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Nonwords for Y1 Phonics Check

Discussion in 'Early Years' started by Lizanne, Dec 16, 2010.

  1. What do you think about including nonwords in the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check that the government is proposing? I would be interested in readers' opinions.
  2. InkyP

    InkyP Star commenter

    Do you mean like the real or fake words used in the Treasure Chest game in Letters and Sounds? My children in Reception love playing this game, they have just started Phase 3 L&S.
    If this is the case, I don't see a problem.
  3. I mean words like:
    kig, mep, stemp, dife, cay, heeb, boam
  4. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    I can see the pros and cons of non words
    For - they ensure that children are actually decoding and not just guessing correctly
    Against - we should be teaching children to expect what they read to make sense
    I think for single words it doesn't really matter and I quite like the Ragtag rhyme books which contain both (characters have non word names) and doesn't lose meaning.
  5. InkyP

    InkyP Star commenter

    Presented as a game the children enjoy decoding these kind of words and deciding if the word goes in the treasure chest or the bin. There is a good, free online version on phonicsplay.
  6. Hmm.............

    Lots of fun deciding if non-words are real or not (which is reliant on children's existing oral vocabulary).

    The question is whether the time spent on Treasure Chest would be better spent on children decoding real words, at least some of which could be 'new' vocabulary which the teacher introduces to children.

    If children are taught the important 'tweaking' or modifying pronunciation as part of the synthetic phonics teaching approach, what is to stop them from 'tweaking' non-words to make them into their version of 'real words'?

    Further, I have seen teachers make up non-words for Treasure Chest using illegal spellings (spellings which we never see in the English writing system). Should children 'see' illegal spellings?

    This raises the question about the activity of showing young children a series of potential spellings for words, which the children then have to decide are 'correct' or not. This often includes illegal spellings.

    Research HAS shown that even competent adult spellers' spelling ability can be reduced on seeing wrong spellings.

    So much to consider beyond having a fun time!!!!
  7. As a Rec/Y1/2 teacher and the Mum of a 5 year old who may be screened this year. I use nonwords for fun activities but would not use them in a screening test. My son will sound out words very well but is puzzled when they dont make sense and has reached the stage where he is beginning to sound out in his head and wants to read in context. I am not sure he would read nonwords as well as real words.
  8. inky

    inky Lead commenter

    There areenough real words that can be used out of context, surely? What are we telling children about language when we give them nonsense words?
    It's odd. We gie them non-words, presumably, to make sure they're not relying on memory!

  9. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    But non words can be fun in context
    On the Ning Nang Nong
    Where the Cows go Bong!
    and the monkeys all say BOO!
    There's a Nong Nang Ning
    Where the trees go Ping!
    And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
    "And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
    stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons.
    It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.
    And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore.
    Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
    What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
    What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."
    "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!"
  10. inky

    inky Lead commenter

  11. Maybe it partly depends how the test is presented (and how it will be used)? Some able readers may well appear to be unable to decode non-words because they fail to see the point or are confused? (eg children on the autistic spectrum) Failure to decode the non-words wouldn't necessarily mean that they were unable to do so.
    I've found non-words useful for assessing children's abilities to decode and for pinpointing where they're getting stuck, but it it's used in a test which will potentially be part of a school-assessing system (league tables etc) I'd be very wary, as I don't think that it would be constructive for early years teachers to feel pressure to coach children to do well at decoding non-words.
  12. I have found non-words very useful for quick diagnostic assessments in under-achieving schools. It soon gives a picture as to whether the teaching is lacking in terms of phonics provision or whether it is individual children who are struggling!

    However, I feel very concerned that a combination of Letters and Sounds promoting 'Treasure Chest' with the government year six phonics check including non-words, that teachers will tend to teach with non-words when I don't think this is a good idea at all.
    There really are plenty of real words to teach without throwing non-words into the mix - and I do worry that the country's teachers are not sufficiently aware of the notion of 'legal' and 'illegal' spellings to be cautious about the use of non-words.
    I think the situation is exacerbated when children have English as a new or additional language and where children have impoverished vocabularies.
    The trouble is that there has been such 'apology' about systematic synthetic phonics teaching, and it has been such a battle to get it properly on the map, that suggestions for good practice have been skewed by the philosophies associated with the early years.
    For example, mini whiteboard work instead of pencil and paper work.
    Scrunching on carpets to write with mini whiteboards instead of sitting at tables with good posture.
    The use of grapheme tiles and magnetic letters in place of handwriting (although I think it is good in the early stages to use grapheme tiles and then to follow spelling activies with writing out the words).
    I agree that it would not be 'constructive for early years teachers to feel pressure to coach children to do well at decoding non-words'.
    Further than this, the publishers will increasingly provide material with non-words - and so it is a circle forever perpetuating the, arguably, unnecessary and ill-advised over-use of non-words!
  13. I realise that it could be very dispiriting if a teacher is really pleased with providing games such as Treasure Chest and then someone like me comes along and is apparently critical.
    My apologies and I do appreciate this.
    It is not my intent, however, to appear critical of current practice - especially where teachers are actually providing what has been suggested by those in apparent authority.
    It doesn't hurt, however, to use the forum for raising issues and having our discussions. On the contrary, it really makes us think - and we are all equal on such a forum to have our say.
    I love the TES early years forum and go out of my way to describe it as the best forum I know. There is such a good mix of us on here and such a good spread of postings - from practical issues to debates about philosophies and so on.
    There's no harm in 'food for thought' at any time - and I must say that I am frequently given food for thought myself by contributions by others.
    So, thank you everyone![​IMG]
  14. Debbie, you write exactly what I have been thinking for a long while. I hardly ever use "mini-whiteboards" these days...what was ever so wrong with pencil and paper? It seems so much of what is now "normal", even expected practice got unnecessarily away from its fundamental purpose of teaching reading and writing. I suppose I am very old fashioned but I use pencils and paper, printed words and very little else to teach reading and spelling and handwriting. I never use "non-words", English has around 250,000 words, surely that is more than enough without inventing more...
  15. You only have to play Scrabble with a reasonably good player to realise how many false-sounding words are actually real ones.
  16. True. And children may not have encountered even the more common of the obscure words. But their teachers have a good idea for what's in their vocabulary.

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