Author Archives: alison

About alison

Alison Clarke qualified as a Speech Pathologist in 1988, and also has a Masters in Applied Linguistics and an ESL teaching certificate and experience. She has worked in schools, the disability sector, early intervention, hospitals, universities and private practice in Australia, Mexico and the UK.

Running Records are an uninformative waste of teacher time

I’ve been doing lots of assessment of my clients’ skills in the following areas lately:

  • Receptive and/or expressive language
  • Articulation
  • Phonological awareness
  • Phonological/auditory memory
  • Rapid Automatised Naming
  • Word and pseudoword reading accuracy and efficiency
  • Spelling.

These allow me to identify problems in their reading and spelling systems, and work out how significant/severe these problems are, and what to do about them.

I use the robust, evidence-based Simple View of Reading (SVR) to guide my decision-making. A new, plain-English explanation of the SVR by retired US teacher Stephen Parker can be found on Pamela Snow’s blog.

Wherever possible, I use valid, reliable, standardised tests for assessment. However, I once administered a Running Record to a child with selective mutism, because she would talk to me, but not other adults at school (we were working on it). Her class teacher thus asked me to administer the assessment required by the school, which (sad face) used a multi-cueing model of reading and a text level gradient approach to reading assessment. Continue reading

Budget embedded picture mnemonics

Early years teachers around Australia are this week starting to set up their classrooms for the new school year. Many are about to set up alphabet friezes and word walls.

I’m hoping that my new, cheap-and-cheerful embedded picture mnemonics ($10 plus GST) will encourage and help them to instead set up sound friezes or sound walls.

Early last year I commissioned talented, tolerant, patient Melbourne illustrator Cat MacInnes to turn my vague ideas into 46 cute, colour pictures you can print to help kids learn sound-letter relationships. They’re her copyright, so I have a limited number available (get in quick!).

Continue reading

Now advertising: jobs at Spelfabet in North Fitzroy

I’m now advertising for an experienced speech pathologist, and a receptionist/office manager, to work with me in my (nearly-all-set-up) large, quiet, well-equipped office in North Fitzroy.

If you want to help me keep this website fresh and interesting, with more videos, reviews and other useful stuff, please tell any great speech pathologist and/or health sector receptionist/office manager who might be interested in these jobs.

My caseload is now far too big for one person, admin is eating my life, and I’m fed up with being too tired to work on my website. Also, private practice is too lonely! I want a team of lovely people, to laugh and have birthday morning teas with, and learn from each other.

Here’s the ad I’ve just put on the Speech Pathology Australia website, and below it is the ad for a receptionist/office manager I’m about to figure out where to post (Seek? Indeed? Where do Melbourne medical and allied health receptionists look for jobs?). I’ll put photos of the office at the end of this post, to give interested people a better idea of the look and feel of the place.

Please pretty please hive mind, send me wonderful people! I promise to be really nice to them.

Speech Pathologist Level 3 job advertisement

Join Speech Pathologist Alison Clarke in her busy private practice, now called Spelfabet and located in a large, quiet, well-equipped office in North Fitzroy. Alison also runs the Spelfabet website (www.spelfabet.com.au) which seeks to promote explicit, systematic teaching about phonemes, graphemes and morphemes as key ingredients in reading and spelling programs for beginners and strugglers.

Alison now needs help managing her large caseload, and is also seeking a receptionist/office manager. Over time, she hopes to build a multi-disciplinary team.

You would assess speech, language, phonological processing, spelling and reading skills, and where relevant pragmatics and play skills, writing these up promptly in succinct, jargon-free reports.

You would provide individual and small group therapy to a caseload of mainly school-aged children and teenagers with reading and/or spelling difficulties. Many clients also have Autism Spectrum disorders, Developmental Language Disorders, speech, memory and/or attentional difficulties or other developmental difficulties. Some have difficult behaviour.

Usual hours of work would be 10.30am to 6.36pm weekdays, as most school-aged clients prefer afternoon appointments. Some flexibility in hours is negotiable. Assessment and group therapy sessions are usually one hour, and individual therapy sessions are usually 40 minutes. Maximum client load would be based on qualifications and experience.

The position is clinic-based without many school visits or other offsite work, so no driver’s licence or car is required. The location is highly accessible by train, tram, bus and bike, and on-site parking is available. Great cafes and shops, a supermarket and a linear park are all nearby.

You would be expected to attend and help provide professional development, help create therapy resources, participate in supervision/mentoring and quality assurance and assist with student supervision.

This position is classified at Level 3 under the Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2010. The salary range is $67,849.60- $74,412 per annum plus 9.5% superannuation, depending on qualifications and experience. Working conditions and leave are as per the Award and National Employment Standards. Annual leave during school holidays will be encouraged.

VAHPA membership is encouraged, and environmentally sustainable work practices are expected. Joint job-share requests will be considered, especially from speech pathologists already working part-time in schools. A six-month probationary period applies.

This is an equal opportunity employer, and encourages applications from individuals of diverse backgrounds, including but not limited to those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse background, the GLBTIQ community and those living with a disability.

Applications close at midnight on Monday 28th January (the last day of the school holidays) for commencement as soon as possible.

Job requirements

You would need a calm, friendly, flexible approach, and the ability to build warm, positive relationships with even anxious, grumpy and socially unskilled children and teenagers, and their parents/guardians.

You would need the ability to identify and negotiate barriers to getting enough work done to achieve success, and relentlessly minimise the amount of time wasted in sessions, emphasising motivating goals and rewards.

You would need a commitment to inclusion, a positive attitude to linguistic and cultural differences and families of all configurations, and:

  • A tertiary qualification in Speech and Language Pathology.
  • A current Certified Practising Membership of Speech Pathology Australia, and eligibility for a Medicare Provider Number.
  • A strong grasp of current science about learning to read and spell, including connectionist and dual route models, SVR, the role of PA and phonological memory, WM and RAN, the Self-Teaching Hypothesis, orthographic mapping and cognitive load theory, and their implications for assessment and intervention.
  • Training and experience using one or more explicit, systematic synthetic phonics programs such as Sounds-Write, Little Learners Love Literacy, Jolly Phonics, Read Write Inc, Get Reading Right, MultiLit or Spalding.
  • At least five years’ paediatric speech pathology experience, including experience working in schools and with small groups.
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently in a team environment and build positive relationships with colleagues.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • Outstanding spelling skills and knowledge of English word structure.
  • A current Working with Children Check.
  • Professional Indemnity Insurance (you will be reimbursed).
  • An Australian Tax File Number.

Applications should be sent to info@spelfabet.com.au by midnight on 28th January. This is also the email address for more information, or you can phone Alison on 0402 075 306.

Receptionist/Office Manager job advertisement

Join Speech Pathologist Alison Clarke in her busy private practice, now called Spelfabet and located in a large, quiet, well-equipped office in North Fitzroy. Alison also runs the Spelfabet website (www.spelfabet.com.au) which seeks to promote explicit, systematic teaching about phonemes, graphemes and morphemes as key ingredients in reading and spelling programs for beginners and strugglers.

Alison now needs help managing her large caseload, and is also seeking to employ another experienced Speech Pathologist. Over time, she hopes to build a multi-disciplinary team.

You would undertake a range of administrative activities, including scheduling appointments, invoicing, taking and reconciling payments, providing receipts, managing client files, monitoring and ordering supplies, maintaining equipment, setting up and maintaining a book/equipment loan system, managing correspondence including Medicare referral letters, overseeing office cleaning, maintenance and on-site parking, providing administrative support for professional development, making and organising therapy materials, and ordering (but not making) the birthday cakes.

Usual hours of work would be 10.30am to 6.36pm weekdays, as most school-aged clients prefer afternoon appointments. Some flexibility in hours is negotiable. The location is highly accessible by train, tram, bus and bike, and on-site parking is available. Great cafes and shops, a supermarket and a linear park are all nearby.

This position is classified at Level 8/9 under the Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2010, Support Services Employee Level 8-9. The salary range is $49,935 to $55,827 per annum plus 9.5% superannuation, depending on qualifications and experience. Working conditions and leave are as per the Award and National Employment Standards.

Annual leave during school holidays and VAHPA membership are encouraged. Environmentally sustainable work practices are expected. A six-month probationary period applies.

This is an equal opportunity employer, and encourages applications from individuals of diverse backgrounds, including but not limited to those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse background, the GLBTIQ community and those living with a disability.

Applications close at midnight on Monday 28th January (the last day of the school holidays) for commencement as soon as possible.

Job requirements

You would need a professional, sensitive and friendly approach, including the ability to engage in a calm, reassuring way with anxious children and parents.

You would need a commitment to inclusion, a positive attitude to linguistic and cultural differences and families of all configurations, and:

  • Experience in allied health and/or medical receptionist roles.
  • Proficiency using practice management software, preferably Cliniko.
  • Experience managing allied health/medical client files, office supplies and equipment.
  • A good understanding of the funding options and rebates (Medicare, DSS, NDIS, private health insurance) available for Speech Pathology services.
  • Demonstrated ability to work efficiently and independently in a team environment, and build positive relationships with colleagues.
  • High levels of maturity, initiative and attention to detail.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • A current Working with Children Check.
  • An Australian Tax File number.

Applications should be sent to info@spelfabet.com.au by midnight on 28th January. This is also the email address for more information, or you can phone Alison on 0402 075 306.

This is the small clinic room, still not completely furnished yet. The other room is bigger but it’s full of junk at present so I’m not showing you, sorry. They both have full internal blinds for privacy/to reduce distractions.

Staff and sensitive storage room. Again, still working on more furniture.

Group room. I still have to get a projector and whiteboard, maybe an interactive one if budget permits. I do not have a ping-pong table. Yet.

Example cupboard of PA and phonics teaching resources.

Main storage area, please note powerful, brand new stick vacuum cleaner, because children. Also emergency banana Paddle Pops, as I once shared a house with Laurence Mooney, who says any food with the word “pops” in it makes you instantly happy. I believe him.

Kitchen stuff, to encourage the bringing and making of healthy lunches.

I like to give little kids an opportunity to make their parents a nice air latte in the waiting room. Will get a bookshelf to replace the cardboard box. And comfy couch or two.

This is my office, note the standing desk, which we are all having, because sitting down too much is bad for your health.

Shallow and deep phonics

My last blog post copped a little flak for its focus on the Victorian Education Department’s top two pieces of advice for parents when their children are stuck reading a word, both of which start with the sentence, “Look at the picture.” (see p14 of this document).

This is very bad advice because it directs children’s attention away from the key information required for good word-level reading. It’s based on the idea of multi-cueing/the three-cueing system, which is scientifically-debunked nonsense. A complex but excellent explanation of why can be found here, and the actual role of context in reading is explained well here.

To read an unfamiliar word, children need to take it apart into spellings (graphemes) e.g. “n”, “igh” and “t”, not “ni”, “g” and “ht”, associate these with the relevant speech sounds (phonemes) and blend them into a word. With practice, familiar words are unitised in memory, via a process called orthographic mapping, and no longer need to be sounded out, they become instantly recognised.

Unfamiliar words of more than one syllable must be sounded out a syllable at a time. Earlier syllables must be held in memory while later syllables are worked out, making long words harder.

Once a printed word is converted into a spoken word, its meaning can be accessed, if it’s known. But even if a child doesn’t yet know what a word means (i.e. it’s not yet in their semantic memory), having heard it before (i.e. having it in their phonological memory) kick-starts the process of putting it into long-term memory for instant recognition. Over time the child can learn and refine its meaning(s), and how to use it, by hearing and seeing it in use. Continue reading

Free early phonemic awareness, phonics and handwriting workbook

Last week, I read my state education department’s booklet advising parents on how to help children with literacy and numeracy. I understand it will be in the Prep bags given to all Victorian children starting school in 2019.

I was, frankly, appalled. The booklet mentions phonics only once, saying onscreen phonics games improve reading and “letter sound awareness”, whatever that is. It doesn’t mention phonemic awareness or handwriting at all.

A ton of scientific research has shown that phonemic awareness and phonics are key ingredients in getting literacy beginners off to a good start, along with work on vocabulary, comprehension and fluency, and that writing letters helps you remember them. Continue reading

Fact and fiction with Mem Fox

On telly’s Today show last week, celebrated children’s fiction author Mem Fox talked about the importance of reading to children, something with which absolutely everyone agrees.

Mem Fox’s missionary parents took her to Southern Rhodesia as an infant. They were, she explains, “very keen on Australian books being read to us, and our reading Australian books”. TV hadn’t been invented, so she developed a love of reading. She thanks three years at drama school in London for her understanding of language and thus ability to write books. I suspect this training may also have contributed to her storytime drama skills.

All good. Then, about three minutes into the interview, I thought I heard Ms Fox say that young children are increasingly unable to communicate effectively using spoken language.

I did a double-take. I’m a paediatric speech pathologist. You’d think I’d know about this, if it were true. I don’t recall any mention of a general decline in young children’s ability to communicate at this year’s Speech Pathology Australia conference, or in any of the journals I’ve read lately.

I rewound the video, and Ms Fox’s exact words were:

“You know if children don’t have language, if they can’t talk by the time they get to school, and I know that will sound extraordinary, people will say ‘what, they can’t talk when they get to school?!’, if children can’t talk by the age of four, or can’t make themselves clearly understood by the age of four, and that is, increasingly, you know, happening, they can’t learn to read. If you can’t, you know if you don’t have language, obviously you can’t learn to read language. So reading aloud is very, very important for education.” Continue reading

THIS is a BORING book!

I’ve just watched a great 2016 BBC4 documentary called “B is for book”. It follows a group of London children from their first day at school for a year, and explores how they learn to read.

The kids live on a public housing estate in Hackney, and most speak languages other than English at home.

The film is not currently on the BBC website, but a few people have put it on YouTube. The version I watched is here, and you might like to keep it open in a new tab while you read, so you can quickly find and watch the interesting bits I describe below.

You’ll love all the children, but I was most entranced by a little boy called Stephan. An honest child with a low tolerance for Educrap, he looks and behaves a lot like a little boy I worked with last year, also a twin from public housing inclined to slide under the table.

At 19:42 on the video clock, the two children having the most difficulty learning to read in the film, Maria and Stephan, are asked, “What’s the hardest word you know how to spell?” First, they do this:

Continue reading

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