Evaluation of the Skills Development Program for seventeen Grade 2 teachers
The skills development program for Grade 2 teachers during 2014 consisted of six workshops, in conjunction with on-going monitoring of the program within the classroom context. Workshops were facilitated at the start of each term, the following topics were covered:
- phonological awareness
- how to facilitate multi-sensory activities
- pronunciation of sounds, blends and digraphs
- how to support children to develop reading and spelling skills
- structure of a lesson
- peer mentoring
- what is meant by, and how to facilitate shared reading
During each term every teacher received three support visits from an experienced member of staff. This provided the assistance necessary to apply what they had learnt in the workshop to the classroom context.
During November 2014 an evaluation of the program was completed in order to explore the factors that influence the success of the phonics program. This included gathering quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data was collected from all 17 teachers by means of a questionnaire. Of the 17 all were female. Sixteen were Black African and one was Coloured. The first language of all 17 was isiZulu.
Qualitative data was gained through four semi-structured interviews. The semi-structured interviews were audio recorded and transcribed. Informed consent was obtained from each person which explained the purpose of the research and the possible implications. Through a system of coding similar themes emerged from the data.
Factors that influence the success of the phonics program
It was found that four key factors influence the success of the program, those being:
- elements of the program
- development of necessary skills
- enjoyment when teaching and learning
- relevance of the program
Each of these areas will be explained in more detail in the following sections.
Section 1: Elements of the program
The questionnaire asked teachers to indicate how helpful each element of the phonics program had been.
From the graph it can be seen that the majority of teachers rated the different elements – workshops, support visits, curriculum, resources and assessment – as good or very good, thus valuing the various components of the program. During the semi structured interviews the teachers specifically referred to two of these elements, the curriculum and the resources. These will be explored in more depth on the following page.
Three of the teachers referred to the curriculum within the interviews. Teachers referred to the fact that the curriculum involved the teaching of sounds, blends and digraphs (transcript 2, line 3; transcript 3, lines 3 – 4). They highlighted how the curriculum was structured with clear progression and daily lesson plans (transcript 2, line 93; transcript 3, lines 5 – 8; transcript 4, lines 27-32). Phonics teaching, to be effective, should be systematic, with clear continuity and progression (Primary Framework for Literacy and Mathematics, 2006). Research outlines that:
..although some children will learn to read in spite of incidental teachings, others never learn unless they are taught in an organised, systematic, efficient way by a knowledgeable teacher using a well – designed instructional approach. (Moats 1999, p.7)
From the data collected, the curriculum was providing a systematic method for the teaching of phonics. Three teachers recognised that the structured approach of the program made the teaching of phonics ‘easy’ (transcript 2, lines 15 – 17; transcript 3, lines 15-17; transcript 4, line 28). Please refer to page 5 for data on the teacher’s ability.
The four teachers referred to the resources provided within the interviews. They commented on the fact that all the materials necessary to facilitate the phonics program were provided (transcript 2, lines 6 – 7; transcript 3, lines 8 – 11; transcript 4, lines 12 – 13). One teacher recognised that these resources help the teacher to teach phonics (transcript 2, lines 36 – 38) and in turn this makes it easier for the children to learn (transcript 2, line 53, and lines 62 – 64). Another teacher acknowledged that through the use of the resources she could facilitate multi-sensory activities (transcript 3, lines 19 – 22).
The Quality Improvement Agency for Lifelong Learning (2008) define multi-sensory as, “The term … used to refer to any learning activity that combines two or more sensory strategies to take in or express information.” The phonics curriculum includes activities so the auditory, visual or kinaesthetic learner can develop reading and writing skills. Research show that, “If we provide a variety of pathways for learning to occur, we are more likely to reach all students and each is more likely to grasp the concept.” (Knowledge to Action Guide, 2014)
It should be noted that two teachers outlined that one challenge was the fact that resources have to be shared with other classes within their Grade (transcript 3, lines 64 – 68; transcript 4, lines 39 – 41). One teacher suggested a way of improving the program would be to provide more resources so they would not have to share (questionnaire).
Section 2: Development of necessary skills
The teachers identified the key skills they had developed through being part of the phonics program through the questionnaire.
From the graph it is evident that the teachers recognise they have developed a variety of skills in order to teach phonics.
Confidence and ability to teach phonics
Within the interviews three of the teachers referred to developing confidence in their ability to teach phonics (transcript 1, lines 3 – 5; transcript 2, lines 33 – 38, 78 – 86, transcript 3, line 84). One teacher linked this development of confidence and ability to the skill of the facilitators (transcript 3, lines 80 – 86). One teacher even explained how she feels confident now to help others with the teaching of phonics (transcript 2, lines 18 – 19). All the teachers in the questionnaire stated they had developed a knowledge and understanding of the appropriate terminology associated with the teaching of phonics and during the interviews the four teachers referred to relevant terms (transcript 1, line 37; transcript 2, line 3; transcript 3, lines 3 – 4; transcript 4, lines 33 – 34).
The confidence and the ability the teachers developed through the skills development program impacted on the progress the learners have been able to make during the year. All the teachers during the interviews remarked on how their learner’s phonic skills had developed. Two teachers maintained that they had seen improvement (transcript 2, lines 50 – 51; transcript 4, line 52), two teachers stated that the learners vocabulary had increased (transcript 1, lines 31 – 33; transcript 2, line 41), two teachers outlined how their learners had developed a knowledge of sounds and blends (transcript 2, lines 74 – 75; transcript 3, lines 19 – 21) and one teacher referred to the development of hearing skills (transcript 2, line 26). For more information on the progress learners made during 2014 at each school involved in the program refer to the November 2014 Report.
Two teachers commented in the questionnaire that they were concerned with the children in their classes who have learning difficulties developing the necessary phonic skills in order to read and write. Within the interviews two teachers referred to the fact that (i) some children are finding it difficult to develop the appropriate skills (transcript 2, lines 69 -73) and (ii) teachers need more time to be able to spend with these children (transcript 3, lines 46 -47). This area needs further work in order to consider how best to support the teachers to provide appropriate activities for these children.
Section 3: Enjoyment when teaching and learning
A factor which emerged through the semi-structured interviews was the enjoyment that both the teachers and the learners have experienced from being part of the program. All four teachers during the interviews referred to their interest, and the enjoyment they found from teaching the program (transcript 1, lines 4 – 5; transcript 2, lines 5 – 6, lines 78 – 79, lines 85 – 86; transcript 3, lines 85 – 86; transcript 4, line 14). This partly related to the fact that all the necessary resources to deliver the program were supplied.
Three teachers commented on how the children have developed a love for English and enjoy lessons (transcript 2, lines 7 – 9, line 23, lines 44 – 45, lines 54 – 55, lines 59 – 60; transcript 3, lines 18 – 19, line 24, transcript 4, lines 14 – 15, line 51) and relate this partly again to the resources provided. Crook et. al (2008, p.41) highlight how, “Enjoyment enables young learners to sustain their energy and focus with happiness” and this has links with achievement.
Section 4: Relevance of the program
During the interviews three of the teachers recognised that the phonics program was appropriate in terms of difficulty for the age and Grade of the learners, as the children were at the initial stages of learning to read and write in English (transcript 2, lines 94 – 95; transcript 3, lines 71 – 72; transcript 4, lines 32 – 36). The phonics program adheres to the approach outlined in the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (2011).
The teaching of phonics should be of primary importance as children begin to learn to read and write. The Primary Framework for Literacy and Mathematics (2006, p.3) in reference to the Rose Report go as far to state, “…‘high-quality phonic work’ should be taught systematically and discretely as the prime approach used in the teaching of early reading.”
Teacher 2 (transcript 2, lines 100 – 101) highlighted that from the phonics program she had facilitated in Grade 2 the learners had “got a very good foundation” on which the Grade 3 teachers could build.
Almost all children who receive good teaching of phonics will learn the skills they need to tackle new words. They can then go on to read any kind of text fluently and confidently, and to read for enjoyment. (Department for Education, 2013)
The challenges the teacher noted are being considered and appropriate action taken. For example a pilot with two schools will begin in January 2015. Teachers will receive training to develop knowledge and skills on dyslexia – what it is, how to identify and what to do. This should support the teacher in providing suitable activities for some of their children who have learning difficulties.
In concluding it is worth taking into consideration the comments two teachers made during the interviews in reference to how they felt before the implementation of the skills development program. They commented on how they were struggling with the teaching of English previous to the implementation of the phonics program, citing two reasons. Firstly they were struggling due to lack of appropriate training (transcript 4, lines 6 – 9, lines 57 – 58) and secondly because of a lack of suitable resources (transcript 2, lines 14–15, lines 34 – 35).
From this report it is clear that the teachers have greatly benefitted from the skills development program and now have the confidence and ability to teach phonics to their Grade 2 learners. They value the resources provided and the systematic curriculum. Children and teachers enjoy the program. As the teachers acquire a new class of learners at the beginning of 2015, they will start the program again. Teacher 3 (transcript 3, line 88) stated, “…nothing can stop us now”.
Crook, E., Brice Heath, S., Lunt, J. and Whelan, K. (2008) Finding Enjoyment, Gaining Achievement, Doncaster: darts.
Department for Education (2013) Learning to read through phonics [online], Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/194057/phonics_check_leaflet_2013_.pdf [Accessed 15 November 2014]
Department of Basic Education, (2011) Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement Grades 1 – 3: English First Additional Language, South Africa: Government Printing Works.
Knowledge to Action Guide (2014) Multisensory Teaching Techniques for Reading [online], Available from www.kansasprojectsuccess.org/system/files/113/original/KTA_Multisensory_text.pdf?1326488984 [Accessed 10 November 2014]
Moats, L. (1999) Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science: What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able To Do, Washington: American Federation of Teachers.
Primary Framework for Literacy and Mathematics (2006) Phonics and early reading: an overview for head teachers, literacy leaders and teachers in schools, and managers and practitioners in Early Years settings, Primary National Strategy.
The Quality Improvement Agency for Lifelong Learning (2008) Effective Teaching and Learning [online], Available from http://learning.wales.gov.uk/docs/learningwales/publications/140801-multi-sensory-learning-en.pdf [Accessed 10 November 2014]