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Impact of linguistic phonics in a secondary school

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What kind of results can you expect from an age-appropriate linguistic phonics programme in a large urban secondary school?

Does it work with young people who have given up on reading and school?

Report from That Reading Thing in Tower Hamlets

Note from Tricia – The voice in this report is that of Sarah Warburton who was the TRT lead in the now closed Gap Project in Bethnal Green. She delivered That Reading Thing as a linguistic phonics intervention to young people from local secondary schools and pupil referral units. Some students came to the Gap Project building and others met in school. After the project closed, Sarah was hired by one of the schools to continue delivering That Reading Thing to their students.

The students are mainly Bangladeshi boys. 63% Bangladeshi, 32% Black/ Black British or mixed race. 5% white

Students meet with a volunteer for an average of 16 weeks and gain an average of 20 months reading age based on Burt Test.

We mainly work with students in Year 9/10, but are trying to get schools to give us students who are younger than this.

Notes from Tricia – We are currently asking primary schools to look at That Reading Thing for Year 6s who are likely to struggle at transition because of low literacy.

Two very different students

14 year old white male

This was the student I met with for a year. He completed TRT in 20 sessions. I then continued working with him, building up comprehension and reinforcing TRT techniques.

He started with a reading age of of 7 yrs 10 months and finished with a reading age of 12 yrs.

Who was he? Someone who wanted to read and do well. He was always in school even though his family situation was complicated.

He ended up reading voraciously, but the biggest difficulty was reading words that he had never heard. He used the right techniques, but without an adult to talk to him about the words, he struggled to know which were the right sounds. For example, ‘chaos’ – the <ch> can represent different sounds as can the <a> and <o>. He had never heard the word before so it was almost impossible to get to without support.

He wasn’t letting this stop him though, and as he reads more, he’ll get a wider listening and speaking vocabulary.

Note from Tricia -This highlights the need for follow-on vocabulary work after a student has finished That Reading Thing. This is best achieved by a focus on explicit vocabulary teaching across the curriculum. Ask about our spelling CPD.

16 year old Bangladeshi male

This student was a lot more reluctant. He came to me in Year 10 and he had already given up on reading and school. He felt he didn’t need any of it any more as he already had his own way of making money and his brother would always look after him. This is one of the main reasons that I feel that secondary schools need to help these students in Year 7 rather than in Year 10 – get them reading before they give up!

He started with a reading age of 8 yrs, 1 month and finished with a reading age of 9 yrs.

Every lesson was a bit of a battle, with me having to remind him constantly of the techniques and we struggled to find reading material that engaged him. When he got to level 33, I decided that it may be best for us to stop as he was becoming even more hard work. I talked to him about how I couldn’t see how I could help him any more as he wasn’t trying to do things for himself. He then disagreed with me, saying that in spelling tests he was now scoring a lot higher because he was listening to the words and breaking them up, and he was going up a set in English because his reading was a lot better and he was engaging with the lessons.

No one was more surprised than me – and no one was more delighted. I had thought I had failed him – but he had taken on more than he was showing me.

Note from Tricia – It’s a testament to Sarah’s huge successes that she thought an 11 month gain in 5 months with a very reluctant student was a failure!

Changes in the students

They realise they can make sense of reading and spelling and the confidence they gain when they read a word that is ‘really long’ is wonderful to see – and that can be in the first hour.

When they start reading texts and go back to old habits I explain that those days are gone – texts can now make sense for them and we enjoy discovering new words and discussing what they are reading. I have students come in wanting to talk about something they have heard in the news and we get to read about it.  (I always have a copy of the metro just in case).

Schools nearly always report that students are now not only coming to school but coming in on time and are now engaging with lessons. When young people realise that reading is no longer a barrier, it increases their confidence in other areas of their lives.

Note from Tricia – Reading tests are good tools for gaining a certain kind of information, but here at TRT, the news that a student has gained a sense of belonging in the world of education is a huge encouragement to keep going and keep getting the word out that every school with even one struggling reader should have a trained That Reading Thing tutor on hand. TRT is for any education setting – formal or informal – from secondary age to adult. We also recommend it for Year 6s who are going to struggle with transition to high school.

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