Category Archives: curricula

Four cheers for Emily Hanford

American Public Media journalist Emily Hanford has made some accessible, powerful and widely-discussed documentaries about the gap between reading science and classroom practice in the US. It’s a gap that also exists here in Australia, and elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

If you haven’t listened to her documentaries yet, please make the time to do so. You can click on the pictures below to access each one.

She started in September last year with this:

In October 2018, she followed up with this:

She also wrote a New York Times opinion piece entitled “Why are we still teaching reading the wrong way?”

My apologies to blog subscribers who missed these till now. I circulated them on social media but was too stupidly busy with my new office and sick mother to write a blog post about them.

In January this year, on National Public Radio, Emily made:

In March came this video interview called What Teachers Should Know About the Science of Reading:

Emily’s most recent, again brilliant contribution to aligning teaching with reading science in a pro-teacher, pro-equity way, is this:

I very dare you to get to the end of this documentary and not be gobsmacked by “Father of Whole Language” Ken Goodman’s extraordinary comment “My science is different”.

Goodman shows he is simply not interested in the mountain of scientific evidence contradicting his theory-and-observation-based ideas about how children learn to read, yet his ideas are still the basis of the “three-cueing system” approach to teaching reading that’s still widely used.

The game is up, the facts are out, and thanks to Emily Hanford and APM they’re in a free, accessible and easily digestible format. Please share them with every teacher, parent and other person who might be able to help get a more scientific understanding of how to teach reading into our education system.

I don’t enjoy having to spend a lot of my day undoing damage caused by well-meaning, hard-working teachers who were taught half-baked “my science is different” ideas at university and by “meaning-first” educational consultants. And I’m sure that (as the US Reading League people say) when teachers know better, they will do better, and so will their students.

Last chance to register for LDA’s David Kilpatrick seminars

Registrations close shortly for this month’s LDA seminars by David Kilpatrick. I’m not sure exactly when they close for Perth and Cairns, but Melbourne’s close on 8th August. Adelaide & Sydney are already sold out. The seminar on the 19th at Melbourne Town Hall will include 17 supplier displays (details below) to browse from 8.15-9.00am and during the breaks.

Dr Kilpatrick is the author of the excellent Essentials of Assessing, Preventing and Overcoming Reading Difficulties and Equipped for Reading Success, and you might have also seen him talk online (e.g. here, here, here, here and here).

I recently assessed a teenager with the kind of reading and spelling difficulties I hope these seminars will soon help stamp out. He’s a classic Compensator. Intelligent, hard-working, with good oral language skills, but very poor phonemic awareness and proficiency (<1st percentile on the CTOPP-2 Elision subtest) and thus weak word-level reading and spelling.

He finds it hard to sound out unfamiliar words, tending to look at the start and end of words and guess the middles. If you give him a wordlist including similar-looking words like “complete” and “compete”, he probably won’t notice they’re different.

His teachers aren’t aware of the extent of his reading difficulties because they don’t test word-level reading or phonemic awareness, and when this student reads connected text he gets most of the words right, by compensating for his poor decoding with his good oral language. They notice his poor spelling, and try to help him with it, but it’s not really their area of expertise. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Shallow and deep phonics

My last blog post copped a little flak for its focus on the Victorian Education Department’s top two pieces of advice for parents when their children are stuck reading a word, both of which start with the sentence, “Look at the picture.” (see p14 of this document).

This is very bad advice because it directs children’s attention away from the key information required for good word-level reading. It’s based on the idea of multi-cueing/the three-cueing system, which is scientifically-debunked nonsense. A complex but excellent explanation of why can be found here, and the actual role of context in reading is explained well here.

To read an unfamiliar word, children need to take it apart into spellings (graphemes) e.g. “n”, “igh” and “t”, not “ni”, “g” and “ht”, associate these with the relevant speech sounds (phonemes) and blend them into a word. With practice, familiar words are unitised in memory, via a process called orthographic mapping, and no longer need to be sounded out, they become instantly recognised.

Unfamiliar words of more than one syllable must be sounded out a syllable at a time. Earlier syllables must be held in memory while later syllables are worked out, making long words harder.

Once a printed word is converted into a spoken word, its meaning can be accessed, if it’s known. But even if a child doesn’t yet know what a word means (i.e. it’s not yet in their semantic memory), having heard it before (i.e. having it in their phonological memory) kick-starts the process of putting it into long-term memory for instant recognition. Over time the child can learn and refine its meaning(s), and how to use it, by hearing and seeing it in use. Continue reading

THIS is a BORING book!

I’ve just watched a great 2016 BBC4 documentary called “B is for book”. It follows a group of London children from their first day at school for a year, and explores how they learn to read.

The kids live on a public housing estate in Hackney, and most speak languages other than English at home.

The film is not currently on the BBC website, but a few people have put it on YouTube. The version I watched is here, and you might like to keep it open in a new tab while you read, so you can quickly find and watch the interesting bits I describe below.

You’ll love all the children, but I was most entranced by a little boy called Stephan. An honest child with a low tolerance for Educrap, he looks and behaves a lot like a little boy I worked with last year, also a twin from public housing inclined to slide under the table.

At 19:42 on the video clock, the two children having the most difficulty learning to read in the film, Maria and Stephan, are asked, “What’s the hardest word you know how to spell?” First, they do this:

Continue reading

Decodable texts and lesson-to-text match

A state election looms here in Victoria, and parent-run group Dyslexia Victoria Support (DVS) is petitioning politicians to provide decodable books to all kids starting school in 2019.

Decodable books provide the reading practice for phonics lessons. They include sound-letter relationships and word types learners have been taught, plus usually a few high-frequency words with harder spellings needed to make the book make sense, which are also pre-taught.

Decodable books would replace the widely-used predictable/repetitive texts, which encourage children to guess and memorise words, not sound them out.

At the moment, children might be learning about “i” as in “sit” in phonics lessons, but take home a predictable text that might contain words like “find”, “ski”, “shield”, “bird”, “friend” or “view”. Instead of helping kids practise the sound-letter relationships they’ve been taught, their home readers can undermine this teaching.

DVS’s campaign hit the statewide media this weekend, yay, with an article called “Dull, predictable: the problem with books for prep students” in Fairfax newspapers.

Continue reading

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