Holes in the bucket

I wonder if there are holes in the bucket?

Phonological Awareness.

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and consciously break words into syllables, rhyme, onset and rime, and individual sounds or phonemes.TKI 2016

Phonological awareness refers to an individual’s awareness of the phonological structure, or sound structure, of words.

Phonemic Awareness

TKI defines phonemic awareness as the ability to hear, differentiate, and attend to the individual sounds or phonemes within words and is part of phonological awareness. Alcock further states that ‘Phonemic awareness is a category of phonological awareness and is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate individual sounds in words. Phonemic awareness is necessary for understanding and using phonics knowledge.’ Alcock, 2010.  Gillon (2004), stresses that, “Phoneme awareness performance is a strong predictor of long-term reading and spelling success and can predict literacy performance more accurately than variables such as intelligence, vocabulary knowledge, and socioeconomic status” (p. 57).

Many people do not understand the difference between phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics. Others are uncertain about the relationship between phonological awareness and early reading. I created the following diagram from our teacher only day to help clarify my thinking. You can see that phonics are visual and phonological awareness is all about listening. Phonemes are a subset of phonological awareness.

phonological awareness

phonological awareness (PDF)

Phonological awareness is an important and reliable predictor of later reading ability. Some of the most exciting findings from research on phonological awareness is that critical levels of phonological awareness can be developed through carefully planned instruction therefore having major influence on children’s reading and spelling achievement.

This week we had our team meeting with Andrea our fabulous team leader who had asked Lynne one of our RTLiTs to come in and do a follow up session of Phonological awareness that she had run for staff on our teacher only day. Andrea had been so inspired by the concept of checking the foundation of literacy using the phonological awareness assessment that she had run the phase one test with her 5 year old class.  She had been motivated by the patterns she had identified. She thought phonological awareness is something we should all seriously look at. After our team session I totally agree with her.

I reflected on my inquiry regarding 3 level guides and wondered if I was working with leaking buckets of knowledge. So I asked Lynne if she could carry out a phonological awareness test with one of my students whose data did not make sense. I wanted to observe how she carried out the test so I could continue when I had similar doubts with some of the data I gathered. I also wondered about using it to gather further data before I began my writing intervention.

Lynne used the Plymouth Phonological Awareness Assessment Phase One. One of my target students is a year 6 second language learner. He has been with us since he was nearly 7 and I know he did not achieve literacy in his first language. Those of you who work with bilingual students know about the phenomena that happens when children are literate in their first language and how fast they can accelerate when learning their second language.

This student is at level 17 for reading. He is well below for writing. He was recently tested using Steps and identified as achieving well below his chronological age.

Sure enough the Phonological Awareness Assessment identified gaps in his literacy. Lynne often states in her discussion that, “If we do not address that basic foundation then all we are doing is pouring in time and resources into a bucket with holes.

She shared with me the information from our ‘Switched onto Spelling’ programme that indicates the importance of carrying out a Phonological Awareness Assessment before undertaking the programme. Alcock, 2010

I reflected on our overall school literacy programmes. For example, I run an ESOL programme and intervene with children who need accelerated work to catch up to the moving target of peers that they are chasing. We run a ‘Steps’ programme that works with children who appear to have gaps in literacy building blocks. We gather data for the Mutukaroa cluster project that we are part of. We have reading recovery for children identified at 6 years old observation survey who do not appear to make the required progress. Often the programme spaces are taken up with our second language learners.  

In addition we sometimes run an accelerated literacy programme for our gifted and talented children.


This year as a school we have targeted writing and especially targeted SOLO Taxonomy as the framework for writing because this has been identified as helping children to deepen their literacy. We have put more of staff resourcing to support learning in class because international research has identified that withdrawal is the least effective form of literacy development. Our teams are currently trialling grouping students according to needs as teachers experiment with their own learning pedagogies. This is a cautious approach because we are also aware of the research around grouping children.  


As a school we are really good now at gathering data. Teams are beginning to develop an awareness that our children’s data is all of our responsibility. Data is an ethical issue. As a school we are all responsible if our children are not making the required progress.

Therefore I believe that along with making connections with the child and their families we also should check the bucket of literacy learning. When children are literate in their first language we should see accelerated progress. If they are not literate in their first language, then we should endeavor to ensure language maintenance continues. Before we pour in the learning, check that the foundation of literacy is in place.  The Phonological Awareness Assessment is simple to administer and yet can quickly identify gaps that need addressing.

Where to next for me

I begin a new writing group this week. Before I do anything, I have looked at their data and identified where they are reading at. I have looked at their e_asTTle writing data from last year. I have looked at their historic data and found out as much as I can about the children. I will now carry out a Phonological Awareness Assessment and check their foundation and feed this back to their teachers. This week our children are sitting an e-asTTle test and I will mark and collate my group’s data. I will be part of our team moderation and then our school wide moderation. Taking part in moderation ensures that my own teacher judgements remain current with national standards.


As a teacher of children learning English I believe it is important to find out as much as I can about the children I teach. I believe it is important to address the urgency of second language learners catching a moving target of learners. But not at the expense of maintaining their first language. I believe it is especially important to make connections with the children that I teach. One way of doing this is just getting to know the children personally. I do this by targeting them in the playground and saying hello in their first language. I often make links with them via a common interest. At the moment a big interest with children is Minecraft. With some of the older girls, it is drawing using the Manga style- (Big Eyes).

I also believe in the importance of reflective teachers and this year I aim to reflect in a visible written format.  Finally it is especially important to have ongoing dialogue with colleagues about what they are doing in their inquiry and for me to make links with that information to my own inquiry. I especially like it when colleagues send me links to what they are reading and become even more excited when they tag me with something reflective that they have written. So Andrea thanks for giving me a prompt to reflect on my practice and for alerting me to revisit what Lynne had shared with all staff on teacher only day. The follow up session allowed me to dig deeper into my pedagogy and to think about the words of John Hattie, ‘Know thy impact.’

My last question for anyone reading this is….

How do you ensure that your buckets of practice do not have holes?’



Alcock, J. (2010). http://www.spelling.co.nz/Downloads/Practitioner’s%20guide.pdf

Gillon, G. (2004). Phonological awareness: from research to practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Gillon, G. (2013).  http://www.education.canterbury.ac.nz/people/gillon/Workshop_handout_2013Sept.pdf

Plymouth Council. (2016) http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/phonics_assessments.pdf



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