September 17, 2013 posted by littlewhitecottage

For Henry because I know you are desperate to read…(what comes after Jolly Phonics?)

All my boys love books. I’m not sure if it’s because they’ve been read too since they were babies -every night, everyday and whenever they asked – or whether they would have found their way to books by themselves but I am so glad that they love books as it’s something Hubbie and I loved as children and still do as adults. Our eldest took a while to learn but once it ‘clicked’ he was off! He has a very healthy reading age for his actual age so I am confident in letting him loose on whatever he wants to read and though I pretend to be angry I secretly love having to tell him to turn his light off to get some sleep when he goes to bed. The whines of ‘Owww just one more page???’ is music to my ears.

Son no 3 seems to be getting the hang of reading too as he spent last year in the back of our car listening to  no 2 son learn his sounds. No 3 is a bright little cookie who absorbs all that goes on around him and so when no 2 was stuck on a word I would hear a little voice in the back of the car say ‘cat!’ or ‘it’s a ‘sh’ sound!!’ and no 2 would get ever more frustrated as let’s face it no one wants to be outshone by their younger sibling…

Henry is still finding reading a bit tough and I think I know why. His school follows the Jolly Phonics (sort of) way of teaching which I do think is fabulous. I worked for a Head teacher many years ago who advocated the use of phonics based learning to read long before it became the new way of doing things. She was known locally as ‘that Jolly Phonics women’ and people would roll their eyes as she stood up, once again, in courses and eulogised about how much better learning to read in a phonics based system is. I have to say I agree with her to a large extent but there are some, like my lovely little no 2 son, who need a broader range of strategies to use other than just being told to ‘sound it out.’ Henry appears to have been given no other strategies to decode words as when he is faced with a word he doesn’t know he instantly tries to sound it out which last year, in reception, with the totally decodable books he was given, absolutely worked and he was making progress. Now the books seem to be quite random and he’s just not getting, and remembering, new words that just need to be learned. He struggles, he gets despondent and I’m not sure how to motivate him.

I have used the Read, Write, Inc set of books with my eldest boy and I have to say they were fantastic with him. He grasped the mechanics of reading really well using them and the way they slowly introduce the non-decodable words in a systematic way seem to be fine with his brain. The Rose report that was a government led research report in which Ruth Miskin was one of the advisers (she developed the Read, Write, Inc series and incidentally has worked with the Headteacher I mentioned earlier) found that children made better progress starting on decodable books that slowly introduced non decodable words because the brain was more able to cope with these words as it was tracking and reading a little beforehand. It seems that brains just ‘get’ non decodable words when they have a bank of words they already know and have consolidated.

This is all fab news. Fab for boys too and those with special needs as the report showed that less interventions were needed later on if children were started with this phonics based method.

Yeehay!! You might think. I must admit I did. I have 3 boys (uh oh we all know about ‘boys and reading’) and I have 2 (at the moment anyway) slightly special needs boys so I am especially interested in their reading development both as an ex-teacher and a mum.

With my eldest we read the school reading scheme books -Oxford reading tree – which he found difficult as the words were quite random (I remember one book that had ‘headache’ and ‘guitar’ and that was in reception!) but because we used the Read, Write, Inc books on the days that he didn’t bring a reading book home he not only read every day (not the 3 times a week that the school thought okay) but he also started on totally decodable books which he could easily read. He only found reading more difficult on 3 days out of 7 (I got him to read everyday with no exceptions, I was a mean Mummy!) so little by little he began to fly with his reading. My proudest moment was telling him off for reading at night, I honestly thought we’d never get him to that point where he was so desperate to read! He was assessed (for his other literacy needs as he was quite behind) and part of that assessment looked at his reading and at the age of 7 he had a 10.9 years reading age and I think that is really due to the fact that he had a mixture of methods of learning to read. We didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and insist that phonics was the way to go but allowed him to excel with the decodable books but also look at totally random words from the ORT series. I believe this, for him anyway, was the best way for him to learn.

He’s now always stuck in a book. He’s desperate to read and he gets through at least 2 thick books (500-700 pages) per week or 4-6 smaller books per week. I am joking that I can’t really afford to keep up with his reading habit but I have to say that now he’s back at school the library is a Godsend.

Unfortunately things aren’t going so well for son no 2. He isn’t on the ORT as such but seems to be coming home with a random set of books that don’t seem to follow on from one another. I am seeing that he is becoming despondent, that he thinks he’s ‘rubbish’ at reading and can’t see any progression. He is very sensitive and hard on himself so I know I need to do something quickly or I will loose him into a ‘I can’t do this’ attitude which I know is hard to shake. I have started using the Read, Write, Inc books which he really likes -they are stand alone stories with not much emphasis on the pictures giving clues to the text and he never knows what he’s going to be reading next. He’s a bright mind who needs interesting things to read so this scheme is great for him but I am worried we might run out of books and then I really don’t know what to do.

To this end I have decided to look at the keywords for Reception -I don’t know if the fashion is still for learning these as I’ve been out of teaching for some time and things have dramatically moved on but I know from my eldest’s literacy problems that if you don’t get to grips with reading, writing and spelling them then as the curriculum moves on no-ones seems to get them consolidated. My eldest is in year 5 and still hasn’t consolidated his key words and his writing really suffers because of it. After finding the keywords I’ve decided to write really simple six line stories using these words about subjects I know Henry will be interested in. This morning’s was about rugby which he loves and for the first time he read it with total ease and felt good. I know he felt good because he smiled and he hasn’t done that with his reading for a while…

Here is what I’ve done just to show you…

Picture of henry's story for the blog


I’ve used photos of Henry with simple text he can read. Most of the words are based around the keywords and words that are decodable. He’s interested and so more engaged more engagement means the brain (surely) is more able to take on board the text so it seems a win win situation really. I took on board the idea of looking at tricky words before we read as in the Read, Write, Inc series so I made large flashcards of the words that I knew Henry might struggle with.

Henry's words from his rugby story

Now I know Henry won’t remember these from one reading so I am writing the next story to include the words ‘like’ and ‘too’  so I am building on what Henry needs to learn and consolidate. I feel this is more relevant to Henry than reading another new book that has more new words that are repeated in each sentence in order for him to learn it. -‘In goes the sun bun, In goes the pink drink, in goes the….’ was yesterday’s repetitive book sent home from school that really made no sense, had no real story and Henry struggled with. This way, I believe, builds on Henry’s needs so I’m hoping it will work better for him!

After Henry read I had 3 prepared questions as I think that the visual act of reading would be helped if Henry were to physically write some of the key words straight afterwards as this would then tap into the different ways that we all learn -seeing, doing etc.. He was totally up for this and was very enthusiastic as he’d just had a positive experience in which there was lots of smiles! Here’s what he did…

Henry's comprehension from his rugby story

I read the questions but he came up with the answers. I left him to have a go at the writing by himself unless I knew there was a word he would find hard. As he’s not daft he realised that his large flashcard words would help him spell so he put them in front of him when he wrote ‘rugby.’ I also showed him that he could read his story again to find words too and he thought this a fab idea!

After Henry had written he ran to show his Daddy -who was ironing a shirt at the time – he was full of enthusiasm, full of chatter telling daddy what he’d just done and full of smiles. Something which I was too I must admit!

This may seem arduous to do but I’ve just used the same format of story to write 6 other stories for Henry and I’ve changed the questions to match them and printed them off. This has taken just under an hour but I feel it’s worth it. I am happy to include a template so the time could be cut down if you’d like to use it to change the text and pictures for yourself.

In all Henry took about 1/4hr to read and write the above. Hubbie and I have decided that we will get up a little earlier so we can do this with Henry everyday as we believe that he will really benefit rather than just leaving him to have these random reading books he brings home from school. Yes I’m a control freak of an ex teacher/mum but I don’t believe that some schools have really got to grips with what to do next after the Jolly Phonics sounds have been learned. There is no coherent scheme out (that I know of, remember I have been out of teaching a while so I am happy to stand corrected!) that takes a child from a non reader to reading novels so schools are having to make their own schemes themselves and I know some have much more success than others.

Henry is smiling about reading (and writing) and very interested to know what tomorrow’s story will be about. So far I’ve written about his messy room, the wild cat that visits us, daddy’s fast car and he seems very excited to read. Just as he was leaving for school he turned and said ‘Mummy, can you write a story about Thor?’ who is Henry’s current love. I said ‘Well, I can certainly have a go can’t I…’ He punched the air with a ‘Yesssssss!’ and went to get in the car…

If you are a teacher and you have any advice for me I would gratefully like to hear it. I absolutely know not all schools are struggling with early reading development but it seems the 2 schools we’ve been involved with seem to be if a child isn’t on the ‘normal’ path of development. Please either comment below, post on my Facebook page or you can email

1 Comment

  • Sorry, I’m not a teacher with any wise words for you.
    I just wanted to say that I love to read your blog and think it’s brilliant that you are working with your middle son in this way. Reading apart, it will make him feel special and from my experience middle children can sometimes feel a bit overlooked. (Please don’t take that the wrong way – I’m sure you don’t fall into that) but it is very easy to give the eldest a bit of responsibility, and treat the youngest as your baby. How can you make the middle one special?Write stories especially for him. Well Done You!

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