About

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.

Website goals

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.Ā  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.

Spelfabet materials

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.

21 thoughts on “About

  1. kathryn

    Hello Alison,  your program looks very interesting. I was also wondering if you personally tutor or have people tutoring for you with your program and materials.  We are in Melbourne in the Box Hill area and I have a son who is 9 years old. I often think it would be wonderful to give him a more solid grounding in phonics. 

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Hi Kathryn, I’ve emailed you to say that I can certainly see your son, and have a look at his skills and needs, and then we can talk about how to address them in an efficient and cost-effective way. But then I realised people reading your comment might think I’d ignored it, so am replying here too. Looking forward to speaking to you in person. Alison C

      Reply
  2. Penny

    Hi Alison,

    Another school mum has just turned me onto you after we had big 'unload' about how we feel our kids are going in their grade 1 class on the Gold Coast.

    My daughter is 6 and reads very well and spells very well, but I feel her needs are not being addressed in class.  I go in and help as much as possible, and it is quite disheartening to see how many children are unable to read, even just a little bit.

    I realise that Govt schools have neither the funds or time to address the needs of each individual child, so I am seeking suggestions that I may give my daughter homework so help progress her learning.  Is this the sort of problem that your program helps with?

    AAAUUUGGGHHH!!!!!

    Thank you,

    Penny

     

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Hi, Penny, glad to hear your daughter is going OK with her reading and spelling, but sorry to hear not all her classmates are, and that you feel her needs are not really being addressed. I think schools create quite a big problem for themselves when they use only Whole Language or Balanced Literacy (usually whole language with a sprinkling of analytic phonics) approaches to teaching reading and spelling because you end up with situations like the Grade 2 class I was in today, where some kids read like 6-year-olds (i.e. they can’t read much) while one child has the decoding skills of a 16-year-old. How teachers are meant to address their needs and everyone else’s in between is really unclear to me. Their teacher is lovely and very hardworking and experienced, but I think her task is impossible. If everyone got a proper first-and-fast phonics blast in their first year of school, less kids would fall behind and there would be less discrepancy between kids, and thus teachers’ lives would be a lot easier after that.

      Re your daughter, if she’s good at reading and keen to do it, and has enough books in which she can decode 95% or more of the words, then she should be fine to just read, read, read with lots of encouragement and interest from you, and her decoding skills will probably continue to build.

      If you want to give her structured practice on spelling you can use my materials, or there are lots of other things on my resource lists that might work equally well. Make sure you include lots of writing activities, anyway, as this seems to be the most powerful way to help children grasp spellings. Make sure she says the sounds (not the letter names) as she writes them.

      Apart from that, it sounds like you’re one of the lucky ones who has a child with good phonemic awareness and the ability to see many of the patterns, so please enjoy this, there are a lot of parents who are less fortunate.

      Reply
  3. Rebecca

    Hi,

     

    my daughter starts school next year and. Really want her t have a strong start. Do your materials cover this and wha would you suggest? 

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Hi Rebecca, one of the best things you can do with your daughter is talk and read to her and develop her oral language, but also if you can make sure she understands that words are made of sounds and letters are how we draw them, this will start her off on the right path. We have a few spellings for each sound, and sometimes we use the same spelling for more than one sound, but children can cope with this, they understand from their own drawings that a drawing of a house can have different shapes and sizes and still be a house, and that a circle could be a sun or a balloon or an orange.

      I suggest you also help her learn to recognise letters and say the main sound for each one, perhaps using Jolly Phonics or Zoo Phonics actions to help her remember. Teaching the sounds is a lot more useful than teaching the letter names (though perhaps when she starts school they will expect her to know the names too, but letter names can really confuse some beginners).

      Children who are starting to “hear” the structure of words are ahead of the game when they start school e.g. children who are aware of and can generate rhymes (e.g. they know what’s funny about “roses are red, violets are blue, most poems rhyme but this one doesn’t”, and if you ask them what rhymes with “cat” they can tell you at least a couple of words) and pull the first sound off a word e.g. “mum starts with m” and then tell you other words starting with that sound – monster, mouth, me etc.

      If you have an iPad and your daughter is playing with it anyway, perhaps get her playing Phonics Hero and some of the other apps at http://www.spelfabet.com.au/phonics-resources/preschool/, and perhaps also get her some Little Learners Love Literacy, Get Reading Right or Jolly Phonics decodable books and help her start sounding out words.

      You could use my Level 1 resources and movable alphabet with her if you like, but my resources are deliberately not full of teddies and princesses and children shouting hooray, because I use them a lot with older learners. So she might prefer some of the many resources that are specifically written for her age group. I hope that’s helpful and please just email me if you want to have a longer conversation about this. Alison

      Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Thanks for the nice feedback! Now I just need to find time to make my last workbook, more sequences and games (in my head but I never get enough time to finish them)

      Reply
  4. Sal

    Hi Alison,
    My daughter is 12 yrs old and just starting yr7 and has had speech therapy on and off since she was young. However, her treatment was interrupted several times over the years to address anxiety concerns stemming from her inability to express herself and the schools/ teacher’s lack of understanding how to deal with the situation. Despite many attempts at tutoring, speech therapy and counselling, she continues to perform below her age level, although she seems to perform better in numeracy.
    At the moment she’s seeing a psychologist and a speech therapist(Kids focus paediatric therapy) once a week. She has start school at a private school and it seems they’re not much better than public school. I have had a speech assessment done last month. Her results returned as having a reading age of 8.5 and spelling age of 9.5. She seems to be ok with oral decoding but not visual decoding with some area performing at expected level (7-13) and others at below expected level and scoring mostly 3.

    I am extremely frustrated, worried,confused and DESPERATE to help her in way possible. I really don’t know what to do?! I have opted to have the speech therapist address her concerns but I feel 1/2hr a week is not enough to help improve and it’s quite expensive at $75 . Also I’m not sure whether if she requires the assistances of anyone else now that she’s in high school.
    I’m hoping after stumbling upon your website that you may be able to help me or advise me of what/where to go from here and if you would have recommendation for anyone/service I could access in Sydney. I live in Sydney, Bankstown area . I would really appreciate it if you could give any directions šŸ™‚
    Thanks

    Reply
  5. Sal

    Yes I just saw your earlier reply. Thanks you.
    I have contacted them many years ago for my son but as I recall Speld provided one on one tutoring services, however, I will contact them today and hopefully they’ll be able to help.
    Once thank you šŸ™‚

    Reply
  6. DN

    Hi there,
    I have a 4 tear old who is not interested in reading and writing or even drawing. I was wondering do you hold private classes to enhance his learning skills. Thanks

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Hi there, I don’t run private classes for four year olds in literacy skills, but there are a few preschool programs that do focus on this area, see for example http://littlelearnersloveliteracy.com.au/centres-using-little-learners. You might like to try one of those? Also I find that some apps are a nice way to get littlies interested in sounds and letters e.g. Phonics Hero, Reading Raven, Bob Books, Starfall learn to read, Spooky letters, Pocket Phonics, Hairy Letters. Hope that’s useful, Alison

      Reply
  7. Rachel Fenton

    Hi Alison, I really sympathise with children that have these problems. I myself suffered considerably when until I reached 17 years old. I got private tuition but it helped only slightly.
    I’m very happy that your daughter is progressing, every step forward is one less back.
    All the best x

    Reply
  8. Eimie Sugimori

    I want to attend your seminar.
    When will you come to Japan?And please tell me which place of Japan you will come.
    Sincerely yours,
    Eimie

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Hi Eimie, the seminar I am most involved in organising and presenting at right now is the Maryanne Wolf one, https://www.ldaustralia.org/pdm-wolf.html. You’d be welcome to come, but it is quite far if you’re coming from Japan. I have no immediate plans to travel to Japan myself, though my friends and relatives who have been there all highly recommend it. So maybe one day. Alison

      Reply
  9. Jill

    Hello Alison,
    my name is Jill. I am very interested in phonics. My mother taught me the basics when I was little, enabling me to read at a young age.

    How can I be trained in phonics, such that I can become a tutor, & to make a career of it?

    I would appreciate any help you can offer.

    Kind regards,
    Jill

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Hi Jill, lots of people run courses, have a look at this blog post http://www.spelfabet.com.au/2016/03/upcoming-training-in-synthetic-phonics, which is out of date now but it contains lots of links to providers who will be running training this year, their contact details and an idea of how long their training takes and what it costs. Probably the Sounds~Write training would be my pick of the bunch in terms of value for money, but I don’t think there is a course in Melbourne till later in the year.

      Reply
  10. Malia Tompson

    Thanks for sharing the above link. I really want to jump in and take one of these courses but I could never come to a decision on which one to enrol in. Thank you Alison, I appreciate your help.

    Reply

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