Category Archives: Fun

We need GOOD practice, not common practice

I wrote an opinion piece in The Age newspaper this week called “Premiers’ Reading Challenge no fun for kids who can’t read“, arguing we need to close the gap between research and practice in early literacy education, so more kids can enjoy, not dread, the Premiers’ Reading Challenge.

I hope it’s helped put another nail in the coffin of common, but extremely poor, literacy-teaching practices like rote wordlist-memorisation (the “magic words” etc) without regard to their structure, incidental-not-systematic phonics, and encouraging kids to guess words from first letter, sentence structure and context/pictures.

I hope it also helps kill off the idea that reading is natural, and replace educational blah-blah about reader identity and teacher literacy philosophy with more interesting discussions about what science tells us about how to best teach reading.

I’m sorry they didn’t include my link to Emily Hanford’s great “Hard Words: why aren’t kids being taught to read” audio documentary, but otherwise happy with it, especially the mention of David Kilpatrick’s seminar on 19 August at Melbourne Town Hall (have you signed up yet? He will also speak in Perth and Cairns, and Sydney and Adelaide, but they’re booked out).

Of course letters to the editor appeared the next day disagreeing with me. People who agree with something they read in the paper don’t generally rush to write to the editor. Editors don’t usually give a right of reply to these letters, so I’m giving myself one here. Continue reading

Introducing Clever Caitlin’s phonics playing cards

This year I have some excellent new colleagues, and one of them, Caitlin Stephenson, is queen of making therapy fun for kids.

She grew up playing cards with abundant siblings, and came up with the idea of phonics playing cards.

For an affordable, fun, social, portable phonics activity that can be tailored to a range of ages and abilities, they’re hard to beat.

Caitlin and I have so far collaborated to create over 50 decks of downloadable phonics playing cards, and so far I’ve put 30 of them in the Spelfabet shop. (April 2020 update: there are now 57 decks in the shop, I’m about to add another dozen, and there are still a few more to come). Continue reading

New word-building card games

I’ve been faffing around for ages trying to improve on my old word-building card games, and finally have a new set of three decks of download-and-print cards I’m happy with.

These games are intended to provide practice blending and manipulating sounds in one-syllable words, and learning their spellings.

The basic games are lot simpler, and young children can play them more successfully, as the less-common spellings are now in the harder games. The colour scheme has been revised thanks to feedback from people with red-green colour-blindness (oops, sorry).

The basic “short” vowels game can be used by six-year-olds who know the alphabet and a few consonant digraphs. Two players or teams each build five words using the five vowel cards, then change each other’s words into new words. Here’s how to play it:

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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. Continue reading

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