An inventive way of teaching the most reluctant of readers is now reaching many more children during lockdown.
Active Phonics, developed by Let Teachers SHINE winner David Fallis, has proved highly successful at improving the literacy skills of youngsters who had not responded well to conventional teaching methods.
Older children with lower-than-average reading ages, particularly those with behavioural or emotional difficulties, do not respond well to conventional classroom-based phonics teaching techniques that tend to be aimed at younger pupils.
I want to reach as many children as possible and in a way, the move to home-learning has given us the push we needed to move the concept to an online platform.
By combining the learning of words with fun, competitive sports activities, David’s students have engaged much more and seen their grades rise.
But with schools closed to most children, David has been unable to carry out his normal sessions, which are usually delivered in the sports of Barnsley’s primary schools. David is also part of the group of vulnerable people being shielded for 12 weeks, meaning he can’t leave the house for anything but hospital appointments.
“I realised, with my own five-year-old son, that keeping his attention while schooling at home was difficult, so I’ve adapted some of the Active Phonics games, and he really enjoyed them.
“It’s just something a bit different from worksheets and things like that. And it keeps him active too.
“It occurred to me that – with a bit of creativity – most of the games could be adapted for home learning,” David explained.
Even before the coronavirus struck, David had been planning to adapt the programme to an online model, inspired by seeing how many children a fellow Let Teachers SHINE winner was now reaching. “When I looked at Times Tables Rock Stars and how that just works, it made me realise how many more children could be benefiting from this.
“I want to reach as many children as possible,” he said. “And in a way, the move to home-learning has given us the push we needed to move the concept to an online platform.
“I’m only one man and I have worked with, say, half of the primary schools in Barnsley, and one or two in Sheffield and Leeds but there’s no way realistically that I can hit all the country, I just can’t do it.
“This pandemic has forced people to realise there’s an alternative way to do things.
“It’s a natural progression for the project, it’s got to go this way to reach more people. I can’t just do the odd local conference or the odd local school. I’ve reached the point now where I’ve just got to get it out there.”
With help from David’s son Matthew, he has begun modifying session plans and uploading them online; first to social media, then the Active Phonics website.
“I’ve created new session plans, so that parents can lead them at home. These have never been shared publicly before, outside of the sessions, now I’m just going to put them out there.
“I’ve also created a bunch of videos, showing how the sessions work and I’m going to upload those onto the website.”
Being stuck at home, without the PE equipment he would normally use, has proved a blessing for David.
“I actually began writing a text message to a colleague at work asking them to pick up these five bags full of kit from school and drop them off at my house. But then I thought, there’s no point because it’s not what a true reflection of what people have at home. People don’t have five sets of training ladders.
“Most parents don’t have anything like that, so it’s been a case of looking at what’s available, what most people have got in the home or the garden.
“Once you’ve got the principles of what we’re doing, and why, you can use those principles and adapt them for what you’ve got. If you understand the principles and you have a basic grasp of phonics and you understand the structure and the order, then you can run with it.”
The first session David adapted and uploaded online is the Alphabet Arch, which sees children create race against the clock to create a rainbow-like arch from the letters of the alphabet which are printed onto homemade paper stars.
David trialled the game with his son Matthew, who is pictured on the home learning worksheet building his own Alphabet Arch.
On a personal level, David has been enjoying being able to spend more time with his two children. However, like millions of other parents, he and his partner have found it difficult to juggle full-time jobs with home-schooling.
David is a teacher while his partner works for the NHS.
“I’m working from home, my partner’s working from home and balancing that with having the two kids at home who need your attention and who need their schooling, can be a nightmare. We have got into the scenario now where one of us will work late into the evening so there’s always one person available.
“But being at home has also allowed me to see the potential of Active Phonics outside of school. Hopefully there’ll be a real increase in interest in it after this is all over.”