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. I’ve worked for the Victorian Education Department, Yooralla, SCOPE, a hospital in London, the Royal Children’s Hospital Autism Assessment Team, Lewis and Lewis, and as a contractor in both mainstream and specialist schools.
I set up my private practice in 2000, and now work in it full-time, mostly addressing school-aged children’s reading/spelling and speech, language and/or social interaction difficulties. My practice is part of the Clifton Hill Child and Adolescent Therapy Group. I was 2015-16 Vice President of Learning Difficulties Australia, and have also worked as an administrator and been a City Councillor and Mayor.
Children with speech and language difficulties often 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 improve 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 scientific literacy research and current models 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), or learning how to build longer words from meaningful word parts (Morphemes), and is thus struggling to read and/or spell. To publicise and promote the many excellent but under-publicised synthetic phonics teaching/therapy resources now available, 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 successfully learn to read and spell before the school system switches over from the “learning to read” phase into “reading to learn”. To encourage a Response to Intervention approach to identifying and assisting the approximately 20% of children who need extra help, with intensive small group work in the first year of school, and ongoing 1:1 intervention after that. A small number of children are very hard to teach to read and spell, and take a long time to learn, but we must not give up on them.
3. To make my Spelfabet literacy-teaching materials publicly available, and offer assessment and therapy/consultancy to struggling readers/spellers, and workshops to parents, schools and interested others. Income from these make maintaining this website possible.
Many mainstream “phonics” materials are poorly designed, and show 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.