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Are class phonics groups & reading levels linked?

(21 Posts)
Hodel Tue 21-Jan-14 09:38:35

I'm very confused about how this works and would love some insight from those in the know.

DD1, (Y1), was coming home with books at a beginner reading level "This is Sam" (red band) while at home she was reading chapter books with comprehension and fluency. She was complaining loads about how boring school reading was. So I asked the school if her level was correct, and at first was told it was, but then had her reassessed. After reassessment her books were at the gold level, which seems to be right. she's happy and now reading school books voluntarily & with confidence.

Last week she said they changed her phonics group. Interestingly I know the mum of a child in her new group. She said her child is still at an early reading stage - reading red books with some challenge. (I have no idea what level DD's old group was - at Parent's evening I was told she was just about average, but that was before re-assessment).

So, does this make sense? What is the difference between phonics groups & reading levels? Are they connected? Or, do they sometimes put phonics groups together at mixed ability? Or, has the reading reassessment not translated to the phonics grouping? Or, can she be a strong reader and weak at phonics? (I didn't learn phonics so I have no idea.) I am reluctant to go back to the teacher without some insight on this, as I don't want to seem like a pushy tiger mum. I'm honestly happy whatever level she is - I didn't learn to read until I was 7! But I also don't want DD to get bored, as that leads to behavioural challenges.

workatemylife Tue 21-Jan-14 10:03:06

The easy answer would be to say 'talk to the teacher', but I know that's not always as easy as it sounds.

For what it is worth, DDs reading levels and class phonics have never really been in step - she took to reading really easily, and has moved up levels steadily, but that's something that is individual to her rather than to do with teaching a group or class. In YR, phonics was taught to the whole class, and never seemed to have much to do with the words and sounds in the reading books that we had coming home. Now (Y1, January), the class has been split into groups, and I can see a bit more of a link between the reading and the phonics, although I still think the reading books are at a more advanced level.

The class teacher said that with phonics there are two things to think about - (1) the children need to be able to sound out and blend the words in order to decipher new words and read effectively and (2) they also need to be making use of their phonics learning in their own writing. I think DD is pretty good at (1), but I wonder if she needs to do more of (2). Obviously I don't know your child or how they are taught, but (steep learning curve for me too) maybe your DDs phonics group reflects her writing as well as her reading. Boredom is an issue here too at times, so I share your concerns!

columngollum Tue 21-Jan-14 10:12:03

Your daughter's reading level has been assessed now and she's happy with her books.

If they've habitually got gold level readers reading red books the school has got far far bigger problems than its phonics groups!!

I'd stay as far away from them, their books and their teaching methods as I could get!

noramum Tue 21-Jan-14 10:14:53

I don't know if DD has phonics groups but we found that DD was sloppy when it came to decoding words a bit more difficult. She could do it but just didn't like it as it slowed her down reading.

I know the TA did some extra work as she wasn't the only one in her class with this habit, most of the children were higher band readers, DD was already on purple, so I think it may be something to do with the accuracy of the reading.

CocktailQueen Tue 21-Jan-14 10:18:49

In our school phonics groups are roughly based on ability. But children learn to read in many different ways - they don't all decode phonics, sound out the sounds then combine them. DS has always been a very visual learner - he sees a word then remembers it for next time, and wasn't so keen on phonics.

I'd probably ask your dd's teacher next time you can about how they group dc for phonics groups, but in our school kids are in different groups for writing, spelling, maths and phonics so it's probably not too big a deal. Your teacher doesn't sound like she's on the ball, though ...

choceyes Tue 21-Jan-14 10:31:54

My DS who's in Reception is apparently in the top phonics ability group, they have 6 groups. He's on stage 2-3 reading books now (couldn't read at all before starting school).
Each week they have a chart of what each group is doing that week phonics wise (and also numeracy). In the top phonics group that my DS is in, they are half way into phase 3 of phonics, and the bottom level phonics group are still doing phase 1. So I presume, DS's phonics group must be on the higher book bands as they have learned more phonic sounds?
Just before christmas, DS was on the 2nd highest phonics groups and the teacher said they learn the same things as the top group but at a slower pace. They moved him up to the top group shortly before christmas and the reason they gave was that he was become much better at blending. Also they moved him up from stage 1 books to 2-3. So in our case anway phonics ability groups do tend to mirror the reading book stages at the moment.

LittleMissGreen Tue 21-Jan-14 10:41:01

It is possible to be a strong reader with poor phonics. DS1 is. He was initially taught at a school using look and say. His spelling was atrocious. When he was in yr5/6 (Can't remember exactly) the new school he went to introduced phonics lessons right through the school. Since learning phonics his spelling improved and is now ahead of age (it was several years behind).
In general now that schools should be teaching phonics rather than look and say or mixed methods you are more likely to find that a child's reading level is linked to their phonics level. However, I would imagine that a school that uses mixed methods and has poor phonics teaching that may not actually be the case.
My younger DSs have been taught phonics well from the start and their reading levels match their knowledge of phonics. Reading books have been given to them that practice the phonics that they have just learnt that week in school.

nonicknameseemsavailable Tue 21-Jan-14 10:53:48

I am astonished they were SO far out with her reading books but yes you can have a child who reads well but is actually struggling with phonics and blending.

Some children use visual memory as has been mentioned and just learn the words, this can get them up to level 6/7/8ish really very easily and quickly if they have a good memory and they can then move on further to chapter books without too much issue but they can seriously struggle with new words as they can't break them down to work out what they say or how to pronounce them (although they could guess at them in some cases and get them right)

Can she blend? how does she tackle new words?

I would generally expect top phonics group to be the better readers though and bottom group the ones who are struggling more though.

Hodel Tue 21-Jan-14 11:52:46

Wow! thanks for all your wisdom this is very helpful. From your posts I understand that it is perfectly possible that she could be reading at a higher level than her phonics, so the grouping makes sense.

However, AFAIK she is very good at sounding out new words and I am certain that she is using phonics to do this rather than memory because I have heard her read words she clearly has never seen before. If a new word is not phonetical she struggles, whereas if it is basically phonetical she works it out almost instantly. For example she read "complicated" & "extinguished" by sounding out phonetically and then recognising the word.

Are blending & decoding the same thing? I swear I need a phonics lesson to undestand this all!

nonicknameseemsavailable Tue 21-Jan-14 12:14:04

well I use blending and decoding as the same thing but I am not a teacher so they quite possibly are different but both relate to using phonics with reading rather than memory for the whole word.

If she can tackle new words then that sounds like she knows her phonics and is using them appropriately.

Is she very shy and quiet at school? just wonder if they really don't know how much she knows because she isn't demonstrating it.

I don't think my Yr1 daughter has phonic groups any more, I think they just work in literacy group for writing and they do sometimes do guided reading in groups. She talks about the sound of the week but she hasn't mentioned specifically phonics groups since reception.

how is her spelling? could it be connected to that?

Hodel Tue 21-Jan-14 12:41:43

In fact, I am having the same doubts about her spelling homework. It hasn't changed in terms of difficulty since she started in Sept. The same words over and over. I can quiz her on the spelling at anytime - even walking down the road with no paper in sight - and she'll spell them correctly. But she still gets the same words in her homework every week. They are simple ones too (an, good, want). It's really difficult because I have no idea what goes on in there all day. I asked DD what the difference between literacy & phonics was and her answer shed no light on the matter smile We get 15 mins with the teacher each term and that's it.

Perhaps the school isn't on the ball? Or maybe it is DD? Possibly she is not able to show her actual ability at school, so they don't know? But her teacher did tell me that she is very active in class and always answering questions, so I don't think she is shy. Who knows? I guess I should speak to the teacher again.

3bunnies Tue 21-Jan-14 13:08:00

At my dc's school, phonics groups are based on recognising sounds, reading, spelling and writing. Dd1 is yr 4 and still doing phonics because although she can read (e.g.Harry Potter) and can spell words in isolation, when she uses them in story writing she struggles. Ds is reading well and can spell words on the computer but when he starts he might be in a lowish group as he finds writing with a pen very tricky - currently waiting for an assessment on that. I would try to catch the teacher and say that the spelling lists are very easy and is there anything which she needs to work on to go up a phonics level. There is a big gap between red and gold so it is concerning that they could have assessed her so differently before, I can understand it for a child in reception who might be given any book to start with but if she has been there for over a year they should have some idea of her levels by now.

Bunnyjo Tue 21-Jan-14 13:40:30

I'm astonished that your DD was moved from red to gold level books after being assessed - as an approximation to National Curriculum levels that is moving from working towards level 1 to working at level 2B. You have more problems with the school than just phonics and reading levels if that is the case!

I really recommend that you speak with the teacher about why your DD was moved up so many bands after being assessed. I would be very concerned if this was my DD's school/teacher.

nonicknameseemsavailable Tue 21-Jan-14 13:53:23

that all sounds very strange - I really think you need to arrange a meeting to discuss it and find out why they think she needs to do those spellings, why they think she needs to be in that particular phonics group and what she needs to demonstrate to progress.

nonicknameseemsavailable Tue 21-Jan-14 13:54:40

meant to say that the spellings are probably related to the phonics group but it doesn't sound like her phonics group placing is linked to her spelling ability from what you have said.

CocktailQueen Tue 21-Jan-14 14:06:24

Absolutely re being shocked that a dc is moved up so many book levels/ this never happens at our school. DC go up every book level - maybe they will only be on one level for a few weeks. but they don't JUMP up levels. I think I'd go in and make an appt with the teacher to discuss all your concerns.

Also - decoding - to break down a word into its syllables
blending - to blend different sounds (phonics) to read a whole word (I believe!)

Hodel Tue 21-Jan-14 14:23:11

Thanks again everyone. Really helpful replies! So just to be clear - I should be concerned that they were adament about her level?

When I asked first I was told that they have professionals who assess her and that they hear her read every school day. I mentioned that at the end of YR she was getting harder books (turquoise), but was told that children often regress. I insisted, and thus she is now getting gold books. This was December, so 3 months in class to hear her read. I haven't had a 1 to 1 with the teacher since then.

BTW I have a document from the school that put her at "1c" for literacy & maths. Does anyone know what that means? This is on a form I needed filled out to put her name down for another local school... I am thinking of moving her. (On the other hand she is incredibly happy at school so I am not sure about the disruption.)

LittleMissGreen Tue 21-Jan-14 14:32:40

Personally I would be concerned that they were sure she was red level, when really she was gold. The same happened with DS1 in reception - he was on very simple books then they realised he should be reading books from the juniors level (although at his school he had to read every book in a level to progress so they sent him home with 6 a night so he could do so). He changed schools shortly afterwards...

a 1c means she is now working within National Curriculum levels. At the end of YR1 they would be expected to be about a 1b level (or in some schools they say 1a), then a 2b at the end of yr2 (I thought they were removing those in England this year, but I could be wrong - in Wales we use a different scale) so she is probably on track to achieve expected levels at the end of the school year.

3bunnies Tue 21-Jan-14 14:32:41

Children do regress - but that is quite a fall from turquoise to red. I would be concerned that a teacher would just put it down to the 6 week holiday. Maybe she was ill or distracted when she was first assessed but if she had fallen that far I would hope that they would assess her again before December particularly if the feedback in reading records was that it was too easy.

Hodel Tue 21-Jan-14 16:22:44

Thanks this is all really helpful!

Laura0806 Wed 22-Jan-14 12:21:17

I have to echo some of the other posters. For a child to be on red books when they can read Gold level is a bit concerning and I would have little faith in their phonics groupings either. if you think the phnics is too easy aswell I would bring that up at the next parents evening. Strangely my daughter in year 1 is quite good at phonics but not a very fluent reader (green level) as she uses her phonic knowledge on every word so reading is slow and laborious!

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