Well, how confused can some Key Stage 1 teachers be about HFWs? Answer? Very confused!
Here is a letter to parents sent home recently from a primary school somewhere in the south east of England.
Dear Parents/CarersThis week in phonics the children have been learning the following sounds:a, i, m, s, t, n, o p
They have been using the sounds to spell words. For example:at, it, an, as, sat, sit, mat, man, not, potThere are 100 common words (key words) that occur frequently in much of the written material young children read and which they need when they write. In order to read simple captions and sentences, it is also necessary to learn to read the key words before reaching that stage in the phonics programme. The high frequency words are taught by sight from memory and we explain that we can not sound out these words. [My emphasis] Below is a list of the first 100 high frequency words.0 high-frequency words in order
1. the 21. that 41. not 61. look 81. put
2. and 22. with 42. then 62. don’t 82. could
3. a 23. all 43. were 63. come 83. house
4. to 24. we 44. go 64. will 84. old
5. said 25. can 45. little 65. into 85. too
6. in 26. are 46. as 66. back 86. by
7. he 27. up 47. no 67. from 87. day
8. I 28. had 48. mum 68. children 88. made
9. of 29. my 49. one 69. him 89. time
10. it 30. her 50. them 70. Mr 90. I’m
11. was 31. what 51. do 71. get 91. if
12. you 32. there 52. me 72. just 92. help
13. they 33. out 53. down 73. now 93. Mrs
14. on 34. this 54. dad 74. came 94. called
15. she 35. have 55. big 75. oh 95. here
16. is 36. went 56. when 76. about 96. off
17. for 37. be 57. it’s 77. got 97. asked
18. at 38. like 58. see 78. their 98. saw
19. his 39. some 59. looked 79. people 99. make
20. but 40. so 60. very 80. your 100. an
Of course, what is being asserted here is, to use an old fashioned expression, poppycock! To begin with, all words are comprised of sounds and all sounds have at some point in time been assigned spellings. So, what the teachers who have written this rubbish haven’t seemed to have understood is that the structure of the writing system is conceptually very straightforward: there are sounds and there are spellings to represent those sounds. So, contrary to the piffle being peddled by the teachers concerned, ALL words can be sounded out.
Now, let’s examine the list they provide, which, incidentally comes from Letters and Sounds, a government document which has now been archived. If you look at it carefully, you will see that no less than thirty-two of the words in the list are very easily decodable. Given that pupils are being taught how to blend and segment properly and that they are learning to link sounds to spellings, what could possibly be difficult about reading or spelling words such as ‘in’, ‘it’, ‘not’, ‘mum’ and so on? In fact, you can see how confused the writers of the letter to parents are by the fact that they say in their preamble that they using ‘sounds to spell words’ and yet haven’t seemed to have noticed that one of the words listed – ‘it’ – is then presented in their list of undecodable words!! if it were not more serious, it would be laughable.
It is undoubtedly the case that the alphabet code gets more complex to teach because there are many ways of spellings individual sounds and that many spellings represent different sounds. This is complex because it means that there is a lot to learn. However, it doesn’t mean that it cannot be taught if it’s taught from simple to progressively more complex.
What the school is doing goes against not only what the research on the teaching of reading and spelling has found but also what Ofsted and the government are saying teachers should be doing.
It is shame that, in spite of the training, research and evidence available, teachers insist on reverting to the practices of a bygone age.
If you want to know what to do about high frequency words which contain sound-spelling correspondences that have not yet been taught formally in a phonics programme, you can find out here in one of my previous postings.