Category Archives: teaching strategies

Budget embedded picture mnemonics

Early years teachers around Australia are this week starting to set up their classrooms for the new school year. Many are about to set up alphabet friezes and word walls.

I’m hoping that my new, cheap-and-cheerful embedded picture mnemonics ($10 plus GST) will encourage and help them to instead set up sound friezes or sound walls.

Early last year I commissioned talented, tolerant, patient Melbourne illustrator Cat MacInnes to turn my vague ideas into 46 cute, colour pictures you can print to help kids learn sound-letter relationships. They’re her copyright, so I have a limited number available (get in quick!).

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Free early phonemic awareness, phonics and handwriting workbook

Last week, I read my state education department’s booklet advising parents on how to help children with literacy and numeracy. I understand it will be in the Prep bags given to all Victorian children starting school in 2019.

I was, frankly, appalled. The booklet mentions phonics only once, saying onscreen phonics games improve reading and “letter sound awareness”, whatever that is. It doesn’t mention phonemic awareness or handwriting at all.

A ton of scientific research has shown that phonemic awareness and phonics are key ingredients in getting literacy beginners off to a good start, along with work on vocabulary, comprehension and fluency, and that writing letters helps you remember them. Continue reading

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

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:

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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.

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Free Learning Difficulties Including Dyslexia webinars

La Trobe University and the Victorian Department of Education have this year collaborated to run workshops across Victoria about learning difficulties including dyslexia. The workshops have been available to teachers and other Department of Education staff.

The information from these workshops is now being made available free online via YouTube as webinars. Wow. Amazingly generous of both the University and the Department, since most professional development of this type and quality is paywalled. So thanks to all involved.

The webinars are presented by Dr Tanya Serry from La Trobe University, and the workshops on which they are based were developed with Professor Pamela Snow, Ms Emina McLean and Assistant Professor Jane McCormack also from La Trobe, and Dr Lorraine Hammond from Edith Cowan University in WA. Continue reading

The definition of decoding (or “glamping with David Hornsby”)

Last May, educational consultant David Hornsby spoke at Sydney University about “The Role of Phonics in Learning to be Literate”, and his talk was recorded and put on YouTube.

I recently heard from the Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy Network that the video was being shared widely by teachers on social media. So I took a look.

Mr Hornsby begins by explaining that his definition of decoding is “making meaning or comprehending”. Here’s his slide saying this, in case you think I made it up:

In the solidly-evidence-based Simple View of Reading, the term “decoding” usually means word identification, whether this is achieved by sounding out words, or instantly and without conscious effort, once a familiar word’s spelling, pronunciation and meaning are bonded in memory (via orthographic mapping, or in dual route models, via the lexical route).

Sometimes researchers use “decoding” to mean only sounding out words, but in both its broader and narrower definitions in the reading research, decoding’s key focus is linking print to speech.

Decoding is not about semantics, syntax or context, which fall on the Language Comprehension side of the Simple View of Reading equation (Decoding multiplied by Language Comprehension equals Reading Comprehension). Continue reading

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