17 June 2016

Our teachers have been trained how to use a special teaching method called Sound Training. The method is called Sound Training because it  focuses on the sounds and syllables in words. 

It helps our pupils to read new words by ‘decoding’ them. They do this by learning the meanings of commonly used prefix, suffix, stem and root components of words, which they can then apply to words they haven’t seen before.

For example, pupils learn that the prefix ‘ex’ indicates ‘out’, and are given examples like ‘exit’ or ‘exhale’, or that the suffix ‘-ology’ denotes ‘study’ of something, using examples such as ‘biology’ or ‘geology’. 

By mastering the meanings of these core components through active listening, independent thinking and repetition, our pupils can then apply their knowledge to decode brand new words. 

The method also helps to build our pupils' confidence in reading and supports them to be active, rather than passive, learners.

Pupils are expected to achieve an average of 27 months of reading age progress following the six-week programme, according to an independent study of Sound Training by Northumbria University.

However, Year 11 pupils at Norham High School who’ve taken part in the scheme have achieved an impressive 46 months of progress on average, against their starting point.

And Year 7 pupils who’ve been part of the trial have achieved a startling 90 months of progress in just six weeks, giving some 11-year-olds a reading age of 18 and significantly boosting their reading confidence.

David Baldwin, Executive Headteacher at Norham High School, is impressed by the impact Sound Training has had in such a short space of time.

He said: “We were determined to do all we could to help boost the abilities and exam chances of our Year 11 students, particularly in English and Maths. 

“Training has been pitched at a level appropriate to each pupil, so some have received higher level training to give them a real edge, whilst others have had a package to bring them at least up to or beyond their expected ability, in preparation for exams.

“When you have a GCSE student with a below-functional reading age, it makes a huge impact on their chances of exam success. Not all of our pupils are in this situation of course, but for those who are, addressing it quickly and effectively was absolutely crucial.

“We looked at the interventions that were out there and Sound Training really stood out for us. We were particularly influenced by the fact that impact of the technique had been independently verified by Northumbria University.

“We were told to expect an average of 27 weeks reading gain in six weeks, which would have been fantastic in itself, but the progress we’ve seen with our pupils, especially those who came in at a much lower starting point, have just blown us away. It’s really accelerated their learning and we can’t wait to see the impact it has on GCSE exam results in the summer.”

Mr Baldwin added:

“We’ve also trialled the intervention with a small set of Year 7 pupils and the results have been amazing, with an average reading age improvement of 99 months, meaning some of our 11-year-olds have the reading age of an 18 year old. It’s just astounding, really

“Because of the success, we plan to roll Sound Training out across the whole school as soon as we can. By effectively addressing reading issues as early as possible, pupils can make more progress more quickly as time goes on.”

Pupils undergo Sound Training for an intensive six-week period, for one hour per week in small groups of just four pupils, and sessions are deliberately delivered at a rapid pace.

The training uses fast, focused and fun multi-sensory teaching methods to ensure students are fully engaged in active learning, including cue cards and repetition.

Katy Parkinson, founder of Sound Training, said: 

 “We’ve been delighted by the level of success seen at Norham High School. The school staff who’ve been involved in mastering the method themselves then delivering it to their pupils have really embraced the technique wholeheartedly and with huge enthusiasm. 

“We can see that the staff at Norham have high aspirations for their pupils and really want them to do well. Their professionalism and enthusiasm has clearly had an impact on pupils, which is demonstrated by the fantastic results achieved.”

Katy added:

“We believe that all students need to be taught how vocabulary systems work so that they can improve and build upon their knowledge. Students also need to take responsibility and ownership of that building - we cannot do it for them. We cannot teach them a definition for every word they come across.

 “Students forget word definitions very quickly if they are simply supplied by a teacher because they are not taking part in the learning process. Using the Sound Training method of teaching vocabulary encourages students to become active rather than passive learners.

 “By mastering word-building strategies, students can work out the words for themselves, and this switches on their ‘thinking muscles’. Once this word knowledge is there, they can then start to apply other reading strategies, such as reading around the subject or looking for context cues without becoming frustrated and giving up.”