Category Archives: blending and segmenting

Things tie together when you have a really good theory

There’s some free online learning that I’d recommend to anyone who works with beginning or struggling readers/spellers. You’ll find it on the Colorado Dept of Education website and was recorded at the 2017 Reading in the Rockies conference (thanks to the organisers!).

However, it’s three videos, each more than an hour long. Teachers are time-poor. They understandably aren’t keen to watch long work-related videos unless they know what they’re about, and believe they and their students will benefit.

So I’ve decided to write a blog about each video, summarising what I think are the key points, and recording the time on the video clock each is made, to assist those skimming to find topics of interest. I hope people will then be motivated to go back and watch the whole thing. 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

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

Balanced Literacy: phonics lipstick is not enough

The ACARA media release on the latest NAPLAN data says, “compared with 2016, there is no improvement in average results across the country that is significant”.

Sigh. So many teachers working so hard to improve results, and still 10% of Australian kids are not meeting basic minimum standards. Add to that the many strugglers who didn’t even sit the NAPLAN tests. Sigh.

Teacher-blogger Greg Ashman writes, “The blame for this situation lies squarely with a widespread adherence to bad ideas“. Whole Language – the idea that literacy is “caught not taught” – was a massively bad idea, inculcated into almost our entire teaching workforce at university, but now thoroughly discredited.

What-works-in-education expert John Hattie even puts Whole Language on his pedagogical “disasters” list, see slide 11 here, whereas Phonics Instruction is on slide 21’s “winners” list.

However, the Whole Language pig still has not been put out to pasture where it belongs. Our literacy education brains trust simply applied a bit of phonics lipstick, changed its name to Balanced Literacy, and carried on much as before. Continue reading

New Spelfabet workbooks and other resources, 30% off till June 30 2017

I’ve finally put all my Version 2 workbooks, games and two moveable alphabets into my shop, and made videos about all of them so you can see what they’re like before deciding whether they would be useful to you.

Everything is now available at 30% discount till 30 June 2017. Just enter this coupon code when you get to the shop checkout:

EOFY2017

The main differences between the new and previous versions are:

Workbook overhaul

There are now nine workbooks, since I’ve combined the old workbooks 2 and 3 into a single workbook 2, and added a workbook 3 which provides a gentle introduction to vowel spellings and syllable types before diving into their full complexity in Workbooks 4 and 5. I’ve added more words with more than one syllable to Workbooks 4 and 5, and Workbook 6 covers additional consonant spellings much more extensively than the old version, and takes out the overlaps section, which is more about reading than spelling.

Workbook 7 covers homophones and prefixes, Workbook 8 covers suffixes including stuff like changing y to i and Latin suffixes, and workbook 9 deals with additional Latin and Greek word parts. So there is much more about long words and morphology in this version. There are video tours of all the new workbooks here. You can download the first few pages of each one to check out the table of contents and instructions, and try out some pages with your learner(s) here. Continue reading

Ruth Miskin’s top tips for parents

Update December 2018: sorry but the videos this blog post is about are no longer available. You can find Ruth Miskin’s current videos for parents here.

OMG it’s the end of the term 3 holidays and I had planned to write a blog for parents of children starting school in 2017, as a kind of antidote to any well-meaning but incorrect advice to encourage children to guess written words from pictures, first letters and context rather than sounding them out.

The internet to the rescue! I found some nice, short videos by the UK’s Ruth Miskin called “top tips for parents” about the following topics:

  1. Saying sounds correctly
  2. Linking sounds to letters
  3. Two letters, one sound
  4. Practise, practise, practise
  5. Putting sounds together to make simple words
  6. Tricky words
  7. Reading books
  8. Using pictures
  9. Writing letters
  10. Read to your child as much as you can

Continue reading

Sorry, all kids deserve the gold standard

The excellent Lorraine Hammond, President of Learning Difficulties Australia, was on Radio National’s Life Matters program this morning, with the unenviable task of explaining how children learn to read in ten minutes.

You can listen to what she said here.

The program was a follow-up to last week’s much longer discussion about the research showing that the widely-used literacy intervention Reading Recovery is not effective.

Many people contacted the show afterwards to defend teaching literacy using a bit of everything – a bit of rote-memorising “sight words”, a few alphabet lessons, a bit of guessing etc. This is what currently happens in most schools.

Lorraine pointed out that this still leaves us with many children who can’t sound out words, and thus struggle in school and fall further and further behind. One upper primary school child she met had had 10,000 hours of instruction, and was still looking at the first letter and guessing words. Unbelievable. Continue reading