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
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. Continue reading
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
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:
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.
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
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.
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.