Episode 002 – Sophie Butler
In our second episode, we are joined by Sophie Butler, a Primary School Teacher specialising in Early Years. In this episode, Sophie tells us about the phonics syllabus and the story behind her brand called Oz and Fox which she created with her sister.
Please note that this episode was recorded on Skype so please excuse the sound artifacts!
Sophie Butler’s course can be found here:
Phonics and Early Reading Course (Taster): https://educ8all.com/courses/phonics-and-early-reading-course-taster/
Vishal Bhogaita 0:04
Hello, and welcome to the educ8ors Podcast. I am Vishal Bhogaita, the founder of educ8all and your host for this podcast. Educ8all is an online marketplace where students can get access to video courses, downloadable documents, and tutors to help them study for their exams. The educ8ors podcast is an opportunity for you to learn more about what goes into creating the learning resources on the website. You can hear more about our latest resources and discounts by registering today at educ8all.com and signing up to the newsletter. In our second episode, we are joined by Sophie Butler, a primary school teacher specialising in early years. In this episode Sophie tells us about the phonics syllabus and the story behind a brand called Oz and Fox that she created with her sister. I hope you enjoy this episode. Hello, Sophie, thank you very much for joining me today on the educ8ors podcast. Could you introduce yourself, please and let us know a bit more about your experience in education?
Sophie Butler 1:18
So hi, Vishal, and thank you for having me. And so I’m a reception teacher, and I work at a school, Oasis Academy Ryelands. I’ve worked here for six years, and I’m still there now. And I’ve been very lucky because from my experience there as well as being a reception teacher, I’ve done some time in year one and year three time I’ve also been the early years coordinator and nursery manager, and which means that I’m in charge of the early years of two reception classes and a nursery class. And this just gave me a great opportunity really to deepen in my understanding and knowledge of working with young children. It allowed me to work with a lot of different professionals such as speech therapists and learning mentors, an educational psychologist and yet really broadened my experience. I did this in between my two maternity leaves. And so now I’ve gone down to part time and also I trained at Roehampton University. And as I did three years training to be a primary school teacher and I specialised in the early years so being able to then go and work in the early years is really…and then being in charge of the early years just really all connected my past experience together. Yeah, so it’s been good.
Unknown Speaker 2:34
Great. Okay. You’ve previously told me that, um, you know, you also worked as a nanny before, you know, becoming an early as teacher. And you just mentioned your, your experience in nurseries. So that basically means that you’ve always worked with very young children, preschool children. Was this age range a preference that you had from very early on in life, or is it something that just gradually developed as you entered into your career?
Sophie Butler 3:03
Yes. So I’ve always actually liked working with children. But I sort of got my first job in a nursery and by mistake just because my cousin was working there, and I needed a job at the time so I took it. And then I actually found that I ended up working in nurseries for the next eight years and I just loved it. Like you said before, like I’ve done nannying. And again, working with some children who was school age then. And so when I was working in the nursery, I thought, Oh, I have a real passion for this. So I’m going to go to university so I went as a mature student to university to do my teach… become a primary school teacher, and just with the intention of being a nursery teacher, actually, but then when I started work, I did start in reception and I really liked working in reception. And so yeah, so I sort of fell into the profession, just by chance and actually ended up loving it, and I’ve just stayed there ever since.
Unknown Speaker 3:57
Oh, great. Okay, and the the videos that you’ve created that we host on educ8all cover phonics and early reading. Now this is obviously a critical part of a child’s education. But as it’s so early on, many of our listeners might not be familiar with all thescaffolding that relates to teaching the skill of reading. Can you tell us a bit more about how the national curriculum deals with the phonics syllabus and how a child is expected to develop literacy in the early years?
Unknown Speaker 4:32
Yes, so, yeah, I feel like what you said there is it can be quite unknown of the importance of, of the education in in the early years. And really, this is when they start to learn everything. I think more people are becoming more and more aware of that now and a lot more research has been done into it and, and you know, a few about 20 years ago, there wasn’t a curriculum with the early years so it has now been recognised and there is the National Curriculum now. The early years equivalent of the national curriculum is the early years framework. So the early years framework covers the whole child in early years and Nursery in reception and nursery. And they have to be meeting these certain guidelines. But within it, it’s very broad when it comes to the reading and things like that. So what the government did is they started Letters and Sounds, which is specifically for phonics and learning to read. So there’s the Letters and Sounds document and I’ll just tell you quickly about how they’re learning, how the children’s learning scaffolded when it comes to teaching the phonics. So how it starts with is you want your child to just to be hearing, hearing all those sounds and hearing the different sounds in the words and it’s all to do with the listening. So, you’ll be saying the sounds to them, and you’re saying the word cat for example, and you want them to be able to hear the “c”, “a” “t” in the word cat now first of all, they start by hearing just the initial sound with the “c”. And then they start hearing the initial and the last sound with the “c”, the “t”, then eventually it’ll go up to “c,” “a”, “t”. Now while they’re starting to hear all these sounds, you can also start teaching them to recognise all the sounds. So in order for them to start reading, ready to learn all the individual sounds in the in the alphabet, so “c”, “a”, “t” “b” “kicking k” and all the different sounds so they start to hear it, then they can start recognising it. And then you start putting it all together and they start reading the word. So they’ll recognise that it’s “c,” an “a” and a “t” that’s how they start to read. And now the reason for phonics is really is because it allows the children to do… to start reading and to be doing it independently. So there is the other option where you can teach your child to read by sight so they’ll just memorise all the words like “cat”, “the”, “bag”, “is” and they’ll start to read that way, but the thing is there is that you can…they’re not able to then…they need to know every single word in order to read a certain book. But so the idea behind phonics is that it breaks everything down, so that they can read… they’ll be able to read and start reading independently. So if there’s a word they don’t know, so say there’s the word “sheep” that they’re not too sure of, if they know all their phonics sounds, they’ll be able to read their digraphs or be able to read “sh” “eep” and they’ll be able to read it. Whereas before by reading by sight, they’d have to know that that’s the word and that’s the word that says sheep. Yeah, so that’s how the phonics is done and that’s how it’s done. In the Development Matters, they have the initial sounds is like phase one, and they have phase two, phase three, phase four, phase five, phase six, where new sounds get introduced and new words get introduced and then that should develop the reading onwards.
Vishal Bhogaita 7:54
Right, okay. So in terms of those later phases, the complexity of the the word structure is increased effectively. Is that right or is there more to it?
Sophie Butler 8:04
Yes, that’s right. So what happens is, is that you start with individual sounds, which is just an individual. So it’s quite hard to explain it sometimes when you can’t see it, but there’s individual sound. So I’ll use the sound “h”, which is the “aitch”. And then later on, when you go up into like phase three, phase four, they start introducing that which I was gonna call double sounds, but it has the official name of a digraph. So a digraph is a double sound, where there’s two letters written together, like “a” and “i”, and then when “a” and “i” is together, it becomes “ai” so the children all learn all these small, all these individual sounds and these double sounds, then you get triple sounds and as you work through the phases, they learn all these sounds and then it enables them to be able to read words. So if you take the word high, which has a “h” at the beginning, and then it has i g h, which is a triple sound, and then able to read the word “high” but down in phase two, they won’t have learned the sound i g h. And so they won’t be able to read the word high in independently unless they happen to know it. And so that… that’s learned in a later phase. So that goes all the way up to phase five and six, and you will find that there will still be doing phase five, phase six and the later stages into year one, so it goes up to and then sometimes depending on where your child’s at sometimes in the beginning of year two as well. So that’s why Development Matters goes, works with the early years curriculum that you have and it also works with the national curriculum.
Vishal Bhogaita 9:38
Right. Okay. That’s really helpful actually, to understand the context in which you’ve created these materials and, I mean, it’d be interesting to learn from you, whether there was a specific moment where you thought there was a gap in the resources that were available and thought that maybe you should have a go at creating them?
Sophie Butler 9:59
Yeah, so what I found was from two different perspectives actually. So for one from teaching as I were teaching as my whole class, and what I found was is that quite often now in schools is that you are doing a lot of your teaching, and the children’s learning on the interactive whiteboard at the front of…the front of the class. And in maths, there’s quite a lot of resources that you can do online. And you can read stories online and things like that. But what you can’t do, or what I found is that there was no resources to teach the class to read by blending. So it has, later, stories, which you can they can just enjoy. The children can enjoy the stories by hearing them on the, like on the CBeebies app and things. They have storytime, but there isn’t any actual stories which you could model and show them how the reading process works and how to blend. So I was sort of thinking selfishly “Oh my, this would be a lot easier for me, if I had an animated… well if I had some stories on the board that I could model this to to my whole class. So we…the particular scheme we were following at the time was all paper based, and then quite expensive for the school. So we were doing our paper based and we had to have groups and then you have to have lots of different adults but as we know how funding is going now, there’s less adults than there was when I first started teaching, which was six years ago, and so just to be able to teach the whole class on the whiteboard, and just so they can see it every day modelling how to read without protection be really helpful. So I saw a gap there. And then the other gap was was in regards to the parents. So being the early years phase leader and there’s quite.. you do quite a lot of phonics where I was doing a lot of phonics workshops and then talking to the parents and individually at parents evening and they were asking me questions about phonics and and sometimes the parent would grab me in the playground and they’d ask me a question about personal to their child about phonics. And what we were just finding coming up over and over again over a few years. is that parents are just not confident in phonics. And even though they’re wanting to help their child to learn to read, it’s completely different to how they were taught to read. And they’re not sure how to… not sure how to help their child to read and their child’s turning around and saying, “That’s not how you say that particular sound”. And they’re like, “well, I don’t know how you say that sound”. So there’s a lot of home learning barriers. So I also thought, well, wouldn’t it be great to have a website that was both used in schools and at home, it shows the parent how to do the reading, and then shows as well as the teacher being able to show the children in school so that’s why we came up came up with the idea for Oz and Fox phonics which hopefully fills that gap in both areas to help the parents at home with the child’s learning at home and as well as in school for the teacher.
Vishal Bhogaita 12:50
Okay, and so as you say, your brand is called Oz and Fox. And you also hinted that the you know, the videos are animated. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea behind the brand?
Sophie Butler 13:05
Yes, so how it was, I’ve got, at the time when we first created it, I had one son, whose name is Oscar. And quite often we were calling him, we call him Ozzie or Oz. And then I suddenly in my teacher way, I thought, Oz- hh, that’s phonetically readable. O and z, Oz. And so we thought, well, that could be…we could base it…and he absolutely loves foxes. So we thought we could base this around, saying we, so me and my sister, and we co-created this website, animated stories of Oz and Fox. And we were coming up with ideas together, because she’s not in teaching, but she’s very creative and good at writing. And she’s also got a business side. So that’s why I decided to start it with her. And we were coming up with these stories and this idea of it, and we thought, well, Oz absolutely loves foxes. So we came up with the name Oz and Fox and then we’ve got these other two characters, Dog, mainly dog because that also is phonetically readable d- og, dog. And also we have a female character called Bez who comes in at a bit later on. And so we just based it around these four characters. And then it’s just the animated stories are just all based around their adventures and level one is quite, quite basic. And then level two, level three it gets, they get a bit more involved. And so yeah, that was the idea. And that’s how we came up with the four characters and decided to base it on those ones.
Vishal Bhogaita 14:30
Okay, I mean, that’s really nice to hear that personal inspiration side. Also you’ve got your sister working with you as well so there’s a real family feel to to the creation. And as I sort of mentioned earlier, and you said as well that the videos are animated, which presumably brings its own sort of set of challenges. Can you tell me a bit more about how you decided that was the way to go? I know you hinted at moving away from paper into video. But I wonder when it came to deciding to do the videos did you ever think that maybe a different type might have worked so maybe just you talking to the camera and using some other technique to introduce these characters?
Sophie Butler 15:16
We decided on the animated video because that’s what we wanted to do first of all, just because knowing how children are and you know, being around a lot of children and our modern world now, you know, a lot of the stuff that they enjoy and what engages them is actually video. So you know, they find that they’re watching a lot of YouTube sometimes and they were quite often watching things on CBeebies and they get really involved and, you know, I’m thinking of Paw Patrol because that was one that was particularly popular at the time. And I was a little bit like oh if these books are based on something like Paw Patrol, then you know, then you know there might be picking up this reading quicker and engaging those children who maybe aren’t always interested in the reading to begin with. So we wanted to do it as animation more just for the child’s engagement really, and just to be kept up with the modern time. But at one point, we were deciding whether to do it as still images. So like a book online with still images, and then they/ you turn the page, and then it would just be so the same characters, but it will be still images rather than an animation. But then in the end, we decided to go with the animation but you do still have to turn the page. So it’s kind of that we wanted to get the best of both. We didn’t want them to lose the idea that because you know, at the end of the day, we want the children still to be reading books. So we didn’t want it to be completely like them seeing it as two separate things. So I think hopefully we feel like we’ve grasped that, that balance where if a child is reading the book online, yes, it’s animated, but you can tell clearly that it’s still a book and you’re turning the page and so if they are then reading a book, then they can take the same concept: they know to read on both things and turning the page. And it’s the same idea of reading the book. But mainly yeah, we did go for the animation. Although yeah, it does have some of its challenges, but we just felt like it would be received better by our main audience, which is the child. And just to keep that interest, really, yeah, sure.
Vishal Bhogaita 17:22
That’s understandable. And just want to understand a bit more about how the videos are created. Because there’s obviously going to be a lot of effort that goes into it. And you mentioned you’re also working with your sister. Which one of you sort of does the animation and the voiceover or do you have other people helping you?
Sophie Butler 17:44
Oh, yes. So we, we all we have done that we’ve done the creative… we’ve written and created the stories and we’ve given the ideas and it’s our… and we’ve done with the teacher process of it, but we have a very talented person called Kev who does our own all of our animations, he created our website for us. And then we have to work quite closely with him in order to… in order to achieve what we want, so he does all of our animations. And then we did start off by doing our own voiceover. And then Luckily, my sister’s housemate is a presenter, and she’s done performing arts for a long time. And she was just like, well, I’ll do the voiceover for you. Because we were finding, you know, fault in our own and it’s not our…it’s not our speciality. So yeah, my sister’s housemate who I’ve known a long time as well, Lucinda, she does the voiceovers. And we go to a studio who are quite near where we live, at Dark Horse Studios and that’s how we record it all. So she’s done all the recordings, and we’ve kept the same person, Lucinda, who does all of the sounds and all of the voiceover in the videos, and on every single one. So we’ve actually we’re more ahead in the voiceovers than we are in the animation because the animation takes quite a long time to do.
Vishal Bhogaita 19:01
Sure. Okay, and so obviously with the number of people involved, so you got four people there effectively in the team. And then you know you, you’ve hinted to me before as well about how the course is divided into different stories. If we were to take one, one story as an example, can you just sort of explain what the steps are to sort of create that story and how you manage that process with the team of four people?
Sophie Butler 19:33
Yes, so we’ve already done it a little bit differently, because before we even started, we even started looking into it, we did actually have all of our stories written, but I’m just going to do it in this example, and like, say, from the first one, so we’ve got aOz and Dog, which is our first very beginner book. And so the story was written, and it was made sure that… the only read word that isn’t phonetic.. is that there’s only one in it that isn’t phonetic. So that was fitted in with our phase one. So we had all of the learning and the curriculum sort of thing in place first, then that probably took…probably…you could probably do that in only in one week, actually. So that story took probably one week to do and to finalise then we record the voiceover for it. So we go to the studio, record the voiceover and again, that doesn’t actually take too long: that you could do that in an afternoon. And then once that’s all done, and it goes over to Kev for animation, and the animation probably takes up to about one month to six weeks to do for the whole story. And so per story, you’re probably looking at about two months in total and once you’ve written the story, which you know if you can do it in one week, and the thing that takes the majority of the time is the animation for it.
Vishal Bhogaita 20:55
Right, okay and in terms of the time that goes into to editing, how much effort tends to go into that, I mean, is it the case that the animation is done and shared with you? And then you perhaps have some feedback and then has to go back to Kevin to perhaps rework or reorder?
Sophie Butler 21:17
Yes, so, sorry, I forgot to mention this part. So before we, before Kev even starts on the animation, we break down the story. And then we write next to it saying what we want the video itself to show and then Kev will either say, no, that’s not possible or is possible. And then he after…so in the very first book, he was sending back every single animation and then we were saying yes, we like it and then that was going on. So that one was probably taking a bit long but now we’ve built such trust up with Kev that quite often he would do about three pages and then we’ll look at them and then he’ll go on going on to the next ones now and then he’ll go on to the next ones and so far, so good. We’ve always been quite happy with the end product mainly because we that’s what we’ve asked for. And he’s either said yes or no beforehand so actually Kev has never ever had to redo one of any of the animations. And yeah, in that area like we’ve been, because we’re quite in touch over email, and yeah, I’ve never had that experience of having to redo one of them.
Vishal Bhogaita 22:25
Okay. And you mentioned obviously, there is that process by which you share what you want to see on the screen. So presumably, it’s a storyboard of some kind.. Yeah, and can you sort of tell me a bit more about how long it takes to develop that storyboard because you talked about it taking it a week or so to write the story? I’m curious about how you…how you start imagining what you want to see on the screen?
Sophie Butler 22:54
Yeah, so what we normally do so if we’ve written a story as we go and we think of some thing that we might think about particularly funny or a bit entertaining for the children or something like that, then we will make a note of it on the story as we go through. And I’ll give an example the first one, because I know… this is one of the second books, because it’s all about something that the dog …that the dog and the little boys like to do. So sometimes it’s only two words. So it can say something like, “likes pink”. But then in our head, we’re thinking of a pink pig or something like that. So we just write next to it. So I guess the storyboard, and the writing is sort of done at the same time. And then it’s only if we’ve missed out a few pages or something that we go back and do it. So the storyboard is probably involved in that one week as well. Yeah, having all that ideas together.
Vishal Bhogaita 23:48
Okay. And is that you or your sister who does the storyboard in terms of just imagining those pictures out?
Sophie Butler 23:55
Normally my sister,
Vishal Bhogaita 23:57
Right, okay. Okay, and Obviously you’ve created, you know a few stories already. Can you tell us about how they’ve been received by children and their parents?
Sophie Butler 24:10
Yes. So we’ve been very lucky actually. So I’ve got a focus group at my school currently, who, who are using it and giving a lot of feedback. And we also have a few teachers using it. And it has been the people who have actually joined and we’ve been lucky because they’ve given us some feedback too. And, and what and also, I’ve taught it with my class. And yeah, I get into… and we’re really pleased with how it’s going because I’ve had a lot of parents who have said to me, “oh, this is exactly what we need”. And then normally the children have one particular page that they particularly like, and they want to go back to it so I know in one of them, the dog is rolling along in a tomato, and that’s their favourite part. And what they seem to…what has been the most coming back from the parents and the children is that they like how simple it is, and that the children in the very beginning of their learning to read, have been able to access it. So they’ve been able to understand it. It’s been the same…so the children who are at different schools have said what it links into what they’re doing at different schools. And they’ve been able to come home and they’ve been able to read it independently. So yeah, we were quite happy with that feedback, because that is what we wanted. So they’re liking the characters in particular, they like the animal characters, the dog and the fox. And so they’re like our popular ones. And overall, we’ve been very lucky because it’s been very well received so far.
Vishal Bhogaita 25:43
Great. Great. And so what happens now, so obviously, you’ve got a taster course, which only covers parts of the letters and sounds syllabus. What’s next on your, in your plans?
Sophie Butler 25:56
Yes. So what we’re doing is we’re just carrying on so the first aim is to finish level one, then we’re going to move on to level two and level three. But then in between, which goes all the way up to phase six. So it covers every single lessons and sounds phase and the level three stories go all the way up to then. Also, we had a couple of songs that have been ready recorded and ready to be animated. So we’re just waiting for animation for that. And that is based on the phase four and five diagraphs because also what we were – digraphs and trigraphs – because what we were finding is there’s loads and loads of materials, songs and stuff on YouTube and jolly phonics of all the individual sounds. And but not many songs out there for the diagraph and try grass and there’s this something called the split digraph and that in particular is quite hard for even adults to grasp and then we’ve come up with a soul for that to like and just to create easier understanding and to be played in schools and stuff. So that’s next we’ve got those two already recorded ready to be animated. And also thinking about maybe putting some of the books into print. This is mainly for the schools, because it allows the teacher on the interactive whiteboard to demonstrate reading the story as a whole class. And then the children can take that book home and then read it to that adult. So it’s just, that’s just another option. But that’s, we’re only going to continue to start that once all the animation is done on the on the website.
Vishal Bhogaita 27:30
Right and is there a timeline that you have in mind for when you want to get through the animation?
Sophie Butler 27:34
Yeah, so we’re hoping to have level one finished within the next three months. And then we’ll be starting level two, and then level two finished after the next six months, and then it will be level three, and level three, there’s not as many books so level three should only take about three months to do. And so, yeah, I guess overall, is we’re still looking about just for the timeline it takes for animation, hoping to have everything fully complete in a year.
Vishal Bhogaita 28:05
Great, great. Well, I look forward to seeing those on educ8all. And thank you very much for joining me today. It’s been a real pleasure to hear about your process and your inspiration so thank you very much for joining us.
Sophie Butler 28:19
Oh, thank you very much for having me. Um, yeah, I hope it’s been helpful.
Vishal Bhogaita 28:23
Of course it has. Thank you.
Sophie Butler 28:25
Vishal Bhogaita 28:30
Did you enjoy Sophie’s bubbly enthusiasm as she answered my questions? I particularly enjoyed the moment where she had the realisation that the nickname of Oz given to her son was phonetically readable. This is of course the origin story behind her brand Oz and Fox. The need to create resources arose sadly from funding cuts but as she explained there was interest from parents in any case, in relation to the phonics syllabus. I hope that hearing about how she turned this into a project involving four people with different skill sets inspires you to create your own learning resources. If you are interested in uploading resources to educ8all please do reach out via the website contact form, social media or a trusty email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You will also find information about getting started on educ8all in the guidance parts of the website. Don’t forget that you can find links to Sophie’s courses in the show notes and the social media posts that accompany the release of this episode. If you’ve got this far, thank you very much for listening. Sophie and I were based in different parts of the country so we recorded this episode through Skype. I hope it’s clear to you. Finally the last message but by no means the least please do like and share the podcast. Knowing that the podcast is scoring well with the listener gives me the motivation to create more episodes. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe or follow button too.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai