By Coreen Kirton, Official Jolly Phonics Trainer
Many studies show that the most effective way to teach all children, including those with dyslexia, to read and write is through systematic synthetic phonics. These studies have demonstrated how an early grounding in synthetic phonics can make it possible for all children to leave primary school better able to access the secondary school curriculum.
French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene, in his 2009 book Reading in the Brain, suggests that the brain never really learns to read a whole word, it just gets really, really fast at decoding. He believes that any type of learning that does not emphasise the sound of words is inefficient.
Perhaps, the inability to decode has contributed to our low levels of literacy, as poor academic achievement continues to be a cause for grave concern. In addition, many of our teachers have come through education-preparation programmes but are still not equipped to teach children how to read.
It is also difficult to convince teachers who have done things a certain way for a long time that a shift is needed.
We need an intervention!
Literacy For Life, a project – spearheaded by the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute (CREDI) and the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) in partnership with The Franciscan Institute and the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) – is one such intervention, that will prepare and train teachers to effectively deliver systematic, synthetic phonics.
On August 21, I entered the Catholic Bible Institute in Caroni as an Official Jolly Phonics Trainer. What is Jolly Phonics, you ask? It is a programme that teaches English in a fun-loving manner, so children enjoy learning.
It teaches children to read and write in a systematic, explicit, and cumulative manner and is fully validated by the Department of Education in England.
It was here at the Institute that an extensive five-day training week took place. August 21–25 engaged principals and Infant 1 and 2 teachers of 11 Catholic primary schools: Mayaro RC, Morne Diable RC, Mt Lambert RC, Our Lady of Laventille RC, Princes Town RC, Rose Hill RC, San Juan RC, Sans Souci RC, St Dominic’s RC Morvant, St Dominic’s Penal, and Tabaquite RC.
They had agreed to give up one week of their vacation to be trained in the Literacy for Life Pilot Project in the use of Jolly Phonics, to then be implemented in our schools over the 2023–2024 Academic Year to over 300 infant students.
Teachers were exposed to the mechanics of teaching Jolly Phonics not only in academics, but emotional and psychological development. They were introduced to the English Alphabetic Code and its complexities, and the way Jolly Phonics simplifies the code to teach children to be proficient at reading and writing.
Principals received valuable insight into how to manage such a programme in their schools, how to accept change, manage conflicts, and the impact of trauma on a child’s life and the effects on one’s learning ability were brought to the awareness of all.
Learning ought to not only take place in the classroom setting. Housed within the Literacy for Life Programme is Parenting for Literacy, an opportunity for the parents of these students to be taught how to accompany their child/children in Jolly Phonics when they get home from school.
Having the principals, teachers, and the parents all on the same page increases the effectiveness of the programme and brings about positive reinforcement for the students.
As the school year begins, these participating schools will be journeyed with. Each school has received a Jolly Phonics kit, additional resources, a school banner, and “I am learning to read” pins, just to name a few.
Moreover, they will receive bi-monthly visits from trained monitors to follow-up on the progress of the programme. You will realise that accompaniment is key.
It is well known that there are no panaceas in education. Even the most carefully planned and structured curriculum will not make any difference if it is not implemented accurately and thoughtfully. Support is necessary from principals, literacy coaches, ministry and school-district officials and parents.
The success of this pilot project will determine its future viability. These teachers are trained, prepared, and excited to execute.
We ask you to pray for the Literacy for Life programme and all that it entails, that those exposed to it truly find joy in the vitality of phonics.