Category Archives: literacy problems

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.

PIRLS 2016 results

The 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) results came out yesterday. They show that Australian Year 4 kids are better at reading than they were in 2011. Excellent.

However, about 7% of kids are still reading very poorly*, a number unchanged since 2017, and far too many of them are indigenous.

What did PIRLS 2016 involve?

One Year 4 class plus all indigenous Year 4 students in 286 schools (6341 kids in total) across the country took part. The school sample was selected to represent all states and territories as well as Australia’s geographic, school sector and socioeconomic diversity. Continue reading

New phonics test will help teachers see who’s guessing, not decoding

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has announced that once they’ve been at school for 18 months, he’d like all children to do a short, class-teacher-administered phonics test.

Loud protests, of course. Not another mandatory test, etc. But I agree with his advisors that this short, simple test will be a good thing. I’m optimistic that once it draws teachers’ attention to not-currently-obvious gaps in their students’ reading knowledge, they’ll move to fill them.

Who asked for this test, and why?

This test is largely the result of lobbying by parents, concerned teachers and others because of the gap between research and practice in early literacy teaching, and the unnecessary failure and suffering that results.

This is a big problem for teachers as well as children. Teachers lose a lot of sleep over children in their classes who just keep falling further and further behind in reading, and who they’re not adequately trained or equipped to help.

The new phonics test, based on one currently used in the UK, would be designed to help teachers quickly and easily identify children who aren’t sounding out (decoding) words well. This is the first step towards helping them. Continue reading

Balanced Literacy: phonics lipstick is not enough

The ACARA media release on the latest NAPLAN data says, “compared with 2016, there is no improvement in average results across the country that is significant”.

Sigh. So many teachers working so hard to improve results, and still 10% of Australian kids are not meeting basic minimum standards. Add to that the many strugglers who didn’t even sit the NAPLAN tests. Sigh.

Teacher-blogger Greg Ashman writes, “The blame for this situation lies squarely with a widespread adherence to bad ideas“. Whole Language – the idea that literacy is “caught not taught” – was a massively bad idea, inculcated into almost our entire teaching workforce at university, but now thoroughly discredited.

What-works-in-education expert John Hattie even puts Whole Language on his pedagogical “disasters” list, see slide 11 here, whereas Phonics Instruction is on slide 21’s “winners” list.

However, the Whole Language pig still has not been put out to pasture where it belongs. Our literacy education brains trust simply applied a bit of phonics lipstick, changed its name to Balanced Literacy, and carried on much as before. Continue reading

New early literacy skill assessment service

It’s often very confusing for parents to work out whether to be concerned about their young child’s reading and writing skill development.

If the parents I talk to are reliable informants, advice from schools often goes like this:

  • Age 5-6: Yes, your child is taking a while to catch on to reading and writing, but let’s wait and see, she could just be a “late bloomer”. Just keep reading predictable texts and encouraging her to look at the pictures and guess, memorising high-frequency words etc.
  • Age 6-7: Your child will be attending individual or small group intervention, for more intensive activities of the type that didn’t work last year, e.g. Reading Recovery or Leveled Literacy Intervention.
  • Age 7-8: You need to pay a Psychologist $1000+ for a comprehensive cognitive and educational assessment, because we think your child might be dyslexic. If she is, you’ll have to pay a tutor to help her, because the school spends all its literacy intervention money on the program for 6-7 year olds.

I’m really tired of hearing this story, and aware that the “late bloomer” is usually on a path to failure, so I want to provide parents with earlier, more evidence-based advice. However, I’m too busy to offer a new service myself, so I’ve hired another Speech Pathologist, Nicole Erlich, to offer a reading/spelling assessment package for 6-8 year olds that’s fairly quick, focuses on the things that matter most for beginners, and doesn’t cost the earth. Continue reading

Arrowsmith

The Arrowsmith program has been going for about 35 years, and had a research program for about 18 years.

In all that time, not one study has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal providing reliable scientific evidence that it works. Not one.

Perhaps the Australian Education Union didn’t realise this when giving Canada’s Barbara Arrowsmith-Young (AKA The Woman Who Changed Her Brain) a platform to promote her program here last week.

Radio National also interviewed her but failed to ask her hard questions, like whether her program has actually been shown to work. Continue reading

Controversial dyslexia therapies

Parents often tell me they wasted precious time and money on controversial reading/spelling/dyslexia therapies that didn’t work.

The time wasted is even more of a worry than the money. The more a child falls behind, the more she or he becomes likely to never be able to catch up.

I’ve written a few blog posts about various controversial therapies, but not a summary one that might be easily found by an anxious, googling parent. So I thought this might be a good way to mark the end of Dyslexia Empowerment week, and come in handy while we wait for Pam Snow and Caroline Bowen’s 2017 book “Making Sense of Interventions for Children With Developmental Disorders”.

Most readers of this blog will already know about the MUSEC Briefings, which summarise the research on a large number of special needs interventions, many of them controversial.

Another useful source of information about controversial therapies is a 2015 NZ article called Behavioural Interventions to Remediate Learning Disorders, which reviews Arrowsmith, Brain Gym, Cellfield, Cogmed, Davis, Dore, Fast ForWord, Lexia, Lumosity, Slingerland, Tomatis and several other programs.

The 2007 Santiago Declaration by prominent neuroscientists pointed out that “Neuroscientific research, at this stage in its development, does not offer scientific guidelines for policy, practice, or parenting.” Which is polite scientist speak for “neuro and brain-based interventions are mostly bunkum”. You can read more about this here, here and here. Continue reading

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