We need GOOD practice, not common practice

I wrote an opinion piece in The Age newspaper this week called “Premiers’ Reading Challenge no fun for kids who can’t read“, arguing we need to close the gap between research and practice in early literacy education, so more kids can enjoy, not dread, the Premiers’ Reading Challenge.

I hope it’s helped put another nail in the coffin of common, but extremely poor, literacy-teaching practices like rote wordlist-memorisation (the “magic words” etc) without regard to their structure, incidental-not-systematic phonics, and encouraging kids to guess words from first letter, sentence structure and context/pictures.

I hope it also helps kill off the idea that reading is natural, and replace educational blah-blah about reader identity and teacher literacy philosophy with more interesting discussions about what science tells us about how to best teach reading.

I’m sorry they didn’t include my link to Emily Hanford’s great “Hard Words: why aren’t kids being taught to read” audio documentary, but otherwise happy with it, especially the mention of David Kilpatrick’s seminar on 19 August at Melbourne Town Hall (have you signed up yet? He will also speak in Perth and Cairns, and Sydney and Adelaide, but they’re booked out).

Of course letters to the editor appeared the next day disagreeing with me. People who agree with something they read in the paper don’t generally rush to write to the editor. Editors don’t usually give a right of reply to these letters, so I’m giving myself one here. Continue reading

Introducing Clever Caitlin’s phonics playing cards

This year I have some excellent new colleagues, and one of them, Caitlin Stephenson, is queen of making therapy fun for kids.

She grew up playing cards with abundant siblings, and came up with the idea of phonics playing cards.

For an affordable, fun, social, portable phonics activity that can be tailored to a range of ages and abilities, they’re hard to beat.

Caitlin and I have so far collaborated to create over 50 decks of downloadable phonics playing cards, and so far I’ve put 30 of them in the Spelfabet shop. Continue reading

New word-building card games

I’ve been faffing around for ages trying to improve on my old word-building card games, and finally have a new set of three decks of download-and-print cards I’m happy with.

These games are intended to provide practice blending and manipulating sounds in one-syllable words, and learning their spellings.

The basic games are lot simpler, and young children can play them more successfully, as the less-common spellings are now in the harder games. The colour scheme has been revised thanks to feedback from people with red-green colour-blindness (oops, sorry).

The basic “short” vowels game can be used by six-year-olds who know the alphabet and a few consonant digraphs. Two players or teams each build five words using the five vowel cards, then change each other’s words into new words. Here’s how to play it:

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If you’re already using my free workbook, here’s the next one

If you’re one of the over 3000 people who have downloaded my free Letters and Sounds Phase 2 workbook since the start of the year, your learner(s) might have finished it by now, and you might want another one.

You’re in luck. I’ve finally finished the Phase 3 book, which teaches at least one spelling for each of the remaining sounds of English.

It’s not free like the first one, but at AUD$10 plus GST it’s super-cheap for a printable, colour workbook of 101 pages. Make as many copies as you need.

The aim of these books is to help people try explicitly and systematically teaching young kids about the sounds of speech and how we write them, even if they don’t have many suitable resources, or much cash to buy them.

I thought teachers could print the workbooks on school photocopiers, make them up using the school laminator (for the moveable alphabet included with suggested sequences) and binding machine, and use them with the super-cheap leaflet-size Pocket Rocket decodable books. That would let them start using a sound-to-print teaching approach on a shoestring.

Book sized Pocket Rockets are also now available, and other decodable books which follow the same teaching sequence as this workbook include the Junior Learning Phase 3 Fiction and Nonfiction books, and the Oxford Project X Hero Academy books. Many other teaching resources follow this sequence too, just google “Letters and Sounds Phase 3” to find them.

I’m pretty sure that once teachers try this teaching approach, they’ll soon be hooked on the success it brings, find it makes complete sense, and want to learn more and invest in more polished and extensive resources. But the first step is getting them to dip their toes in the explicit, systematic synthetic phonics water, and often finances are a barrier.

I hope you like the Phase 3 workbook, find it helps kids understand how sounds and letters work, and that it complements all the other good language and literacy things you’re doubtless doing, like reading lots of stories aloud.

Ros Neilson on the Foundations of Early Literacy Assessment (FELA)

Last month at our office we had the pleasure of hosting Speech Pathology legend Roslyn Neilson for a talk about her newish early literacy assessment, the FELA.

The FELA is intended to supersede two of Ros’s previous tests, the SPAT-R and SEAPART, and help teachers, therapists and others assess phonemic awareness and alphabetic knowledge, which are vital, teachable early literacy skills.

The FELA can be used in preschool screening as well as progress monitoring through the early years of primary school.

On the day, we decided to video the session, as we could only fit 30 people into our biggest room (which Ros scarily called a Conference Centre), and had to turn a few people away, plus many other interested people were too far off or too busy to come.

Here’s the video, with my apologies that it’s blurry at the start and there is a short break and you might need to turn up the volume towards the end (camera malfunction). Ros’s slides can be downloaded here.

https://youtu.be/Lj48bYtUGSA

Thanks so much to Ros for freely sharing her time and expertise so generously, and for the chocolates, which we are still enjoying. The FELA is available from Ros’s website, takes up to 30 minutes per child and I think is very reasonably priced at $198 inc GST. If you’d like to take a look at it and you’re in Melbourne, Ros has left us a copy, and you’d be welcome to browse it.

Thanks also to fab Spelfabet staff Renee Vlahos, Caitlin Stephenson and Tessa Weadman (yes, I am going to put them on the website soon) for their help, and to my brother for the huge bag of apples that got me making easy, delicious apple cake (here’s the recipe, but I microwaved and drained the apples, and beat the eggs). After I bought my Goodwill Wine I found out they raise funds for Code Read Dyslexia Network. Please consider when next ordering wine.

My brother just gave me ANOTHER huge bag of apples, so maybe that means I should invite another speaker. Ros is a pretty hard act to follow, but let me know if you have ideas/suggestions.

Petition to dump Reading Recovery and Leveled Literacy Intervention

If you’re in Australia’s state of Victoria you might have seen yesterday’s article in The Age online about a new petition to remove Reading Recovery and Leveled Literacy Intervention from our government schools. It appears to have been bumped by election coverage yesterday, but should be in the paper version of The Age today.

The petition is backed by three leading groups which advocate for children with learning difficulties: Dyslexia Victoria Support, Code Read Dyslexia Network and Learning Difficulties Australia.

I have signed this petition and am quoted in The Age in support of it, because children with learning difficulties need programs with solid, scientific evidence behind them.

Reading scientists now know that children simply do not learn to read by memorising whole words or guessing words from pictures, context and/or first letters. Children who seem to be doing this are actually taking the words apart and figuring out how the sounds and letters work, something many kids can’t do without explicit and direct instruction.

Sounding out right through words should simply not be reserved as a strategy of last resort, as Reading Recovery’s Dame Marie Clay recommended.

The US Reading League has an excellent video online in which the very witty Dr Steve Dykstra talks about how to understand scientific research and statistics, and unpacks the “gold standard” research on Leveled Literacy Intervention and Reading Recovery.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, and your school is using Leveled Literacy Intervention, start at 52.33 on the video clock. If your school still uses Reading Recovery, start at minute 1:03:43.

The DVS/CR/LDA petition to replace Reading Recovery and Leveled Literacy Intervention is addressed to our state Education Minister, and you can read and sign it online here. It has just clocked up over 1000 signatures, so I hope many more readers of this blog will also sign and share it.

Struggling readers and their teachers deserve more effective programs.

Australians keen to learn about the most effective programs/approaches for struggling readers should attend seminars by US academic and experienced school psychologist, Dr David Kilpatrick, who will be the guest speaker for the Learning Difficulties Australia National Tour in August.

These seminars will be held in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Cairns and Sydney, click on the relevant link for a flyer. Dr Kilpatrick is the author of the very accessible Essentials of Assessing, Preventing and Overcoming Reading Difficulties, so I’m looking forward to getting him to sign my dog-eared copy when he’s in Melbourne.

If you are in/near one of the seminar locations and have access to a school staff room, please print a copy or two of the relevant seminar flyer and leave it/them on the table and/or noticeboard, or otherwise circulate it to people who might be interested, to help LDA promote the tour.

Please also book early to avoid disappointment, as Legendary Kerrie, the LDA admin person, tells me some of these seminars are filling fast.

PS I was just interviewed on radio 3AW about this issue, you can hear the interview here.

The Language, Learning and Literacy conference – Kathy Rastle

Kathy Rastle was another keynote speaker at last week’s great Language, Literacy and Learning conference whose topic is directly relevant to this blog.

You might remember her as a co-author of last year’s influential paper about Ending the Reading Wars, and of this related article (both highly recommended reading).

Hers was the final keynote of the conference, but I met her on the first day. Being a dairy farmer’s daughter who went to Warrnambool High School, I’m still always a little amazed when people with titles like Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London say “hi, I’m Kathy”, and are utterly smiley, nice, and not the least bit pretentious.

Here Kathy is (on the right) with the also-legendary and lovely Lyn Stone (on the left) and Sarah Awesome (AKA Asome) of Bentleigh West PS, (check out their NAPLAN Year 3 spelling gain here!) at the conference Sundowner drinks. However, in the interests of showing proper, gender-neutral academic respect I’ll use her surname from now on.

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