I’m Alison Clarke, and have been a Speech Pathologist since 1988. I also have a Masters in Applied Linguistics and an ESL teaching certificate, and have worked mainly with school-aged children, both in Australia and the UK. I’m now based at the Clifton Hill Child and Adolescent Therapy Group in Melbourne, and was 2015-16 Vice President of Learning Difficulties Australia.
Children with speech and language difficulties often also struggle with reading and spelling. Teaching them to read and spell helps their listening and speaking, so like many Speech Pathologists I have done a lot of work on literacy. This then led to referrals from a wider range of struggling readers/spellers, because teachers said, “if you can teach those kids to read and spell, how about these others?” So I did some more research, and found that synthetic phonics worked well for most of these kids, too, first in theory and then in practice.
We now know that synthetic phonics in the early years of school would prevent many literacy difficulties, assist most children who were always going to struggle, and improves everybody’s spelling. So it distresses me that few schools use it as their main early literacy teaching methodology. Too many children are frankly being set up to fail, and too many parents are then expected to pick up the pieces.
1. To provide helpful, accessible, Australian information consistent with the experimental literacy research and current theories to anyone wanting to help a learner who has difficulties with hearing sounds in words (Phonemic Awareness) and/or representing them with letters (Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences), and is thus struggling to read and/or spell. To publicise and promote the many great synthetic phonics teaching/therapy resources now available, but not yet widely known or used in Australia, and to build understanding of the problems with the current mainstream “balanced literacy” teaching approach.
2. To encourage explicit, systematic synthetic phonics teaching in the first three years of schooling, so that not just 80% but 95-97% of children succeed at learning to read and spell on their first attempt. To encourage a Response to Intervention approach to literacy strugglers, with intensive small group work in the first year of school, and ongoing 1:1 intervention after that as necessary. A small number of children take a long time, so we must not give up.
3. To make my Spelfabet literacy-teaching materials available, and offer assessment and therapy/consultancy to struggling readers/spellers, and workshops to parents, schools and interested others. These make maintaining this website possible.
Much of what’s on the market labelled “phonics” is poorly designed, and shows a weak understanding of the sounds and spellings of English, and how children learn. Many of the high-quality synthetic phonics materials available are too “teddy-bearish” for use with older learners, because they’re designed for five and six-year-olds.
I devised the Spelfabet materials because I needed materials to use with older children and teenagers which were affordable, phonetically accurate, easy for aides and parents to use, progressing in tiny, errorless-learning steps and with Australian English grammar, vocabulary and spelling. I also wanted something easy to carry on a USB stick, so that I could quickly print, laminate and bind materials at school. Materials are pdf downloads from this website’s shop.
Your feedback and suggestions
I’d love to hear your feedback, suggestions or questions on my materials or website. Any researchers who’d like to subject my materials to scientifically rigorous testing would have my full and enthusiastic support.