The Jigsaw Phonics Q&A with Sandra Pyne

Hello, I'm Sandra Pyne and I'm the co-creator with Barbara Phillips and Olivia Monks @primaryteachuk of Jigsaw Phonics. I taught only in English at an innovative state international bilingual school in Berlin for 15 years until 2018, teaching native English speakers and native German speakers together in one class, often in mixed age groups.

I taught the range of primary classes and subjects. I am also a qualified dyslexia specialist and teacher trainer.

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

Big disclaimer here: I never trained to be a teacher in the formal sense of a degree plus PGCE plus NQT year, etc. I fell into teaching TEFL as a university student a long time ago back home in Bournemouth and got into education that way … long story short, I ended up teaching in a mainstream state school in Berlin on teaching experience rather than formal teaching qualifications.

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

That reading, spelling and writing are not what our brains are wired to do. There is no evolutionary advantage to being literate. So it is normal and to be expected that some people just won’t be able to do it at all or do it very easily. I hope that puts a helpful perspective on expectations that learning to read and spell should happen quickly, naturally and without much effort.

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

Yes! Most teachers are naturally very creative, and you can really have a creative outlet with phonics in terms of the materials and activities you can develop and adapt. And it suits the classroom environment. I’m thinking of subjects like history and geography which, in comparison, can be so much harder to bring to life in those four classroom walls.

Where do you get your phonics inspiration from?

My main source of inspiration is other teachers. I have magpied so many ideas from just popping into another classroom and asking about what I saw. Or another teacher saying “you should try this … it worked really well with my class …”

If you could only save only one of your phonics resources from a burning classroom (Jigsaw Phonics resources excluded this time), which one would it be?

My “ball in the bin” games that I created with a few ping pong balls, a permanent marker and three buckets. All the games were “talking about and sorting games” in small groups that involved an extra point for throwing the ball into the bucket. Lots fun, very multisensory and I will turn them into a resource at some point!

What would your ideal phonics professional development training include?

So much more dyslexia/learning differences awareness, especially with learners who speak English as a second language. Seeing the vast range of literacy ability in a single class is what made me go and get my dyslexia qualifications.

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

The first is more dyslexia training - it’s so often the elephant in the room. Second is de-jargoning the curriculum - common exception words and high-frequency words, for example, are overlapping categories which is just confusing. And thirdly, I think it would be really great if everyone really understood what a hard language English is to teach and learn. All those crazy spellings make teaching and learning English an achievement to celebrate.

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

Managing the expectations of parents whose children are not achieving at expected levels. And solving it with small-step support and regular, clear communication based around an IEP (individual education programme). Documentation is vital.

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

Depends a bit on the class, but some of my younger learners loved me to throw a few letters up on the board so they could tap out a word for the class to guess. I had an older class that went crazy for homophones and homographs because they loved playing homophone pictionary. Basically, anything that isn’t teacher-centred and lets the children explore for themselves.

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

There are so many because teaching is a really hard job. One that springs to mind is "... but what if it all goes well?" I think there can be so much stress, anxiety and negative self-talk amongst teachers even while they are doing amazing work. That’s because we set ourselves such high standards because we care so much. It’s also because so many women are teachers, and society is still sending women the message that we always have to be better and try harder. That’s changing slowly, but we are not there yet. So we need to derail that negativity with positivity and gratitude as often as we realistically can.

Thanks for reading this month's Jigsaw Phonics Q&A! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to receive our monthly newsletter. Not only will you get exclusive giveaways and discount codes, you get exclusive access to a free download bundle that includes a beautiful art print of each interviewee's quote, 2 phonics activities to use at home or at school, plus a page to print of one of our activity books designed in a choice of print and precursive fonts.

There's more to come! February's guest will be Olivia Monks @primaryteachuk on February 21st so see you then!

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