use of the Phonics Check results will be in your classroom.

Your analysis of and responses to the results will inform planning and resourcing.

You can review your existing phonics programs in the light of the results.

And you can design appropriate differentiated learning and intervention processes for your students as they develop their skills in reading, spelling and writing.

You will find detailed information to guide and inform analysis and responses to the Phonics Check results at whole school and classroom level in After the Year 1 Phonics Check.

You will also find information and case studies on differentiated teaching to assist your analysis and response to the results of individual students. And you will see details of the rationale, design and structure of the Phonics Check itself.

Downloadable resources

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The structure of the Phonics Check

Information

This document describes how the Phonics Check is organised in two sections.

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Phonics Check manual for teachers

Teacher guide

Online Phonics Check user manual for teachers.

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Phonics Check manual for school administrators

Information

Online Phonics Check user manual for school administrators.

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Rationale for using pseudo words

Information

Explains what pseudo words are and the rationale for using them.

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Sample script to use with students for the Year 1 Phonics Check for Teachers

Teacher guide

Use this sample script to introduce the Phonics Check to your students.

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Annotating student errors

Teacher guide

An example of one way you could record student errors.

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Phonics Check scoring guidance

Teacher guide

Advice about scoring, in terms of acceptable pronunciation.

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Phonics Check student materials

Teacher guide

This resource provides a list of the words in the Phonics Check.

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Phonics Check answer sheet

Teacher guide

Downloadable answer sheet for paper version Phonics Check.

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Student practice materials for the Phonics Check

Teaching and learning resource
Lesson activity

These materials provide examples of the words similar to those in the Check.

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