Phonics is more successful when teachers fully understand what, why and how they are teaching. We know that success, and enjoyment, is less likely when teachers simply 'deliver' lessons. We also know that teachers are individuals, with different teaching styles and preferences.
We want you to follow the guidance for Rocket Phonics but, importantly, we also want you to take ownership of it and to enjoy it. The following advice can be adapted to suit the needs of your school and your children:
Whole group teaching versus ability group teaching
The Rocket Phonics approach is to encourage whole class teaching. We believe the benefits of whole class organisation outweigh the benefits of ability group teaching. Whole class teaching exposes all children to all teaching and is differentiated by the level of support given and the expected outcome. Class teachers are able to maintain an overview of every child's progress and attainment.
Ability group teaching is challenging to maintain consistently and can result in cancelled lessons when members of staff are unavailable to teach their group. Time is lost when children are moving to and from groups, and sometimes groups don't have suitable spaces to work in.
However, if you prefer to teach in smaller ability groups, and you can consistently staff the groups, then go ahead. There are also times when you might like to use whole class teaching for part of the year, then evaluate and reorganise into ability groups during a different part of the year.
Using mini whiteboards
Contrary to popular belief, mini whiteboards are not a fundamental part of phonics teaching. Many people like to use them because children can quickly hold them up to show answers, and when children make errors they can easily rub them out and try again. Mini whiteboards are a useful tool for some phonics activities.
However, writing with a whiteboard pen on a whiteboard surface is a different sensory experience from writing with a pencil on to a piece of paper. Ultimately we want children to be able to write with a pencil onto paper - so they need to experience and practise writing with a pencil onto paper.
If you use mini whiteboards, remember to check that there are enough working pens and board rubbers and uphold good behavioural routines to prevent children from fiddling with boards while you are teaching.
Pace and progression
It's likely you already know that Rocket Phonics has a steady pace mapped out across each term and year. By following our pace, and with regular monitoring, children are able to keep up with the demands of the extensive English alphabetic code and not fall behind. We're happy to acknowledge, however, that some teachers have success working through the phonics code at twice the speed, then repeating the learning to embed it. Both methods work - but we strongly believe that ours is smoother and more reliable.
The reality is that you might have a cohort that can work at a faster pace for a term, and then they need to slow down. So, it's sensible to reflect upon pace throughout each year and if you need to speed up or slow down, you can. Teachers can also teach and letter-sound correspondences incidentally as required in phonics lessons and the wider curriculum.
In Rocket Phonics, you wont find many explicit references to word structures, e.g. CVC, CCVC, CCVCC. Nor do we stop teaching the alphabetic code to teach adjacent consonants, e.g. bl, spr, st. It's all included, of course, but we believe in subtly integrating these structures within our steady pace and progression.
Once you've introduced /s/ as s, and /t/ as t, you'll find words that include 'st' such as 'stop ' and 'pest'. There's no need to wait to include different structures, as children taught with synthetic phonics are capable of reading and writing these words from early on. Also, by including different structures a little earlier, you open up lots more useful vocabulary for reading and writing that children can access. If you do identify children who lack confidence in reading or writing words with different structures, and you feel they need additional practice, you can tweak your teaching to include more (or less).
The lesson structures and content outlined in Rocket Phonics is core phonics teaching. It covers the knowledge and skills children need to be taught, to practise and to apply. The resources are rich in language content and, while you don't need anything more, if you want to add extra creative or physical activities or games to enrich your provision, you can.
For example, you can provide sorting baskets of tiny toys that can be arranged by initial sound or used as a stimulus to segment words. These activities could be in your continuous provision or used to extend your core teaching session. Just remember, we advise using these in addition to, not as substitution for, your core Rocket Phonics lessons.