Our Preschool Studio

Logic of English Foundations B curriculum review

By the end of Foundations A, your child should know all the single-letter phonograms quite well and be able to write or recognise all the lowercase alphabets.  Of course,  whether they can truly write it well really depends on your child’s fine motor skills development – one cannot expect a 3-year-old to master writing all the alphabets with a pencil and paper but a 4 to 5-year-old with no significant developmental delays should be able to do so.  So the curriculum suggests plenty of fine motor skills play for children who have difficulty with holding a pencil and to focus on large motor movements instead. By the end of Foundations A, they should also be somewhat familiar with segmenting and blending combinations of CVC words.

Foundation B takes it up a notch.  In Foundations B, a lot of attention is paid towards understanding the difference between short and long vowels.  Early on in the first couple lessons of Foundations B, the child is taught to stretch their arms to depict long vowels ā, ē, ī, ō and ū.  So their long arms would be a literal representation of the macron ( ¯ ), the diacritical mark of the long vowel.  To help learn the short vowel, the child is taught to bend their arms above their heads to visually represent the breve ( ˘ ).  Activities in early lessons are devoted to helping them recognise and pronounce accurately the short and long vowels by sight because they are crucial in helping the child learn multi-letter phonograms that will also be introduced in Foundations B.  For example, if one looks at multi-letter phonograms /ay/ and /ai/, they sound the same as long vowel /ā/ and while /ay/ occurs at the end of words like the word ‘bay’ or ‘say’, /ai/ appears in the middle like ‘bail’ or ‘sail’.  The book then reminds the student that the reason we put /ay/ not /ai/ at the end of the words is because of an important spelling rule where ‘English words do not end with I, U, V or J’.

This sounds like a lot for the student to digest: they have to remember the multi-letter phonograms, how it relates to the long or short vowel and the spelling rule associated with it.  But the book combines these complex ideas and manifests them in fun activities that helps the child to embed these concepts.  I know it works because it helps me, the adult teacher, remember too! I really, really appreciate how they give labels like calling the phonogram /ck/ as ‘two letter k’ and /igh/ as ‘three letter i’.  You can see the child’s eye light up when they realise the mystery why we always end words with the sound ‘k’ with ‘ck’.

So each lesson typically covers writing practice of an uppercase alphabet, introduction of a new multi-letter phonogram, revision of past phonograms learnt and a spelling test to see if the child is able to apply what they have learnt that lesson.

The spelling test also covers all the new high-frequency sight-words the child has to learn, except it is taught to the child using phonics principles so the child does not need to memorize these words by rote.  For example, the teacher would say please spell ‘boy’ and if the child is unsure, the teacher prompts, what is the initial sound? Answer: phonogram /b/ and then prompts again what is the ending sound? Answer: phonogram /oy/ and not to be confused with /oi/ because English words do end in I, U, V or J.  Both these phonograms and the spelling rules would have already been covered in the existing or previous lesson so the child should very easily apply what they have learnt and spell the word effectively.

Do you realize how much less frustrating it is to learn sight-words this way than to keep staring and repeating at sight-words the traditional, memory-rote way?  The spelling tests are all structured around concepts learnt that lesson and by the end of Foundations B, through a combination of phonological concepts learnt and application of these concepts via the spelling tests, the child would have mastered yet another couple of hundred sight-words without any need to memorise!  The reason they do not need to memorise is because of the phonemic awareness activities the curriculum does so well.

Sometimes concepts like the schwa, syllables, silent E and plural are thrown into the lesson.  But you can be rest assured that the curriculum has structured the lessons in such a way that these concepts are revised constantly to the point of mastery.

In Foundations B, the child would already be reading full sentences so the lessons also ensure they understand the difference between a period and a punctuation mark.  And there are all kinds of activities to allow the child to practice reading.

Overall I feel that a parent overwhelmed by the thought of teaching the struggling child to read would really enjoy this systematic approach.  I know I certainly did.  Prior to this I had to do research to see what was needed and I thought just knowing initial, middle and ending consonant and vowel sounds were sufficient.  Having a structured programme helps me navigate the complex world of the English language and teach it effectively to my children, thus saving me time trying to piece together a curriculum myself.  There are also predictable points in the curriculum where you know how much your child is progressing and how far more to go.

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