The COVID-19 pandemic knocked most of my plans sideways and sent me into too-tired-to-blog mode for most of the last year, but here are five new things we’ve been working on:
- Intensive school holiday and Saturday groups for ages 6-8
- New, improved Embedded Picture Mnemonics (Aust/UK and US versions)
- Version 3 Spelfabet workbooks
- Local Community of Practice (INMELLCoP)
- Decodable text writing interface
Intensive school holiday and Saturday groups for ages 6-8
If you know a young struggling reader/speller in Melbourne who might like to attend our intensive phonemic awareness and phonics holiday or Saturday groups, the details are here.
New, improved Embedded Picture Mnemonics
I hope to have Version 2 of the Spelfabet Embedded Picture Mnemonics on the website in the next couple of weeks. The main changes are:
- The pictures on the poster-size mnemonics are bigger.
- There are two versions, one for speakers with an Australian/UK (non-rhotic) accent and one for speakers with an American (rhotic) accent. If you speak something else, please feel free to get both versions and mix and match. Both versions now have “o as in octopus” (not orange) and “or as in horn” (not corn, some kids don’t do vegetables). The US version has an extra “aw as in claw” and “wh as in whale” (needed for some dialects), no “air” or “ear”, and the woman on the US “oi as in coin” mnemonic is not a queen.
- Both new sets have “k as in key” instead of kangaroo, “ur as in burn” instead of surf, and “u as in up” instead of undies, to make them more relevant outside Australia.
- More target sounds are in initial position without adjacent consonants – “th as in thunder” not path, “th as in themselves” not weather, and “f as in fish” not flower.
- The “long vowel” mnemonics all end with a letter “e”: “ae as in ape”, “ee as in bee”, “ie as in tie”, “oe as in toe” and “ue” as in statue” (the newts were too obscure). I realise that ape is not spelt “aep” but these mnemonics primarily represent phonemes not just graphemes, and I decided frequency of use (see the Edward Fry phoneme-grapheme count) plus the relationship between ‘long’ and ‘short’ vowels (as in volcano-volcanic, athlete-athletic, child-children, episode-episodic and introduce-introduction) were more important. Also, one of the apes has a banana peel hat, what’s not to like about that?
Many thanks to the wonderful Cat Macinnes for the new artwork. If you’ve already bought Version 1 of the Embedded Picture Mnemonics, you will be able to download Version 2 without having to pay for them again. Any problems, let me know.
Version 3 Spelfabet workbooks
I almost have the first four of a new set of Spelfabet workbooks ready to put on the website. These in general follow the Sounds-Write / Phonic Books / Forward With Phonics teaching sequence, which we’re now using with most of our clients.
However, we’ve found that a lot of our clients need more explicit teaching about how to add prefixes and suffixes to words, and a more gentle gradient from the Initial Code into the Extended Code. We work with many learners with additional needs (speech-language disorders, intellectual and attention difficulties, autism spectrum disorders, low working memory and slow processing) so I’m hoping that the new workbooks will be of use to others working with such learners, and to teachers who just need a bit of additional material to make sure a particular skill or concept is practised to mastery.
The new books should be on the website in the next two or three weeks (she said. There. Now I have to focus and finish them).
Local Community of Practice (INMELLCoP)
We’re now reviving the inner northern Melbourne Early Language and Literacy Community of Practice, which also got forced onto the back burner during the COVID-19 lockdowns. We had our first PD activity of the year this week, a session about phonemic awareness.
INMELLCoP now has a page on the Spelfabet website (till it’s grown enough to have its own website) where we’ll publish a schedule of meetings/workshops for the rest of the year soon.
Decodable text writing interface
For a few years, my excellent webmaster Nik Dow and I have been talking about creating an interface that will help people write decodable text.
The idea is that you’d be able to specify the sound-spelling relationships and high-frequency words you’ve taught, and then type your text, and the interface would give you a decodability rating for it. It would also highlight words that are harder than the code you’ve taught, and (one day when we get really flash) suggest synonyms with simpler spellings.
If we can make this work, teachers will be able to type/paste in text to check whether it is decodable enough for their class. Children’s authors will be able to use it to write decodable text without needing linguistics expertise – the computer will do the hard part for them, and they’ll be able to focus on creating wonderful stories.
We’re working on the Sounds Write/Phonic Books sequence and highest-frequency words at present, and then we’ll start coding my school dictionary. Then if that works we’ll seek to expand the interface to other teaching sequences. Wish us luck!