Does anyone know the 'proper' way to explain 'magic e' in phonics?

(118 Posts)
owlelf Sat 06-Oct-12 10:46:44

DS is in Y1. His School have adopted Read write inc this year (previously Jolly Phonics).

He has guided reaching once a week, and daily WRI sessions, but he doesn't read one to one with a teacher.

Apparently as he is doing well he doesn't get any one to one reading. I feel that this puts added pressure on me to guide him properly at home. I'm very happy to read with him each night, and we both really enjoy bedtime stories. But I do feel pressure to make sure I explain things to him in a way that is consistent with what he is taught in school- otherwise I will confuse him.

Anyway, I know that the term magic e is now outdated. He does struggle over the concept of an 'e' changing a letter sound to a letter name- and I'm not sure if there is a clever way to explain it? I would live to know how this is covered in the read write inc program.

Can anyone help?

dinosaurinmybelly Sun 14-Oct-12 22:10:25

enjoying this thread.. just marking my place..

mrz Thu 11-Oct-12 17:30:23

In primary schools we would teach the "simple" one letter represents one sound code first, teach that one sound can be written in different ways and one spelling can represent different sounds. For vowel sounds we teach the most common ways to spell the sound. So my Y1 children have been learning that "ae" can be written <ai> <ay> <a-e> and <ea> (most also know that <ey> <eigh> and <a> are also ways to write "ae") now they are learning that "ee" can be written <ee> <ea> <e> and <y>. Next we will look at how <ea> can be "ae" in steak and "ee" in stream.

CecilyP Thu 11-Oct-12 17:23:21

CecilyP if they were making a noise between the covers I'm sure you would be able to hear them what with you being exposed to all that magic as a child.

Who's to say I can't. However, I had never actually heard of 'magic e' until I was an adult, but was definitely taught with the magic e, rather than the split grapheme approach.

CecilyP Thu 11-Oct-12 17:18:25

It's extraordinary how people seem to forget that little children will grow into big children and the restricted reading vocabulary that most of them (thanks to ORT) are getting now will become immeasurably wider and that, when that happens, a significant number of them are completely muddled by inaccurate 'rules'. What is more, they often grow up to be muddled adults who cannot understand 'phonics' because it isn't rule bound and who think that reading and writing are very hard to teach because the rules keep being broken.

No, I haven't overlooked the fact that children will grow up and read books with unresticted vocabulary - but they have to start somewhere. If, in your experience, it is better to teach children, from the outset, all possibilites of a-e, e-e, i-e, o-e and u-e, so they don't get confused later, then I will have to accept that. I am not sure why you would mention rule-bound. When you teach the DCs their first sounds, do you immediately say, of course this isn't always the case, or do you just add more possibilities gradually?

'I have been a child and I can't say that that approach confused me in any way,'

And I was beaten regularly as a child and it never did me any harm... [where's the eye roll smilie when you want one...]^

Not quite the same, as I can be sure about my lack of confusion - you cannot be sure if the regular beatings never did you any harm.

mrz Thu 11-Oct-12 16:50:53

CecilyP if they were making a noise between the covers I'm sure you would be able to hear them what with you being exposed to all that magic as a child.
Fortunately some of us found reading easy to pick up and didn't suffer any difficulties working out that there wasn't anything more magic about <e> than any other letter in the alphabet, it seems others are still under the spell.

maizieD Thu 11-Oct-12 16:38:28

In the everyday words, particularly single syllable, that little children will be reading, the exceptions must be far fewer than 50%.

It's extraordinary how people seem to forget that little children will grow into big children and the restricted reading vocabulary that most of them (thanks to ORT) are getting now will become immeasurably wider and that, when that happens, a significant number of them are completely muddled by inaccurate 'rules'. What is more, they often grow up to be muddled adults who cannot understand 'phonics' because it isn't rule bound and who think that reading and writing are very hard to teach because the rules keep being broken.

Look at poor old masha who just cannot bear it that English spelling doesn't follow 'the rules'.

^ I have been a child and I can't say that that approach confused me in any way,^

And I was beaten regularly as a child and it never did me any harm... [where's the eye roll smilie when you want one...]

LittleFrieda Thu 11-Oct-12 14:19:40

Exactly CecilyP.

CecilyP Thu 11-Oct-12 12:51:00

Magic e makes the vowel says its name.

OTOH, if mrz has convinced us that all letters are silent (though who knows what they get up to between those closed covers of a book) it is we, the reader, who say the name in response to that particular spelling.

Unfortunately, LittleFrieda, the 'few exceptions' probably amount to about 50% of words ending in 'e'.

In the everyday words, particularly single syllable, that little children will be reading, the exceptions must be far fewer than 50%. I have been a child and I can't say that that approach confused me in any way, even though surrounded by the exceptions that were the popular girls' names of the 1950s. Surely, it can only be confusing if a child believed it is set in stone.

LittleFrieda Thu 11-Oct-12 10:23:07

MaizieD The exceptions are not anywhere near 50%.

vesela Wed 10-Oct-12 23:18:41

Masha - my daughter is also learning to read in a language that has a pretty transparent code. Yes, it's easy. Does that mean she holds up her five-year-old hands in horror at how hard English is? No, partly because I try to give her the impression that this is something she can deal with, bit by bit. (Or sometimes all at once: "Oh look, here's a handy list of ways to write the sounds (from Debbie Hepplewhite's site). Shall we tape it to your door?" (It's about as tall as she is, when it's printed out).

Of course it helps to understand the problem, but good phonics resources IMO help people to do that. And after that, a lot of it's about attitude.

maizieD Wed 10-Oct-12 23:09:12

Unfortunately, LittleFrieda, the 'few exceptions' probably amount to about 50% of words ending in 'e'.

I don't think it's very helpful to teach a 'rule' which only works 50% of the time.

And the OP did ask for the 'proper way' to explain 'magic e'...

LittleFrieda Wed 10-Oct-12 21:58:45

Euphemia no I haven't read the whole thread. grin

It is helpful to teach magic e makes the the vowel say its name because mostly that is what it does. It's much easier to learn that and the few exceptions, than it is to try and understand language with no general rules.

Euphemia Wed 10-Oct-12 20:01:10

LittleFrieda have you read any of the thread? hmm

mrz Wed 10-Oct-12 19:16:05

Not in give or have or love or more or come or some or glove or store or .... many other words

LittleFrieda Wed 10-Oct-12 18:51:49

Magic e makes the vowel says its name.

SoundsWrite Wed 10-Oct-12 18:43:01

'how can anyone say the magic e doesn't perform magic?'
Because letters or, more properly, spellings don't 'make' sounds and they don't 'say' sounds and they certainly have nothing to do with magic. If you want to confuse children instead of telling that that letters stand for the sounds in our everyday speech, that's the way to go about it.
The code is complex and because it is complex it needs to be taught from simple to complex over time. Throwing in ideas about letters being magic makes young children think that letters can 'do' and be anything at all. After all, the letter <a> can be 'a' in 'cat', it can be 'ae' in 'baby', it can be 'or' in 'all', it can be 'o' in 'wash'.
Maybe it's better to offer young children a new way of thinking about the split spelling: one that is logical, simple and true. smile

mrz Wed 10-Oct-12 18:20:19

So when a parent asks, 'Why is my child having trouble with x, y, z?'
I shall keep explaining what is tricky about those particular spellings.
unfortunately most of the time what you say has no basis in fact

mrz Wed 10-Oct-12 07:41:54

No masha , "phonics advocates" offer a way to work with the spelling system we have rather than tell people "reading is too hard!"

Mashabell Wed 10-Oct-12 07:13:49

In practice, phonics advocates do the same thing after Y1 as other teachers: practise, practise, practise with little groups of words.

The lists which I post, to show what needs learning, tend to be ones which contain 'stupid' spellings. If it wasn't for the irregular spellings, nothing but phonics would be needed. Learning to read and write would be easy. There would be no need for endless repetitions of the same things again and again.

There would also be no endless debates about how best to teach children to read and write, or worried parents, or so many children struggling to cope.

So when a parent asks, 'Why is my child having trouble with x, y, z?'
I shall keep explaining what is tricky about those particular spellings. Because I believe that being aware what causes a learning difficulty helps with teaching it.

Removing that difficulty would be even better, IMO, but understanding the problem helps too.

The much revered phonics guru Diane McGuinness wrote in an article in 2002
www.rrf.org.uk/archive.php?n_ID=95&n_issueNumber=49

“It’s difficult for us to imagine what it’s like to have a transparent (or nearly transparent) alphabet code, like those in Italy, Spain, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Teaching a transparent alphabet is incredibly easy ... Learning this is so easy, that children start to read late (age 6 or older) and finish early, by the end of the school year. So easy, that no country with a transparent alphabet tests reading skill by decoding accuracy. Everybody can decode.”

mrz Tue 09-Oct-12 19:19:39

but you don't offer an alternative masha just loads of negativity about the nature of English and stupid lists of words.

Mashabell Tue 09-Oct-12 19:07:20

I don't see what your purpose is in coming on to threads like this.

To explain why phonics is not whole answer for learning to read English, and even less for learning to write. It's a good start, but after YR and Y1, it's simply memorise, memorise, memorise.

And 'wait' and 'main' are predictable for reading (although undermined by 'said'), but they are unpredictable for spelling. 'Main' a little less so, because '-ain' endings are much more common than '-ane', but u also have 'reins, reign, deign, feign, vein, champaign' and 'champagne.

For spelling, the <a-e> grapheme has at least 107 exceptions. To claim that u can learn to spell those by the phonic method is just shmonix.

vesela Tue 09-Oct-12 11:26:40

In other words, why don't you start threads called "We need spelling reform now" rather than coming on to every phonics thread and making your case for spelling reform there? You're writing about spelling reform, not about phonics teaching, so I don't see what your purpose is in coming on to threads like this.

vesela Tue 09-Oct-12 11:24:04

by which I don't mean to suggest that it's a walk in the park. And I do think massive spelling reform would bring advantages. I worry not just about literacy in English-speaking countries, but that lots of people expected to learn English as an international language are going to be left behind.

That said, given the extreme unlikelihood of massive spelling reform I don't see what purpose you serve by continually making the situation out to be worse than it is.

vesela Tue 09-Oct-12 11:14:49

Wait and main aren't exceptions, though, they're just ai. Don't make things so difficult!

DD knows that sometimes it's a_t_e or a_k_e, sometimes it's ait, sometimes it's eat or eak. Occasionally it's something else. Big deal.

Mashabell Tue 09-Oct-12 10:45:39

In early reading the concept can be taught with words like
bake, blame, brave, cake, came, cave, crane, date, late, lane...

But when it comes to spelling, the <a-e> patterns is used by 338 common words, but there are at least 107 exceptions:
break, great, eight, straight, main, wait....

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