Jigsaw Phonics Q&A with Bryony Dorrans @missdorransyearone

I’ve never done a blog post before, so I am very excited to be asked! I’m Bryony and I am a Year 1 teacher at a small independent prep school in Devon. I took the three-year BEd route into teaching at Plymouth University, specialising in Early Childhood Studies. I went into supply for half a year before finding my current job role 4 years ago now!

In your opinion, how well does teacher training prepare teachers to teach phonics?

I think because I am trained to specialise in Early Years, I definitely felt that my course gave me a better understanding of and emphasis on phonics. Being an Early Years specialist meant that all my placements were either in EYFS or KS1 and therefore, in every teaching practice, phonics was there every single time! I think even if you decide that EYFS/KS1 isn’t for you, understanding phonics is the building blocks of reading and writing. You cannot expect children to be independent readers and writers without giving them the tools to do it!

What’s an a-ha moment you’ve had teaching phonics that you would want to pass on to a new teacher?

Just be prepared for the random crazy things they say! When it comes to blending and segmenting, they might sound every sound correctly c-a-t and when they put it together it somehow ends up as lightbulb?! Or when they write a word phonetically like country and it is spelt like this… cuntree. After 4 years I still laugh!

Does phonics rate as one of your favourite things to teach?

Absolutely! Teaching Year 1 phonics and watching their progress from September to July still amazes me every year! When they move up a book band or write independently makes it so special. Phonics is one of those subjects in which you can see clear progress being made.

Where do you get your phonics inspiration from?

Instagram! There are so many fantastic accounts that I am constantly adapting ideas from! I don’t think I ever had a ‘phonics role model’ and I’d like to be that for other teachers! I would say observing phonics lessons is the best way to be inspired!

If you could only save only one of your phonics resources from a burning classroom, which one would it be?

I have a basket full of phonics resources! That counts as one thing, right?! It has my word flashcards, sounds, sound blending books and phonics stickers!

What would your ideal phonics professional development training include?

To include lots of different and exciting ways to teach phonics. Like anything in teaching, what works well for one child doesn’t necessarily mean the next child will benefit from the same thing. Phonics is HUGE and I don’t think a one-day course is enough. Anything that involves active learning and not just sitting listening to a PowerPoint!

The phonics genie is out of the bottle to grant you three phonics wishes. What are they?

1. Having the freedom to teach phonics how it works best for your class.

2. To have dedicated timetable time to support your SEN/EAL/weak readers.

3. To cancel the phonics screening check!

What’s the trickiest thing about teaching phonics, and how are you managing to solve it?

Independent schools cannot formally participate in the phonics screening check, so I do not teach alien words/nonsense words explicitly. As a school, we follow Read Write Inc. phonics and we do not deliver it as it is taught because it doesn’t work for our school. I do expose my class to nonsense words but mostly through online interactive games. It can be difficult to find resources without lots of nonsense words on them so sometimes I do have to spend more time creating my own!

What’s a favourite phonics activity you always rely on and always come back to?

If my class had to vote for one, it would be the true and false game! You write two words on the board that have two different phonemes e.g. boat or bowt. Then they write the correct answer. Unfortunately, with the English language some spelling rules you just ‘have to know!’

Leave us with a thought or a quote that helps you in your educator life.

“You cannot improve children’s well-being without first improving teachers’ well-being.”

I am a huge advocate of teacher well-being, and it can be hard sometimes when you feel that you have a billion things on that to-do list. Prioritise and take breaks. Teacher burn out is real and finding that work-life balance is hard. No one does their best work tired and running on empty. Your children cannot get the best version of you if you don’t invest in yourself.

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