The Jigsaw Phonics Q&A with Olivia Monks @primaryteachuk

Hello! I’m Olivia, a KS1 teacher since 2017 in the north-west of England. On Instagram, I am known in 3 different accounts! @primaryteachuk is my main account where I share all things about being a teacher. I’m a very proud co-creator of Jigsaw Phonics and run the @jigsawphonics Instagram account.

I’m also one half of the @keystagecatchup with my partner in crime Lisa, @yearthreeandme.

I am a lover of all things KS1! A self-confessed phonics nerd, lover of picture books, passionate about developing children’s self-regulation and an advocate of teachers having a work-life balance. Now over to the phonics questions!

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

Oooh, starting with a gritty question, haha. In short, teacher training does an OFSTED “inadequate” job at preparing teachers for teaching phonics. Unis in general seem to focus more on planning and delivering lessons to KS2 classes rather than talking about the importance of building those initial blocks of understanding within reading, writing and maths through constant modelling and addressing of misconceptions. It wasn’t until my final placement in my third year of uni did I start to feel like I understood the bizarre world of phonics.

What’s an a-ha moment you’ve had teaching phonics that you would want to pass on to a new teacher? Accents exist within phonics! I am a northerner but I spent my NQT and RQT years in a southern school with a high percentage of EAL children. I remember getting the children to use their phonics skills to decode the key vocabulary within our new maths topic: Time. The southern children didn’t have a clue what “half past” meant as they’re used to hearing the word ‘past’ spoken as ‘p-ar-s-t’. Then because I didn’t spot the misconception quick enough, my EAL children started to think that ‘p-a-s-t’ and ‘p-ar-s-t’ were two separate words with two separate meanings. As you can imagine...that lesson needed reteaching the next day!

Does phonics rate as one of your favourite things to teach? YES! It is my favourite part of the day. In fact, I love phonics so much and I see the value of phonics so much that I teach it twice a day! A full session first thing in the morning, and then a mini session in the afternoon tied in with handwriting. Our handwriting sessions focus around a grapheme (sound e.g. ‘ea’, ‘or’, etc) from either phase 3 or phase 5. We focus on the formation of the letter within the grapheme before writing out lots of words containing that grapheme.

Where do you get your phonics inspiration from? The phonics lead in my former school was BRILLIANT. She oozed passion for phonics yet always looked to the most recent research to improve her own practice. I definitely developed the phonics bug from her.

If you could only save only one of your phonics resources from a burning classroom, which one would it be? My folders of flashcards! They are my biggest time saver. Each section has the jigsaw card to introduce the sound, match real words with Puzzle and then matching alien words with Wug. Daily phonics lessons - SORTED!

What would your ideal phonics professional development training include? As embarrassing as it can be, training that gives you time to practise out loud the suggestions the trainers are making. Buddy up with a fellow teacher and take it in turns to act as teacher and child. This helps you remember the sequence of teaching and means the first time you have a go yourself isn’t during a lesson with the children!

The phonics genie is out of the bottle to grant you three phonics wishes. What are they? 1) Phonics screening is based on individual progress rather than a flat ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. Some children won’t make that 32/40 mark but their own progress journey means so much more than that! 2) Schools buy all the phonics resources you want. Sadly that’s not the case though which is why we’ve tried to make our Jigsaw Phonics resources as affordable as possible.

3) I had unlimited time to support my SEN and EAL readers.

What’s the trickiest thing about teaching phonics, and how are you managing to solve it? Schools don’t always have the vast support staff that can mean you have more differentiated, smaller phonics groups. To overcome this, I try to add lots of visual support (such as dots and dashes on our character word cards) to support the emerging readers and then adding trickier elements (such as the silly sentences on the teaching slides download) to stretch those more able readers.

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

The three silly sentences from the teaching slides download. My class adore these slides and I feel I’m able to draw out so much learning and sound application from these 3 slides each lesson. I also am a big fan of the Phonics Play games. ‘Tricky Word Trucks’ goes down a treat in my classroom.

Leave us with a thought or a quote that helps you in your educator life. If you follow me over on @primaryteachuk, you might already know what I’m going to say here, haha… YOU are the most important resource in the classroom. Spend the most time preparing yourself. #worklifebalance #selfcare

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