Category Archives: Fun

Fact and fiction with Mem Fox

On telly’s Today show last week, celebrated children’s fiction author Mem Fox talked about the importance of reading to children, something with which absolutely everyone agrees.

Mem Fox’s missionary parents took her to Southern Rhodesia as an infant. They were, she explains, “very keen on Australian books being read to us, and our reading Australian books”. TV hadn’t been invented, so she developed a love of reading. She thanks three years at drama school in London for her understanding of language and thus ability to write books. I suspect this training may also have contributed to her storytime drama skills.

All good. Then, about three minutes into the interview, I thought I heard Ms Fox say that young children are increasingly unable to communicate effectively using spoken language.

I did a double-take. I’m a paediatric speech pathologist. You’d think I’d know about this, if it were true. I don’t recall any mention of a general decline in young children’s ability to communicate at this year’s Speech Pathology Australia conference, or in any of the journals I’ve read lately.

I rewound the video, and Ms Fox’s exact words were:

“You know if children don’t have language, if they can’t talk by the time they get to school, and I know that will sound extraordinary, people will say ‘what, they can’t talk when they get to school?!’, if children can’t talk by the age of four, or can’t make themselves clearly understood by the age of four, and that is, increasingly, you know, happening, they can’t learn to read. If you can’t, you know if you don’t have language, obviously you can’t learn to read language. So reading aloud is very, very important for education.” Continue reading

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.

Christmas writing

Little kids (and quite a few bigger ones) are often keen at this time of year to write Christmas lists, letters to Santa, cards or do other seasonally-adjusted writing.

They are often less enthusiastic about continuing to do structured spelling work.

It’s the silly season, so fair enough. It’s great to find a writing task they’re still keen to do, in between all their parties, concerts and swimming.

I often give up on the structured spelling work at this point of the year and just go with the silly season writing, aiming to give kids enough guidance for them to sound out all the words they want to write, while making sure I prevent spelling mistakes.

The first encounter with a written word matters, and spelling it correctly maximises your chances of getting it right again next time.

There’s no need to give up on sounding out words for this activity, and revert to visual copying or reciting letter names.

Instead, you can give kids the spellings they need for any words they can’t spell independently, and ask them to build these words before writing them. Continue reading

Made-up words in children’s books

Desmond Digby, the illustrator of one of my favourite children's books, Bottersnikes and Gumbles, recently died. Sad face.

At age seven, I got my first library fine from the mobile library visiting my tiny rural school because I couldn't bear to give Bottersnikes and Gumbles back.

In honour of Desmond Digby, because it's the Queen's Birthday Long Weekend (how brillig!), and just in case there's anyone out there muttering "but they don't MEAN anything" about the pseudoword spelling test I posted the other day, I thought I would post a nice long list of some of the many pseudowords in kids' popular culture.

Such words are also interesting to discuss with anyone who thinks the dictionary contains all the words children need to be able to read, or that reading and spelling involve memorisation of words, not encoding and decoding. How can we read or spell these words, if that's the case?

A pseudoword becomes a word when someone attaches a meaning to it, and in kids' popular culture (as well as popular culture for adults, think Westeros) this happens all the time.

Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh and Konami swap cards are all the rage at a school I visit, so yesterday I was given a lovely tour of a collection (not literature, but still a child's book) by a little chap earnestly intent on sounding out names like the ones in the picture below, because to him they really, truly were Real Words:

Yu Gi Oh

Continue reading

Printable wordbuilding card games

It’s been pouring for most of today here in Melbourne, so I’ve been feeling sorry for everyone stuck indoors during the summer holidays. On the plus side, this has motivated me to finally stop obsessively polishing my four new word-building card games, and make them available here.

These games are designed to help learners practice their blending and phoneme manipulation skills, and to learn how to use and combine a variety of graphemes (spelling patterns) representing individual phonemes (speech sounds) in English.

You can find fairly detailed descriptions of each game in each one’s entry in my website shop, so I’ll just put little videos about each one plus a summary in this blog post.

“Short” vowel wordbuilding game

Here learners build words using single-letter vowel spellings, and consonant spellings including “ck”, “ng”, “ff”, “ll”, “ss”, “zz”, “x”, “tch” and “dge”, “sh”, “ch” and “th”. This game also provides lots of opportunities to learn which consonant combinations (blends) are typical of English, such as “fl” and “str” but not “vm” at word beginnings, and “nch” and “mp” but not “jn” at word endings. Continue reading

Make them laugh and let them win

Parents often report difficulty getting their children to work on their reading and spelling at home. Sometimes it’s hard even to get them to play games.

Children with reading and spelling difficulties tend to associate these activities with failure and unhappiness, so of course at first they aren’t too keen on them.

We need them to associate reading and spelling with success and happiness, so they’ll work willingly and get through the amount of work they need to do to catch up. It’s vital to choose work that’s at the right level and give them lots of strong and specific praise.

Games are a great opportunity to really heap on the success and happiness. Here’s a short video of me teaching the great little boy who appeared in my last two videos how to pay memory, using cards from the Get Reading Right Picture This card game.

He didn’t read a lot of words during this game, but he had a great time, and learnt how to play the game. The next steps would be to speed up the game and add more cards so he is reading more, and then introduce different cards with additional sounds and letters, and/or longer words. There are six decks of cards in this card game, so it gives lots of opportunities for controlled reading practice.

As always, thanks so much to the boy in the video and his parents for letting me make and share this video.

Books need to make sense

After yesterday posting a video of myself assisting a beginner to read a simple decodable book, I went looking for similar videos by others. Surely there must be lots of good ones out there on the amazing internets, right?

Well, it was slim pickings, and much of what I found was rather cringeworthy. People showing off their overachieving preschoolers, people teaching in a dull, didactic way and children memorising and reciting books or looking at pictures, first letters and guessing. Perhaps I am not searching correctly, please someone tell me if I'm not.

I found one interesting, 2010 homemade video of a great little kid called Kaylee reading a couple of decodable books to an adult, presumably her mother. They clearly had a nice relationship, and were on the right track from a decoding point of view.

Here's the video, I hope you will just watch Kaylee reading the first book (the first two-and-a-half minutes) and then read on.

Continue reading

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