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.

30% discount on all Spelfabet materials

As part of the sector-wide effort to help parents teach their children at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, all phonemic awareness and phonics resources in the Spelfabet online shop are now 30% off.

These materials are digital downloads, so you don’t need to leave home to get them.  You just need a computer, internet, printer and paper/light card, plus a laminator is useful for some items. There’s lots of information in the shop about each item, usually including a video link.

Type “COVID-19” in the “Coupon” field at the online checkout to get the discount. This coupon will be valid till June 30th 2020. Sorry it’s not indefinite, and not everything is free, but like most people working in small businesses, we’re a little uncertain about the future, while counting our many blessings, like homes with space, internet access, food supplies and running water.

I’ve also made a new video for the website’s home page, to help parents get their heads around how children learn to read, and quickly show them some of our resources:

COVID-19 put all of us at Spelfabet on an near-vertical telehealth learning curve, but happily our online therapy sessions have been going well, and our clients are booking in for more.

In between online sessions, this week I’ll be catching up on reading and working on the website: refreshing information, adding more playing cards and videos, and otherwise trying to make the site as useful as possible throughout this difficult time.

If you have any suggestions of ways to make the Spelfabet site more useful to you, I’d be very happy to hear them.

Stay well and keep being a soapy hero!

Free download: My Reading and Word Journal

Here’s a free booklet for use in documenting early reading progress and giving credit where it’s due, now many parents with young children are home helping flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Download and print our new Spelfabet My Reading and Word Journal on A4 paper, fold and staple it, and use it to document children’s reading, in two vital categories:

1. Books your child reads. These should mainly contain the spelling patterns they’ve been taught (decodable books, there are quite a few free or heavily discounted ones available now). Reading such books builds word identification skills, which in turn build reading fluency.

2. Books you read aloud to your child. These might be stories, books about animals, places, the universe, anything that interests your child but is currently too hard for them to read themselves. This type of reading builds vocabulary and comprehension, and shows kids that reading is awesome. Continue reading

Gin and phonics with John Walker

John Walker of Sounds-Write in the UK and I had a lovely time chatting about phonics at the pub last night. He is such an enthusiast for getting kids off to a great reading and writing start by helping them get words on and off the page quickly and automatically.

In the interests of flattening the COVID19 curve, most registrants for this free session watched online, not in person. I didn’t know Facebook Live was portrait format only, not landscape, so the Facebook video was sideways (oops, sorry). The other camera was right-way-up, so here’s its video, if you missed it and would like to watch.

Arrowsmith: the triumph of marketing over science

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is back touring Australia, promoting her controversial Arrowsmith program to parents and teachers of children with learning difficulties.

Oxford Psychology Professor and all-round legend Dorothy Bishop succinctly summarised  informed professional thought on this program a couple of years ago in this tweet:

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young got famous by writing a book called The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. But as Macquarie University Professor Anne Castles has pointed out, we all change our brains every day. It’s called learning. Continue reading

INVESTed – amazing value conference in Gippsland

I’m madly reading up on phonological awareness so I can say interesting things about it at the InvestEd Inverloch conference on Saturday 29th February (an extra day, hooray for leap years). The full title of this conference is INVESTed: Sharing Best Practices, Supporting All Students, and it will be at the RACV Inverloch Resort by the beach in South Gippsland.

Like last year’s Sharing Best Practice conferences in Melbourne and Sydney, all the organisers and speakers are volunteers, to keep registration costs low at $88 concession/$99 full. A whole day of high-quality PD for under $100! TV advertisers would call it mad ape bonkers.

Here’s a summary of the agenda, more details are here:

  • 8.30 Registrations
  • 9.00 Welcome, Welcome To Country
  • 9.10am Getting your school moving & improving through the power of instructional leadership with Stephen Dinham, Emeritus Professor, Melbourne University Graduate School of Education.
  • 10.00am: Three options:
    • Practical phonological awareness with me, Alison Clarke, mere Speech Pathologist.
    • Decodable and predictable texts reflect theories about how to teach reading with Associate Professor Tanya Serry, who now (excitingly) works at the La Trobe University School of Education.
    • Orton-Gillingham Math(s!) with Ron Yoshimoto, Orton Gillingham International Trainer.
  • 11.10: Three options:
    • Sharing what works: the common elements of evidence-informed instruction with Steven Capp, Principal of Bentleigh West PS.
    • Better problem-solving with Catherine Scott, Psychologist, education academic and networker-organiser extraordinaire.
    • Evidence-based mathematics instruction: from concrete to pictorial to abstract with Dave Morkunas, high-performance Teacher at Bentleigh West PS (watch him in action here).
  • 12.00 noon: Three options:
  • 12.45pm: Delicious lunch.
  • 1.15pm: Three options:
  • 2.05pm: Three options:
  • 2.50pm: Cognitive Load Theory and learning disorders: is there a connection? With Mandy Nayton, Psychologist, AUSPELD President and DSF WA CEO.
  • 3:55 Thanks and close.
  • 4.00pm Drinks and networking in the groovy-sounding Zenith Lounge.

I am absolutely kicking myself that I can’t stay for the afternoon, as my tiny primary school at the other end of the state is having its 150th celebrations that night.

Registrations for INVESTed close on 20th February, and if you’d like to make it part of a weekend at the beach, please book your accommodation soon, before it fills up. You might also like to stay on for two days of multisensory math(s) with Ron Yoshimoto. Ron will also be presenting courses on Orton Gillingham Basic in the week of 2-6 March and Orton-Gillingham Advanced (morphology) on Saturday 7th March (for which the Basic course is a prerequisite).

Finally, a huge THANKYOU and massive credit to Kerry Harvey, Catherine Scott and the other South Gippsland Learning Differences volunteer organisers.

Embedded picture mnemonics: flashcard size

I’ve had many requests for a flashcard-sized version of our Embedded Picture Mnemonics, so (finally, sorry, I was moving house) here they are.

Embedded picture mnemonics are drawings of letters embedded in a picture of something with a name that contains that sound. The classic example is a snake in the shape of a letter S.

Mentally linking two abstract concepts (a speech sound and its letter/spelling) to the point where one automatically evokes the other is hard work, and typically requires hundreds of repetitions. Continue reading

Top early literacy apps 2020

Most young children are already using apps on phones or tablets, at least occasionally. Whatever you think of kids’ screen time, we want it to be quality time. There is some evidence that interactive apps support early academic development, but finding quality early literacy apps can be difficult and time-consuming. Lots of what’s available is (IMHO) simply rubbish.

It’s helpful to read adult reviews of apps for children, but a lot of online information is available about them already, and to REALLY road-test an app, I like to watch a young child using it. My colleague Caitlin Stephenson and I have thus filmed Harrison (aged 4, nearly 5) trying out some of my favourite early phonemic awareness and phonics iPad apps for young children.

The resulting video is below. We hope it gives you a taste of how each app works, to help you decide whether it would suit the small person/people in your life. The video is 16 minutes long, and the apps tried are listed below (numbers in brackets are start times on the video clock):

The only tablet I have is an iPad, but some of these apps are available for other platforms. Many also work on iPhones. If you’re not in Australia, please note that my app store links are all to the Australian store, so you’ll have to search your local store for apps that take your fancy.

I’m not quoting prices here because they often change, and things that I’ve said are free suddenly aren’t, while things I’ve said are expensive drop in price. Also, some apps have hundreds of activities, while some have only one/a few, so it’s like comparing apples and banquets. I’ve decided to leave the value-for-money question up to you.

Other early literacy iPad apps IMHO worth considering for young children include:

Beginners’ decodable books allow children to practice phonics skills by reading stories  containing simplified spelling patterns, and some of these are also available as apps:

Apologies to all the people who make good apps of which I’m not aware. I’d love to hear about them, and wish I had more time to search for and try them.

I hope this blog post helps you find apps that the small people in your life enjoy, and which help them develop great early literacy skills.

* Note that I don’t make or sell any of these apps, but if you go to the Phonics Hero website via a link on this website and buy a subscription, I get a small commission. I was recommending this app for about two years before being offered the commission, so thought “why not?” – it helps make maintaining this website more viable, and I don’t recommend the app any more now than I did then.