MSL Club 2018

The MSL Club is a four-day non-residential camp for children in Years 1 to 8 with, or at risk of, reading and spelling difficulties. Many, but not all, have dyslexia diagnoses.

Such kids can often feel a bit like a fish out of water in mainstream schools, especially if they don’t know other kids their age with similar difficulties.

It can be a great relief to meet many other kids just like them, learn and play together and form friendships.

The camp aims to help these children feel less isolated, and more supported and celebrated.

Program for kids

The 2018 MSL Club in Melbourne was held at St Joan of Arc PS in Brighton from 15-18th January.

Morning sessions for kids involve intensive structured literacy intervention for 2-3 hours. Here are some 2017 photos borrowed from their website to give you the idea, click here for heaps more:

The sessions are run by experienced teachers and therapists with Multisensory Structured Learning (MSL) training, many of whom could earn much more elsewhere, but sign up to help kids, learn from and share ideas with like-minded colleagues, and make the club a success.

Volunteer Speech Pathologists from Gameplan Education provided free assessments for some of the older kids.

“It was so wonderful to teach alongside like minded professionals and to see children who often find school a challenge engaged, enthusiastic and happy”, said Sarah Asome, a key organiser.

A variety of afternoon activities are designed to build children’s relationships and confidence at MSL Club.

I asked Sarah for a few photos of things club participants did this year for this blog post, and it seemed to include robotics and making giant towers, quel fun. They also had fairy floss and slushies lined up for the last day this year, though these were under threat from a planned power cut (this and local roadwork detours kept organisers on their toes).

Sessions for parents and professionals

MSL Club also runs a parallel information days for parents and teachers.

This year’s sessions were astonishingly good value at $75 for a whole day, including lunch and morning tea. The well-attended Parent Info Day agenda is here, and presenters’ slides will be available on the MSL Club website soon. They contain heaps of great information, of the type now also accessible via the great new Dyslexia Victoria Support website.

The Professional Info Day agenda, which included a session from yours truly (here depicted banging on about that Seidenberg book again) is here. Slides from the sessions will all soon be on the MSL website, if you’re kicking yourself for missing out.

MSL Club provided an opportunity to listen to educators and researchers in the field of dyslexia, dyscalculia, speech pathology, occupational therapy and psychology, as well as expert teachers and advocates. I learnt quite a lot from the other speakers, and the day I attended was also excellent for professional networking. A morning session about Emotional Intelligence on one of the other days also looked great, and again very affordable at $50.

Staff and volunteers

As well as MSL Club Director Kate Bertoncello (below left) and Educational consultant Sarah Asome (below right), key organisers included Kathryn White (next picture down, on left, in 2017), Christine Clancy (on right), and Lauren Segal and Michael Bertoncello (not pictured, sorry).

The world’s greatest supermums (two sterling examples of the species, Heidi Gregory and Gemma Crouch, are pictured below) volunteered on the resource table and lent a hand with afternoon activities, plus there were some volunteer first aiders on hand in case of (hopefully just) papercuts.

The professionals and key volunteers involved all went out to dinner together on Wednesday night, to kick back, catch up and talk about how to change the literacy-teaching world.

All the hard work paid off, and even with the road closures and power outages, it was still such a rewarding and inspiring four days,” said Kate Bertoncello.

Congratulations to the amazing team that made it all happen. I just wish this project could get some government or philanthropic funding to allow families without much spare cash (e.g. from public housing estates) to still send their dyslexic kids along for a holiday boost.

MSL Club Sydney 2018 and Melbourne 2019

More MSL Clubs are planned for Sydney in October 2018 and Melbourne in January 2019, but if you’d like to enrol a student, you need to keep a sharp eye on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/mslclubaustralia to find out when registrations open, and get in quick.

It’s first come, first served, and in 2017 the MSL Club was booked out in 24 hours.

Photos in this blog post are from the MSL Club website and Facebook page, the Dyslexia Victoria Support Facebook page, Kate Bertoncello, Rosemary Fazio, Heidi Gregory, and Sarah Asome.

Low frequency word spelling test

I’ve just made up a free, low-frequency word spelling test which you can download here and use to explore learners’ spelling skills and knowledge.

It’s not a standardised test, so won’t tell you whether a learner’s spelling skills are behind, on a par with or ahead of peers. Its purpose is to focus your attention on the things that matter most for spelling:

  • speech sounds (phonemes),
  • letter patterns that represent these sounds (graphemes),
  • word structure (positions and combinations of sounds in words/syllables),
  • parts of speech e.g. “pact” is a noun, “packed” is a verb,
  • meaning (especially for homophones like see/sea),
  • meaningful word parts (morphemes such as prefixes, suffixes and word stems/roots).

This should help you work out which key skills and knowledge learners already have, and which they need to learn, and thus help teach them to spell explicitly, systematically and effectively.

Don’t do the whole test with anyone, it’s far too long (390 items). Start at your learner’s estimated current skill level, and work forwards if they get words mostly correct, and backwards if they don’t. Stop when you hit a floor (most words too easy) or ceiling (most words too hard). Continue reading

PIRLS 2016 results

The 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) results came out yesterday. They show that Australian Year 4 kids are better at reading than they were in 2011. Excellent.

However, about 7% of kids are still reading very poorly*, a number unchanged since 2017, and far too many of them are indigenous.

What did PIRLS 2016 involve?

One Year 4 class plus all indigenous Year 4 students in 286 schools (6341 kids in total) across the country took part. The school sample was selected to represent all states and territories as well as Australia’s geographic, school sector and socioeconomic diversity. Continue reading

Alternative facts about phonics

I’ve just read a new e-book called Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning, edited by Margaret M Clark OBE, a UK Visiting and Emeritus Professor who the About The Editor section says “has undertaken research on a wide range of topics and has developed innovate (sic) courses”.

Its announcement elicited some e-eye-rolling from members of the Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy Network, and jovial suggestions that others buy, read and comment on it, but apparently I’m the only one with nothing more important to do (sigh).

Also on my reading list at the moment is The Influential Mind, about how to persuade people in the face of Confirmation Bias, our tendency to ignore or dismiss evidence that’s not consistent with what we already believe. Confirmation Bias is why presenting scientific data to the climate sceptic in your life never works. You can watch a video about it here.

Reading the Clark et al e-book thus also became an interesting exercise in thinking about my own thoughts. I’d set aside time to read the book in order to write what I hoped would be a thoughtful, informed response, but my brain kept coming up with other ideas. Did it keep switching off because of my own confirmation bias, or because of the standard of what I was reading? Continue reading

Write this word backwards

Looking for a fresh early-level spelling activity? Inspired by the old board game “Backwords”, lately we’ve been having competitions to write words backwards.

For example, I say “write nip backwards” and learners have to write “pin”. This requires and builds awareness of the sounds in words (phonemic awareness) which is crucial for spelling.

Sometimes we use paper and pencil, and sometimes mini whiteboards, which are often somehow more exciting (novelty, I guess). For the hardline “I’m not picking up a pencil” brigade I also have an embarrassment of colourful and novelty pens and pencils, and coloured paper.

If working on four sound words, words like “spin” (nips) and “nuts” (stun) can be reversed. Continue reading

Making sense on treatment choices

Hundreds of interventions are available for kids with communication, learning, attention, social, memory and/or behaviour difficulties. Some are also used to hot-house these skills in typical kids.

Sorting effective interventions from snake oil can be tricky enough for professionals, but a minefield for parents.

Testimonials are much easier to understand than research data. Confident sweeping statements by charismatic sales-folk with magnificent hair seem more persuasive than the usually tentative-sounding statements of scientists. The promise of a miracle cure sounds more appealing than a proposal to work hard for years building skills. Continue reading

New phonics test will help teachers see who’s guessing, not decoding

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has announced that once they’ve been at school for 18 months, he’d like all children to do a short, class-teacher-administered phonics test.

Loud protests, of course. Not another mandatory test, etc. But I agree with his advisors that this short, simple test will be a good thing. I’m optimistic that once it draws teachers’ attention to not-currently-obvious gaps in their students’ reading knowledge, they’ll move to fill them.

Who asked for this test, and why?

This test is largely the result of lobbying by parents, concerned teachers and others because of the gap between research and practice in early literacy teaching, and the unnecessary failure and suffering that results.

This is a big problem for teachers as well as children. Teachers lose a lot of sleep over children in their classes who just keep falling further and further behind in reading, and who they’re not adequately trained or equipped to help.

The new phonics test, based on one currently used in the UK, would be designed to help teachers quickly and easily identify children who aren’t sounding out (decoding) words well. This is the first step towards helping them. Continue reading

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