The Alphacheck: Building teacher capacity while assessing student knowledge

Year: 2014

Author: Deslea, Konza

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The alphabetic principle underpins the written form of English, and without an understanding of this, independent reading will never be possible. Research over many decades has supported the view that most children need instruction in phonics: the relationship between the sounds (phonemes) of English and the letters that represent them. While debate continues about how best to teach this component of written language, few teachers would disagree that development of this knowledge needs to be monitored in the early years of schooling to ensure that children master the ‘building blocks’ of our written language. This presentation will introduce the Alphacheck, a criterion-referenced tool that provides a straightforward way of assessing knowledge of the single letter names and sounds, and common letter-sound combinations in word format. It will also present data gathered from primary teachers who used the Alphacheck in two year-long research projects, and who helped shape its development. One important suggestion made by the teachers was the inclusion, on the inside of the cover page, of a “Definition of Terms”. Much of the terminology associated with letter-sound knowledge is not covered in most teacher preparation courses, and many teachers are unfamiliar with, or confuse, terms such as grapheme, digraph, diphthong and trigraph. Teachers reported that having the definitions conveniently to hand helped them learn many relevant terms as they used the Alphacheck in student assessments. This knowledge also assisted their understanding of the alphabetic system, and improved communication with colleagues as they discussed student progress and identified gaps in their knowledge. Another suggestion was the inclusion of a table that converted student scores in each subsection to a percentage. When results in each section were graphed, the use of percentages supported very quick and easy interpretation of student progress. The one-page student recording sheet has two main sections: the first covers the single letter names and sounds and common consonant digraphs in a commonly taught order; and the second includes columns of common letter combinations within words, some ‘demon’ words, and non-word examples. At the foot of each column is the name of the letter combination being assessed, which acts as a further reminder of the relevant terminology. *A copy of the Alphacheck will be distributed as a handout to all session participants.