Why an 11-year-old must know a grapheme from a cinquain

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The Independent Online
THE NEW national literacy strategy gives teachers lists of common words which their pupils should be able to read by a particular age.

For five-year-olds there are 45 words including "look", "come" and "away". By six they should be familiar with at least 150 words including "laugh", "people", "schools" and "because". They should also be able to read easily the days of the week, months of the year, numbers one to 20, common colours, and their own and the school's name and address.

By the age of seven they should be able to spell 113 words such as "where", "after" and "who". Aged eight or nine, they should learn to read and spell another 119 words including "different", "important", "thought" and "sometimes".

Guidance on teaching children phonics and spelling is equally detailed. During the second term of the year in which they are six, they should investigate, read and spell words ending in -ff, -ll, -ss, -ck and -ng.

During the first term of the following year they should learn the common spelling patterns for oo, ar, oy and ow and "should recognise and take account of commas and exclamation marks in reading aloud".

The literacy hour should be divided into four, with the teacher teaching the whole class together for two-thirds of the time. At present most estimates suggest that primary school teachers spend only about 40 per cent of the time teaching the whole class.

For the first 15 minutes, teachers should share a book or poem with the whole class, emphasising understanding, spelling, punctuation and grammar. For the next 15 minutes, teachers should concentrate on teaching the whole class phonics and spelling through individual words.

For the following 20 minutes, the teacher should group the children by ability and teach one group while the others work independently at reading or writing.

Finally, the teacher should gather the whole class to reinforce what they have learnt and to let pupils talk about what they have done.

The document says that in recent years phonics have been neglected in favour of methods which rely on giving children books and assuming that they will learn from the context how words are spelt and what they mean.

It argues: "Research evidence shows that pupils do not learn to distinguish between the different sounds of words simply by being exposed to books. They need to be taught to do this."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, gave the guidance a cautious welcome.

"There is no point in teachers having to re-invent the wheel. But any attempt to enforce the guidelines against the professional judgement of teachers will reverse the good intentions behind the framework," he said.

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