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Good reader (y1) not so good at phonics

(35 Posts)
Cat98 Wed 06-Nov-13 19:56:39

I'm a bit baffled by this and just wondering if I need to be concerned.
Ds is 5 and in year 1. He's an able reader (currently bringing home white band books from school). Teachers hae never mentioned any concerns. However when he had an assessment (informal - a friend did it for us as he is particularly able in numeracy and we wondered how able. She also checked his reading) we were told that he reads well but as he has an excellent (possibly photographic)memory he remembers how the words look rather than sounding out.

I have tried to get him to sound out more at home but he gets very frustrated. After reading on here how important phonics is, I tried him with the phonics screening test from last year. (No flaming please he was perfectly happy to do it!) and he would clearly have failed. He was fine on all the real words (slightly suspect with 'portrait') but struggled sounding out a lot of the pseudo words. He would have had about 25.

Now I know he's a bit young to be taking it as its usually end of yr 1. But because he's on 'white' and school say he's a great reader, no problems, I'm wondering how he can't do phonics as well? Would you be concerned at the disparity? I find out this week too that he's been selected with one other child to be a reading helper at school, too.

Thank you for any opinions!

BeQuicksieorBeDead Wed 06-Nov-13 20:02:21

Some kids just dont need phonics. Luckily, because most of us weren't taught that way! Some children can just read whole words, no problem.
I teach five year olds and every year there are a few children who dont need to segment and blend.

Dont worry about the year one check, he really doesnt need to jump through those ridiculous.hoops to be a good reader, and it is a check of the school not individual children.

enderwoman Wed 06-Nov-13 20:02:24

My daughter taught herself to read by I suspect memorising words. (Her phonics are not so good) As a result (?) her spelling is not very good so Id be on the look out for that.

mrz Wed 06-Nov-13 20:07:32

Children who rely entirely on memory often "hit a wall" in Y2 beginning of Y3 other children manage to work out the relationship between speech sounds and written language which is important for spelling and reading.

Cat98 Wed 06-Nov-13 20:26:37

Thank you for the comments.
Mrz - be interesting to know what you would recommend, he was fine with the easier phonics but its the more complicated ones he struggles with. Is it worth mentioning to the school in case they haven't noticed? Or worth doing a particular activity at home, and if so, what? Thank you. Spelling so far seems ok. But again that's mostly down to his fantastic memory.

Cat98 Wed 06-Nov-13 20:28:55

Or is it just worth waiting until the end of yr 1 and see how it is then, give it more time for the phonics side to improve.

AuntieStella Wed 06-Nov-13 20:33:11

As you say he cannot read a word he's not seen before, then I would expect big difficulties.

Lucky guessing will only get you so far, and that distance lessens as more advanced concepts are introduced to texts.

mrz Wed 06-Nov-13 20:34:54

As you say he has just started in Y1 so probably hasn't been taught more than the basics at this stage. I wouldn't worry but I would keep an eye on what is being taught.
My son was a good early reader and school didn't bother with phonics which caused problems with writing as he progressed through school.

TeenAndTween Wed 06-Nov-13 20:45:35

BeQuick - to be honest I'm a bit worried by your reply and the fact that you are a primary teacher.

How do you read a word you've not come across before if not by phonics? e.g. DD1 is coming across various words in GCSE biology. The only way I know how to read them is to sound them out, ie phonics.

(Whereas DD1 who has appalling phonic knowledge often comes across words she doesn't know in books. However when I pronounce them correctly for her, 9 times out of 10 it is a word she does actually know, she's just not seen it written down before).

OP - provided he can do easier phonics, and his school teaches phonics well in Y1, then presumably he'll be OK by the end of the year.

DeWe Wed 06-Nov-13 20:54:57

I was an early reader who didn't get phonics.
The point phonics clicked, I was half way through the second book in the Lord of the Rings series-in year 2. It was the names that I needed phonics for, and it gave me some determination to work them out, but I didn't need it for the standard vocabulary.
You can read an awful lot with look and say. grin

MilkRunningOutAgain Wed 06-Nov-13 21:03:55

My yr 6 DS learned to read before doing phonics and didn't bother with the phonics lessons he received. So far it hasn't caused problems, he's on course for level 5 by the end of primary. I think perhaps he does it sub consciously , he has no problems with new words. He also has a great memory and no problems with spelling, in fact he likes the grammar bit of SATS.

mrz Wed 06-Nov-13 21:22:36

It is estimated that you can learn around 1500 words by sight (there are over a million words in the English language) hmm

columngollum Wed 06-Nov-13 21:48:24

But they're not all used the same amount.

Cat98 Wed 06-Nov-13 22:26:21

Thank you all. Auntiestella, he can read words he hasn't seen before, he just finds it difficult and needs prompting at the moment for a lot of them.

simpson Wed 06-Nov-13 22:31:48

I don't think this would worry me at this point in yr1 ie early in your child's school career iyswim.

How is he on the phonics that he has already been taught? For example a/e, igh, etc?

I definitely think its worth keeping an eye on but as mrz says, he won't have been taught everything yet.

I remember with my DD she could read words like "like, made, make and said" before she could decode them (ie on sight, because she taught herself) but when she realised how to decode them properly she said "that is why like is like" iyswim and everything slotted into place.

I would be making sure that the school do not rush his reading to very high levels at this stage though.

mrz Thu 07-Nov-13 06:45:13

No thet aren't columngollum but if you could only read 1500 words you would be very restricted in your ability to access most texts

redskyatnight Thu 07-Nov-13 08:57:23

DS's phonics were also behind his actual reading ability in Y1 (they did catch up by the end of the year, so he would have passed the phonics test if it had been about then). I found that the issue was not reading but that he really struggled with spelling - he couldn't reliably sound out a word, so he couldn't translate this into something on paper.

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Thu 07-Nov-13 10:30:22

I would mention it to the teacher actually. She probably assumes he's good at phonics because he's a good reader. It is good practice to use phonics and will help him later on.

I learnt to read by the look and say method and I have to say although I'm a good all rounder academically my spelling is not great and I often have to check even quite common words. I think if I'd learnt by phonics I'd be a better speller. In fact I think doing phonics with my DD is helping my spelling, even at my age grin

BeQuicksieorBeDead Thu 07-Nov-13 10:59:35

Sorry my reply was very quick and flippant, I didnt want to read and run (waddle) and wanted to get across mainly that as a teacher I wouldn't worry about the year one screening test, which I personally find very frustrating and do not feel reflects the skills of the children.

In regards to phonics, please dont worry about my class, we teach phonics for half an hour every day, and I put in all the enthusiasm and effort you could wish for... Phonics is a tool. It is really useful, but there are other ways to read. If a child is bright and uses sight memory, reading ahead for meaning, knowledge of sentence structure, word structure, patterns in spelling, they can get a long way. Obviously phonics help with unknown words, most of the time, but then English is a swine. When reading words like ' psychology' you use knowledge about other words to help you, not just phonics. And phonetic spelling becomes problematic if children rely on it into key stage 2 and 3, as we all know, English isn't straight forward in that way like some european languages are (where reading and writing tend to be more easily taught)

I am not suggesting that phonics are not important, just that there is no need to panic if a child uses other strategies at this point.

Sorry to anyone who was worried about my phonics group... I think they are doing pretty well!

Mashabell Thu 07-Nov-13 11:09:47

The phonics test is of no relevance to good readers. Reading fluency depends on being able to read all common words by sight, instantly, without decoding. That is the final aim of instruction by phonics too.

How children learn to read is immaterial, as long as they do. And however they learn to read, they will be using phonics for writing, although even for that phonics is of limited use in English, as u can see by taking a closer at the 100 most common words:

He, of, the, to, was,
all, be, are, have, one, said, we, you, by, my, call, before, come, could, do, down, into, look, me, more, now, only, other, right, she, some, their, there, two, when, want, were, what, where, which, who, your.

Phonically simple
A, and, as, at, had, has, that, an, back, can,
in, is, it, if, did, him, his, with, big, little, this, will, first,
get, them, then, well, went, her
not, on, from, off, so, go, no, or, for,
but, much, must, up, just,
been, here, see, came, made, make, I, like,
our, out, about,
new, over, old.

Spelling for consonants are mostly fairly regular, apart from consonant doubling (shoddy body, bubble trouble). Vowel spellings are pretty chaotic.

Masha Bell

mrz Thu 07-Nov-13 17:06:48

Totally disagree with masha. As the mum of an excellent reader I wish the phonics check had been around when he was in Y1 to pick up his problems.

Feenie Thu 07-Nov-13 19:04:55

Masha, could you just remind us again how many children you've taught to read?

as a teacher I wouldn't worry about the year one screening test, which I personally find very frustrating and do not feel reflects the skills of the children.

Weird phrasing there - the check is designed to test the children's decoding skills and - guess what - it reflects the children's decoding skills! It's not meant to test any other aspect of reading.

SoundsWrite Thu 07-Nov-13 19:28:40

As always, Masha's advice is totally off the wall. For example, she has words such as 'when' and 'which' as being tricky. Why? <wh> as a spelling alternative for the sound /w/ is no more tricky to learn than <sh> is for /sh/. It's two letters but it's one sound - a formulation children can learn with ease, if they're taught in a structured way.
Msz, of course, is absolutely right, your child (Cat98) needs properly structured phonics teaching by a teacher who is trained to do the job. If the teacher can't do the job, I'd find someone who can because your child's literacy is by far the most important thing they'll learn in primary school.
And, by the way, there are no tricky words if your child is taught from simple to more complex over time. All words are comprised of sounds and all sounds have been allocated spellings, even if some spellings are far less common than others.

Mashabell Fri 08-Nov-13 09:30:31

mum of an excellent reader I wish the phonics check had been around when he was in Y1 to pick up his problems.

As your son was an excellent early reader (and presumably still is), and without any phonics teaching whatsoever, his problems must all have been spelling ones? How would phonics have helped your son to become a better speller?

For spelling English, phonics is of extremely limited use, because 4,000+ common English words contain one or more letters which are not predictable and have to be learned word by word,
e.g wobble, wAs, wHAt ...wipe, wHile, wHY, hIGH, flY, pIE, bYE, bUY...

The best of way of imprinting those on children's mind is generally believed to be copious reading. Your son was clearly were exceptional in that his reading did not help him with spelling. Or did he not read much, despite being very able to do so?

As to personal experience, my son, unlike my daughter, found both learning to read and write difficult. He learned to read mainly with one to one help from me and my husband, with a mixture of phonics and lots of going over tricky words that kept stumping him, like 'said, was, you, your, young, through, though..' one by one on little cards, which made a huge difference.

Then we found him things he enjoyed reading (Beano, Dr. Seuss, Dr Who) and he went from strength to strength, and his spelling gradually became passable too, although never as good as our daughter's. She has my gift/bent for languages (call it what u will) learned to read before school with minimal help from me and never needed help with learning to spell from anyone, as if she had a completely photographic memory.

Masha Bell

columngollum Fri 08-Nov-13 10:36:38

Phonics helps with spelling in the cases where it can help a student or pupil to divide the word up into segments. Of course it can't help the student to know which particular grapheme is required in any particular place.

You just have to remember the answer to that part of the problem.

But phonics will help you divide regular words up.

When it comes to words with silent letters or words which bear no sound relationship whatsoever to the way they're spelled like (ghoti = fish) (or some very odd placenames,) then phonics is no help at all with spelling.

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