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Worrying about use of ORT and HF words in reception

(106 Posts)
Kerryblue Tue 02-Oct-12 09:24:59

Actually, I am feeling really tearful right now sad

I have dt's, just started reception. This morning their teacher told me she is going to send home some 'tricky' words for them to learn and start them on reading books. When I asked which ones, I got the answer I so didn't want - Biff and bloody Chip!!

Bit of background... my Year 4 dd is still on reading schemes, is having masses of extra help (for example a 'wheel' of sounds such as 'gr' 'st' 'cl' etc that she has to read every night), and has just really struggled with her reading. She learnt (or not as the case may be) with Biff and Chip. That scheme totally failed her. She is one of the 1:5 who needs synthetic phonics, it's just we didn't realise this at Key Stage 1. Long story.

My Year 7 ds, who although reads well now, was a late reader and also learnt with this scheme.

Both of them were very much 'I will only do what the teacher asks me to do, you mummy, know nothing!' type of children. The dt's are going the same way. If I want them to read to me at home with Songbird books for eg, I bet they will fuss about it because it's not what the teacher wants them to do.

I am probably being over emotional about this, but I really, really want them to learn with synthetic phonics. I have learnt so much about different types of learning to read - mainly from mumsnet actually - for me to believe that this is the best way. How do we know they are going to be OK with Biff and Chip until it's too late.

At the moment, they know all their letter sounds, some digraphs and long vowel sounds (using the Letters and Sounds DVD and poster) but are struggling with blending a bit. So they are at the very start of their learning to read journey and I so don't want it to go wrong for them.

What should I do next with them? How do I help them?

manchestermummy Tue 02-Oct-12 10:04:55

My DD1 has just started reception, and we're not even at the sending reading books home phase. I don't even know what reading scheme the class will be using, what synthetic phonics are and have only just learned what HF words are! In short, I don't care. I just want DD1 to love to read, and no matter what she's doing at school, I will support her at home. All in good time IMHO: we're only a month in.

Having said that, I appreciate that it must be hard for you to see the struggles that your other DCs have faced. Could you not speak with the teacher and express those concerns? Could the teacher suggest things to do at home to support your DTs? Obviously I've no experience of supporting a child learning to read, but it does strike me that your DTs might be different. I also wouldn't get stressed about it. DD1 told me before she started school that she never wanted to learn how to read ever, but now all the wants me to do at night is write simple words down for her.

I tend to have a very simplistic view of the world though, so I may of course be talking complete rubbish!

Kerryblue Tue 02-Oct-12 10:44:10

I was like you with my oldest two. I had no idea about all of the above. I didn't care either, I just thought the school would take care of it all, with me helping a bit at home. The thing is, when you have been 'stung' once before, and your child is crying at aged 8 and a half that they won't ever be able to learn anything in history or geography for eg, because of their lack of ability to read, you really do begin to care.

I think you are right, I am going to have to have a word with the teacher and let her know about the struggles we have had with reading in this house! And yes, I am praying the dt's will be different and find it a bit easier.

Thank you

ReallyTired Tue 02-Oct-12 10:55:26

Kerryblue I suggest you post on the reading reform bulitin board. They are very knowledgable. They may be able to help you with your older child as well.

Its brilliant that the twins know their letter sounds. It sounds like that they need practice with blending.

It is shocking that its still necessary to school proof your children in 2012. It is ridicolous sending home reading books when they are in the first term of reception. My son's school didn't send home any books until the children could blend and segment words, which was six months into reception. His year 6 class have high standards of literacy as a result inspite of being in a deprived area.

In your postition I would go into the teacher and ask her to hold off reading books until your child has had time to settle into reception. Tell the teacher that your child is far too tired for reading practice. (Its probably not a lie)

In the meantime I suggest getting hold of the jolly phonics manual and get your twins to practice blending every day for about five minutes. The jolly phonics manual tells you which words are tricky and best learnt as wholes ie. "the"

GoldenPeppermintCreams Tue 02-Oct-12 11:38:09

Are they definitely not teaching them phonics in the classroom? confused

My son's school does a wacky mixture of both. Once they know 19 sounds, they get sent home with 6 HFW's to learn and a Biff and Chip book. (My son started the scheme in the nursery class)

I decided to trust what the school was doing, but also pointed out the phonic sounds and tricky parts of the HFW's at he learnt them, or when reading them in the book. E.g. I would say the word "go" is tricky because go = g/oa/ instead of g/o/ , and left it at that.

Now when he comes across a word he doesn't know he sounds it out phonetically, and takes a guess. Normally he's right. I don't know if I did the right thing, or if he's one of those children who would have cracked the phonic code without help, but he's moved up a couple of levels on their book scheme, and is currently on level 2 ORT. So maybe you could do something similar?

I also brought the Songbird books ( £6 for a level set on Amazon ) and some Project X books ( £16 for 24 stories across the first 4 levels from Amazon) which are phonic based, which we read at the weekend and school holidays.

The Cbeebies website has a really good Alphablocks game which helps demonstrate blending as well as get them thinking about what the answers are. My son loves it.

Good luck, I can see why you are unhappy.

Kerryblue Tue 02-Oct-12 12:29:10

Thanks for the link reallytired (I know the feeling!!)

We have the Jolly Phonics books 1-6 and I know they are learning the letter sounds from this (I recognise the songs they come home singing smile )
I have also bought them the first set of Songbird books but they haven't quite got blending for these to work yet. I will try the Alphablocks game too.

I can understand the tricky word lists. Even though advocates of 'pure' phonics suggest that even these can be sounded out. I think? But I guess I want them to be able to decode words using phonics rather than looking at pictures in the books, or looking at the first letter of a word.

Golden - yes they are doing phonics stuff. But I worry that they will come home with books with words in that they are unable to decode because they haven't done enough phonics first. One I remember with dd is the word 'circus' in a really early ORT book.

I am sure I come across as overly stressed about this. I know they are only one month into school. I just want the very foundation of learning to read to be right for them. I have trusted a school before, and unfortunately wish I hadn't.

mrsbaffled Tue 02-Oct-12 12:29:17

At year 4 your oldest will be able to cope with "Toe By Toe". it is a scheme that you work through every day for 10-20 mins to teach reading. It is a little dry, but really works. School might consider doing it 1-1 if it's put on an IEP?

ReallyTired Tue 02-Oct-12 14:19:22

The jolly phonics manual has a list of high frequency tricky words which it feels are best just learnt. Words like was, the, come or because are so common that its not realistic not to introduce them early. If your child is being asked to learn high frequency words like "and" which are perfectly decodable then I would be concerned.

Even then its just a matter of tweeking the word.

"I am sure I come across as overly stressed about this. I know they are only one month into school. I just want the very foundation of learning to read to be right for them. I have trusted a school before, and unfortunately wish I hadn't"

I think you are right to be weary. The first term of reception is one of the most important times of a child's school career. If the foundations are bad then it affects children for life. When are your twins five? You could choose to flexi school them if you want more time to make sure they learn to read PROPERLY. Education is not complusory until the term after they are five.

Kerryblue Tue 02-Oct-12 14:27:30

Reallytired - they are 5 in January. Flexi schooling is impossible for us, but I guess what I am asking is what to do at home? To compliment school. What comes next - after learning letter sounds and learning to blend CVC words?

I will be interested to see which HF words they come home with this week.

I am glad you agree with me, about being concerned. I am so NOT precious about 'stuff' (iyswim!!) but this reading thing, well, that's a different story for me now.

ReallyTired Tue 02-Oct-12 14:36:55

You are in a hard position. I think that posting your question on the reading reform bullitin board will get a better answer than what mumsnet can give. Many of these people are qualified teachers who can give you better advice.

Ds was lucky in having a teacher who was 100% into synthetic phonics. Once a child could blend a simple three letter word they were given longer words to blend.


They were taught to break down words into smaller bits.

Ie, carpet = car pet

Sometimes learning constant blends can help with longer words. Although the child needs to learn how the constant blend is made. The reading reform website can explain this much better than me.

I feel your family has been let down.

Nottigermum Tue 02-Oct-12 16:25:49

I thought that the symthetic phonics method was used in all schools. I don't have that much knowledge but I thought that the method was used in all (non fee paying) schools.

DSs have learned through phonics but also read the Biff and Chip books to start off with. The books were not used in isolation.

As for the tricky words, they just had to learn them by sight, for which we have used the old fashion flash cards (I made flashcards with all the tricky words in high frequency list for KS1).

What comes next after CVC words are a mixture of tricky words and some more complex sounds such as -ar, -ing, -oi, -or, -igh, -ur, -ow, -ear, -ure, -air, -oa, -ai, -ee.

Actually that's all of them I think, and -qu of course.

Feenie Tue 02-Oct-12 17:35:02

The tricky words are not meant to "just be learnt by sight' - government advice is to teach them as decodable but with a tricky 'bit'.

You're right, OP - it's this 'wacky' mixture of methods that fails one in five children, your first two included.

ReallyTired's advice of posting on RRF is excellent. smile

Lucky13 Tue 02-Oct-12 18:08:39

I'm not sure if this is a helpful suggestion or not, but have you tried the Reading Eggs website? My DD has just started reception and is flying along, purely down to Reading Eggs I think. I wasn't sure how to progress with her after teaching her the initial sounds - I knew nothing of blending etc. However we sat down together with Reading Eggs and it has been brilliant.

maizieD Tue 02-Oct-12 19:00:47

The tricky words are not meant to "just be learnt by sight' - government advice is to teach them as decodable but with a tricky 'bit'.

I might be misunderstanding ReallyTired's post but the Jolly Phonics manual most certainly does not expect these words to be 'just learned'.

This extract from The RRF website 'Synthetic Phonic teaching principles' explains just how they should be taught:

Introduce useful, common ‘tricky words’ slowly and systematically emphasising the blending skill once the tricky letter or letters have been pointed out. For example, when teaching the word ‘you’, say, “In this word (pointing at ‘you’), these letters (pointing at ‘ou’), are code for /oo/.” (‘Tricky words’ are a small number of words, in which there are rare/unusual graphemes, or, words in which not all the graphemes have yet been formally taught, which might be used in early reading material .)

As one of the developers of the Jolly Phonics programme co-authored this article I think that you can take it that the tricky words were never intended to be taught any other way in that programme.

ReallyTired Tue 02-Oct-12 21:17:31


Prehaps I have not expressed myself well. When my son learnt tricky words he was shown which parts of the words were phonetic and which bit broke the rules. Ie. "was" really should be written as "woz". The children had to learn which words were tricky and they were shown how to remember them.

I think the reading reform website is a better place for advice as the people there are more qualified.

I don't think that many teachers understand that you can't do a bit of synthetic phonics. To get the full benefit the children need a period of pure synthetic phonics without mixed methods. I think the teaching of reading has made massive strides in the last ten years, but I don't think people understand how harmful mixed methods are.

Feenie Tue 02-Oct-12 21:28:07

Agree totally, ReallyTired.

My previous reply referred to NotTigerMum and GoldenPeppermintCream's posts.

mrz Tue 02-Oct-12 21:29:03

What maizieD is saying is that "was" doesn't break the rules. It follows "the rules" just not the most common ones. the letter <a> following the sound /w/ does represent the sound /o/ (want, watch, what), and the sound /z/ can be written <s> (think - is, as, its ...)

Ferguson Tue 02-Oct-12 23:10:49

Hi -

This "Phonics vs Biff & Chip" debate looks like running for EVER!!!

When I first worked in schools, twenty five years ago (as parent helper, then TA) ORT was relatively new, but Roger Red Hat and Billy Blue Hat were 'on the way out' !

A year ago, an enlightened school I was in was consigning ALL the old Biff & Chip books to the recycling skip!

In recent weeks I have posted phonics info for some confused/worried parents, and I repeat it here, in the hope someone might find a use for it :


Here is a copy of a PM I sent to someone a few weeks ago; it might help you a bit. Also, as was mentioned, Cbeebies Alpha Blocks is a good site (in fact BBC is always a good place for info, right up to GCSE or beyond.)

Phonics is confusing for those not properly trained in it, and I have come across plenty of teachers who still get it wrong!

The SOUND for most letters should be "pure". Thus the sound for letter 'l' is not 'luh (which it was in the 'old days', I agree) but 'llllll'. Similarly, 'm' and 'n' are not 'muh' and 'nuh' but 'mmmm' and 'nnnn'.

In the word 'like' it is the 'e' at the end that changes 'i' from its normal sound, to its letter name (pronounced) 'eye'.

So children need to know TWO sounds for many letters, the 'normal' sound, and the 'name' when the word ends in an 'e'.

This is known as a 'split digraph', and probably by Yr2 children are expected to know it by that name.

PS : different schools teach Phonics with various degrees of accuracy; thus some will do it great precision and dedication, while others do only minimum Phonics and revert to systems they have used for 20 or 30 years!

If you need any further clarification, feel free to ask me for more info. I'm afraid I get rather cross when some well-meaning people give false or misleading info. In case you have not noticed yet, one of the very best MN teachers is " mrz ", who always gives sound advice; sorry about the pun!



Mashabell Wed 03-Oct-12 07:15:09

Despite all the phonics hoo-ha, reading fluency still comes down to being able to read all common words by instantly, by sight, without the need for decoding, like u all do now.

There are different ways of approaching phonics too. It is possible to teach a few words by sight first (a, and, and, hand, land, sand) and then look for the phonics in them. It's not completely either or.

A very essential part of learning to read is learning the first 100 and the next 200 words fairly quickly, because they keep cropping up all over the place. Half the words in any book come from them.

64 of those words are phonically regular and decodable. So phonics works brilliantly with them (although for spelling even some of those need extra attention):
a, and, as, at, had, has, that, an, back, can,
came, made, make,
get, them, then, well, went, her,
been, see,
in, is, it, if, did, him, his, with, big, little, this, will, first,
I, like, right, by, my,
not, on, from, of, off, or, for, before, more, so, go, no,
but, much, must, up, just,
our, out, about,
new, over, old, they, their.

The other 36 are trickier:
*was, all, call, want, what, said,
the, he, she, be, we, me, when, which,
here, there, were, where,
to, one, you, come, could, do, down, into, look, now, only, other, some, two, who, your, are, have.*

Some of those keep tripping children up in their early reading for a long time.

fatfinger Wed 03-Oct-12 07:32:24

I was feeling like an inadequate parent (DD in year 1) at the start of this thread, I didn't understand what the problem with Biff and Chip was, I didn't understand the term synthetic phonics. But by the end I feel vindicated! Some of you sound completely neurotic!!!

The first years of school are incredibly important, but the skill set kids need to learn is so much wider than learning to read. Learning that school is fun, school is a place to meet and play with lots of different children, learning how to respond to different situations, maths, science are all as important as literacy. Coming home to a mummy nearly in tears because you have brought home a Biff and Chip book really isn't helping anything.

Children who don't have SEN will learn to read however they are taught if they have support st home. Some will pick it up faster than others, and we need to go with the flow if our kids are one of the slower ones, becoming neurotic won't help!

Smoking in front of our kids is harmful, teaching with "mixed methods" is not.

DilysPrice Wed 03-Oct-12 07:43:36

Fat finger - most children will learn perfectly well with mixed methods as many adults did). You probably don't need to worry about ^your* DC.

However a substantial majority will really struggle with reading if not taught with more or less pure phonics methods, and with two elder DCs who are clearly in that group the OP is not being neurotic to suspect that her DTs will be the same. Life can be miserable at an English school for a child who is still struggling with reading at 7/8 and it's not neurotic to want to spare your children that.

fatfinger Wed 03-Oct-12 08:50:04

DilysPrice, what evidence is there that a "substantial majority" will struggle if not taught pure phonics? I'm guessing that most teachers find a middle ground - the fact that my daughter is reading Biff and Chip books suggests to me she isn't doing pure phonics. If pure phonics was THE answer wouldn't more teachers be doing this?

I'd be interested to see actual statistics of how many children cannot read at age 7/8, and of those how many do not have significant social problems and/or SEN. I can't believe that there would be any and that's why I don't worry about my DC and I found the OP's posts a bit OTT. These are surely the factors that are really crucial in a child's early learning career, not whether or not their teacher is rigidly following the in-vogue teaching method?

I read this forum regularly with interest and often wonder whether my attitude to my DC's education is too laid back and whether I need to do more at home. But ultimately, I think I'm right (!), kids pick up if you're really wound up about something and that's not conducive to learning. And also let teachers teach and parents parent!!

ReallyTired Wed 03-Oct-12 09:36:22

If a child is dyslexic then mixed methods are a nightmare. A non dyslexic child will have no problem learning to read however you teach them.

The problem with mixed methods is that it is confusing. Some children have no idea whether they are supposed to look at the picture, guess from the context or sound out the word. Its too much at once and its no wonder than some children are confused and bewildered. English is a complex language, but children need to start of simply and build up to more complex words like "circus"

Imagine the words are jumping about on the page because you got dyslexia. You have also been told to look at the picture and read the sentence so you can guess from context. Its no wonder a dyslexic child is doomed to failure.

Synthetic phonics is not a magic bullet. The dyslexic child will still need a lot of support, however pure synethetic phonics is the most effective method to teach a dyslexic child.

The child in this article is a good example of a child without social problems or learning difficulties. There are children up and down the country like him. The OP older child is another example.

The national literacy stragery of the past was a total hotchpot mess. It left a minority of children confused and unable to read.

rrbrigi Wed 03-Oct-12 10:17:50

On my son school most of the children started on the pink level. These books have words in it what they have not learnt in school yet (I mean they have not learnt the phonics for these words yet). So some children who already knew the phonics are able to read them but the others are not. The teacher told us if our child are able to read the books that is great, but if they not we should not worry. Looking the picture with the child and let the child tell you the story from the picture is also "reading" and help them a lot until they will learn all of the sounds. Also if they can find the letters that they already learnt or even can recognize just a couple of words from these sounds in the book is also as great as reading the whole book. Also the teacher asked us to speak about the book (e.g.: looking the cover and let the child to find out the story, than go through the book together and adult can read the book to the child as well, explaining where is the beginning, middle and end). And you can learn 2-3 tricky words in a day together.

Don't force your child to read the book alone, but he can share the book with you if he wishes. He can read for example only one word in a book and you can read the rest. There are lot more things that you can do with a book not just reading it. I think schools are giving home books this early because they would like from the child to get used to this homework by the time they are able to read it alone.

And if you do not agree with the way how school teaches your child to read, you can do other ways at home. There are lots of source on the internet how to teach a child to read. Learning reading in two different ways, from two different aspects might be better than one way.

DilysPrice Wed 03-Oct-12 10:55:14

Bloody hell, just seen I typed "substantial majority " when I meant "substantial minority" obviously that was nonsense. - that'll teach me not to post before my morning coffee blush

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