Professor Maryanne Wolf, an international expert on the reading brain and dyslexia, will give a seminar at Collingwood Town Hall on 9th September 2016.
Prof Wolf is from the Centre for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in the US. Her seminar will be called, “Lessons from the Reading Brain for Reading Development, Dyslexia and Instruction in a Digital Age”.
The books young children are typically given at school are called “Levelled Books”, which are used in class for “guided reading” or “shared reading”, where a teacher and a group of children read a book together, and discuss it. They’re also used as home readers.
Teachers typically encourage children to use a range of different strategies while reading these books, including guessing words from picture cues, first letters and context (e.g. “what word would make sense there?”), plus sounding words out, though often only as a last resort (perhaps thanks to the lasting influence of Dame Marie Clay, author of Reading Recovery and the Observation Survey still widely used in schools). Continue reading →
Woo hoo to that, I say. But if it’s spent on doing the same sorts of things that didn’t work in primary school, it will be a waste.
Secondary school students with poor decoding skills and very little ability to spell generally need a good initial blast of synthetic phonics to build their awareness of sounds in words and knowledge of spelling patterns, followed up by work on vocabulary, comprehension and fluency. I’ve been doing this type of work for 14 years, in conjunction with the world’s most fabulous integration teacher and aides. We’re yet to find someone we can’t teach to read, including students with intellectual disability, language disorder and English as a second or third language.
Here’s roughly what I’d do and buy if I were a decision-maker in a secondary school with a number of students who have encoding/decoding difficulties.
I've made a new video about predictable texts, sometimes called repetitive texts.
These are short books typically given to little kids when they first start school, and which they take home to read with their parents.
Each page usually contains a sentence and a picture. The same sentence frame repeats on each page, with just one or two words changed to reflect the new picture.
Children often "read" these books by guessing from pictures, first letters and context, i.e. they engage in reading-like behaviour, but they're not actually reading. Often it's only when texts get more complex that adults notice that they can't actually decode.
Let's have a look at some example repetitive, predictable texts, and compare their spelling patterns and syllable structures with decodable texts, and see what they look like to a beginning reader.
If you get this blog post by email and the embedded video below has dropped out, click here to view it online.
I've been using and recommending High Noon Books' Sound Out Chapter Books since before I started this blog, but recently 18 of them became available as an iPad app, so I decided it was High Time to show you them on video.
The Sound Out Chapter Books are decodable (simplified text) books for older, struggling readers. Most of the stories are about teenagers or young adults, and I've also used them with a few upper primary students.
They're mostly interesting-enough stories, insofar as it's possible to write such a thing using a restricted set of spellings, and there are a couple that my students have wanted to keep reading, to find out what happens, even after the lesson ended.
Most of the books my local schools give beginners to read are of the repetitive, look-at-the-picture-and-guess variety. They contain a large, random selection of sound-letter correspondences, and often long words and hard spellings.
There’s no way beginners can sound many or even most of these words out, and schools typically have few or no decodable books, which strip back this complexity and provide children with focussed opportunities to practice the sounds and spellings they’ve been taught. Crazy, eh? But there it is.
Class teachers often don’t get to choose the books available, and don’t have a budget to buy decodable books. They must either use the too-hard books or (if they are determined to teach in accordance with the best scientific evidence) get free or cheap decodable books that reflect their teaching sequence. Free ones are great but involve downloading, printing and binding them oneself, which is time-consuming, and it’s hard to get a professional-looking result.
I recently met an experienced Melbourne primary teacher, Berys Dixon, who told me the delightful story of how she came to be an advocate of explicit, systematic, synthetic phonics.
Returning to work after raising her family, she was instructed to use a multiple-cues, guided reading approach with her class of five-year-olds. Many spoke a language other than English at home, and the school was in a low socioeconomic area.
One day, a parent complained that her child couldn’t sound out the words in his home reader. Berys advised the parent not to expect the child to sound out, but to encourage him to look at the picture, read ahead, have a guess etc. Then if he still couldn’t get the word, just read it for him.
Berys realised that what she had just said made no sense. She went home and started googling.
Rather than me paraphrasing the rest of Berys’s lovely story, which has a very happy ending, please take five minutes to listen to her telling it herself.
Because we’re all humans, we tend to understand and believe the personal stories other people tell us more than we understand and believe data and graphs.
I hope that Berys’s story (which is consistent with the very best data and graphs) will help persuade teachers of beginners and young strugglers to include explicit, systematic synthetic phonics in their literacy curriculum.
If her super-affordable and funny Pocket Rockets make that more possible, great. The orange box can be found here, and the purple box here. Each child’s set can be stored in a little photo album from the $2 shop, making them durable yet very small and lightweight for young children’s (often heavy and full) school bags. The first set’s iPad app is here, and the Android one is here.
The teaching sequence these booklets follow is from the UK government’s Letters And Sounds program. There are many free teaching resources for this program available online, click here, here and here for examples. Or just start googling, like Berys!