Category Archives: teaching strategies

New Spelfabet workbooks and EOFY discount

I’ve finally finished five new download-and-print Spelfabet workbooks. These version 3 books better align with the Sounds-Write program and the Phonic Books myself and my colleagues are now often using, and with the Drop In Series books for older learners.

For a 20% discount on these and anything else in the Spelfabet shop, type the coupon code “EOFY 2021” at the checkout.

Many of our clients have memory, attention, language or other difficulties as well as learning difficulties, and struggle to make the transition from Sounds-Write’s Initial Code to the Extended Code, which requires them to learn several spellings of a new vowel sound at once.

We only see our clients weekly or fortnightly, so need lots of activities that are easy for parents to supervise at home. I thus wanted new workbooks to teach vowel spellings more gradually, with earlier, explicit teaching about morphemes and work on polysyllabic words, and reviewing prior learning in lots of sentence-writing with punctuation (having read The Writing Revolution).

I’ll be talking about meeting the needs of clients like these at the free online Sounds-Write 1:1 Symposium on May 23-28. The lineup is amazing, it’s hard to know where to start, don’t miss it!

I’ve made videos about each new workbook, in which I hope you enjoy my fire-engine red fingernails (covering ugly nail bruise from dropping a chookhouse paving stone on my finger, yeow). There are also detailed descriptions of each book in the website shop, but essentially their contents are:

Level 1: Words with checked (‘short’) vowels from CVC to CCVCC and CCCVCC (C=consonant, V=Vowel)

Level 2: Consonant digraphs, basic suffixes, and up to three-syllable words with varied stress

Level 3: “Long/short” vowel contrasts, “soft” c and g, extra suffixes and some prefixes

Level 4: Seven extra vowel sounds, four extra vowel spellings, and more practice of patterns introduced in earlier books.

Level 5: 14 extra vowel spellings and more practice of previous patterns.

Like the previous workbooks, Version 3 has a parent/aide edition and a slightly more expensive teacher/clinician edition, the only difference being that you can print more copies of the teacher/clinician file. File pictures are in colour, but you don’t have to colour print them. Most of the pictures in the workbooks are PCS, a trademark of Tobii-Dynavox LLC, all rights reserved, used with permission.

The old Version 2 workbooks and kits are still in my website shop in the “old versions” folder, if you still want one, or haven’t finished downloading ones you’ve bought. Sorry that I’ve only been able to finish half the workbooks for Version 3, I’m working on more now, but life is busy!

Hope you and yours are all staying virus-free (I’ve had my first vaccine), and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the new workbooks.

New Embedded Picture Mnemonics now available

Despite a universe determined to throw spanners in my works, I’ve finally put artist Cat MacInnes’ new, improved version 2 Embedded Picture Mnemonics into the Spelfabet website shop. If you already bought version 1, you can now upgrade for free.

Research has shown embedded picture mnemonics help children learn the relationships between speech sounds and letters.

There are now two versions of the Spelfabet Embedded Picture Mnemonics: one for speakers of Australian/British (non-rhotic) English, and one for speakers of American (rhotic) English. If you speak another version of English, download both files and mix and match to suit your accent.

Each set contains a mnemonic for each sound (phoneme) plus one for each of the three letters that represent the same sound as c (k, q, x). The pictures are now more relevant outside Australia, with k as in ‘key’ not ‘kangaroo’, ur as in ‘burn’ not ‘surf’ and u as in ‘up’ not ‘undies’ (I’m a little sad about the undies, so if you are too, just keep using the original mnemonic).

The sets now contain ‘o’ as in ‘octopus’, ‘ue’ as in ‘statue’, ‘or’ as in ‘horn’, ‘th’ as in ‘thunder’ and ‘themselves’, and ‘f’ as in ‘fish’ (no adjacent consonant). There are new ‘aw’ as in ‘claw’ and ‘wh’ as in ‘whale’ mnemonics in the US set. The relationship between ‘short’ and ‘long’ vowels is now clearer, as the ‘long’ vowels have a consistent format (ae, ee, ie, oe, ue).

Both the Aust/UK and US A4 poster size files can be found here. The pictures on them are now bigger, with less white space around them.

Both the Aust/UK and US A4 flashcard size files (four to a page) are here. Consonants are in portrait format and the vowels are in landscape format, which I hope helps children understand the difference between vowel and consonant sounds.

You can make and change words with these embedded picture mnemonics, using the flashcard size with individuals and small groups, like this:

Use the poster size mnemonics if doing this with a whole class, asking a child to hold each mnemonic you’ve taught and another child to rearrange them, while the rest of the class writes down the words thus created.

You can also use the mnemonics to build Sound Walls with your class, adding sounds and/or spellings as they are taught in your phonics teaching sequence, and refreshing the wordlists as new vocabulary is learnt, so that you might end up with mnemonics that look like this:

 

 

 

Teachers, therapists and others have already thought of lots of other great ways to use these mnemonics – too many to list here.

Thanks for the feedback and questions about version 1, which made me think about how to improve them. I hope you like Version 2, and thanks to the always-creative Cat MacInnes for her artistic talent, patience and hard work.

Steps for upgrading a previously-purchased file:

1. Go to the Spelfabet website and click on My Account.

2. Type in the email address you used for your original purchase, and the password you created. If you can’t remember your password, just reset it.

3. Go to the downloads area, click on the file(s) you want, and save it/them to your computer before printing. Ordinarily you get three chances to download any file from the online shop, in case of computer crashes or power outages, but I’ve increased this to four for these files in case some previous purchasers have used up their first three.

Any feedback or problems, email me on info@spelfabet.com.au.

New things at Spelfabet

The COVID-19 pandemic knocked most of my plans sideways and sent me into too-tired-to-blog mode for most of the last year, but here are five new things we’ve been working on:

  • Intensive school holiday and Saturday groups for ages 6-8
  • New, improved Embedded Picture Mnemonics (Aust/UK and US versions)
  • Version 3 Spelfabet workbooks
  • Local Community of Practice (INMELLCoP)
  • Decodable text writing interface

Continue reading

Survey (with amazing prizes) of our local schools

Last year, some colleagues and I decided to start an Inner North Melbourne Early Language and Literacy Community of Practice (INMELLCoP), to bring together local teachers, speech pathologists, psychologists and others, build knowledge of language and literacy best practices, and share resources, ideas and experience.

Our inspiration was Pam Snow and colleagues’ Bendigo group, BELLCoP. We sought to complement not compete with Nathaniel Swain and colleagues’ inner Melbourne group MELLCoP, since renamed Think Forward Educators. Our focus is further north, on the Yarra, Darebin and Moreland local government areas.

We decided to gather some data to inform our work, by surveying local primary schools about how they currently teach reading and spelling, and offering a prize draw for those assisting. Then COVID-19 hit, and we had to focus on other priorities for a while.

Our survey is finally available, so if you work in a school in Moreland, Yarra or Darebin, please complete it before 30 October, by clicking on this link. It takes 5-10 minutes. We’ve also emailed information about the survey to relevant local schools.

We’re a bit astonished by the thousands of dollars worth of prizes we’re able to offer to those filling in our survey, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Nessy, Dyslexia Victoria Support and Little Learners Love Literacy. The prizes are:

The survey closes at the end of this month and the prize draw will take place at the next INMELLCoP virtual meeting at 6.30pm on November 4th. This meeting will also consider the de-identified survey data, and how to respond to it in 2021.

If you’re a local and would like to attend the meeting, you can register here. We will send out the Zoom link on the day. I’ll put an INMELLCoP home page on my website soon, to publicise our news and schedule.

If you’re not in our area, maybe you’d like to start something similar? We’d love to hear about it if you do.

Have you signed the Primary Reading Pledge?

Learning Difficulties Australia, AUSPELD and the Five From Five project have together developed the Australian Primary Reading Pledge.

This seeks to reduce to near zero the number of children who finish primary school unable to read, by providing schools with an evidence-based, easy-to-implement framework for reading assessment and intervention.

Children attend primary school for seven years full-time, yet this year over 50,000 Australian students started secondary school with low literacy skills. This is not a surprise – about the same number of kids were struggling in Year 5 NAPLAN in 2018, but our system lacks effective, systematic follow-up, so they continue to struggle.

It’s time to stop teaching the habits of weak readers in the early years (three-cueing, incidental phonics, memorising high-frequency wordlists, etc) and give teachers the professional development, resources and leadership they need to teach these kids more successfully, persisting for as long as it takes.

You can read the Primary Reading Pledge’s plan to achieve this here, and show your support here.

Dr Jennifer Buckingham of the Five From Five project presented a free webinar for LDA about the Primary Reading Pledge last month, which is still available to view on YouTube, if you’d like more details:

The negative consequences of reading failure for both individuals and society are massive, and with the right intervention there are very few people who can’t learn to read. This is ultimately a social justice issue – kids whose parents can’t afford private tutors or therapists should not be left to fall through the literacy cracks.

I hope you’ll join me in signing the Primary Reading Pledge, and encourage others to do likewise. The list of signatories to date is on the signup page (just scroll down), if you want to check who has already signed. Schools can also sign the Pledge, so please bring it to the attention of school leaders you know.

Telling the Spelfabet story

You might have seen the recent, excellent guest posts on La Trobe University academic Emina McLean’s blog by teachers, telling their stories about discovering the science of reading. If you haven’t read them, her blog is here, and the posts so far are:

Emina also writes about what research shows does and doesn’t work in getting people to change their minds and their practice, which is pretty consistent with one of my favourite YouTube videos:

Since stories are more powerful than facts, I’ve decided to have a go at communicating my Spelfabet story: realising a lot of my clients couldn’t read because they hadn’t been systematically and explicitly taught to decode/encode words, teaching them successfully and setting up my website to share this knowledge and related strategies, resources and research.

Instead of a blog post, I have made a nearly nine minute (yeek! Too long! But it’s hard to cut back) video, which is now on my website home page. I hope it helps encourage others to also share their stories and connect with each other in a No-Shame zone, realising that we’ve all made mistakes and missed opportunities, are all always doing our best, and that (as the good folk at the US Reading League say) when we know better, we do better. Here it is:

Thanks to Emina for her excellent, strategic insight (she might still be looking for guest posts if you have an inspiring story you’d like to tell!), her storytellers, and also to former colleague Nicole Erlich who bought me the book “The Influential Mind” a few years ago, and I didn’t pay as much attention to it as I should have (another mea maxima culpa, I’m not even a Catholic, sigh).

We’re still in COVID-19 Stage 4 lockdown here in Melbourne, but had only 14 new cases today (huzzah!) so fingers and toes crossed the end is in sight. Stay well!

THRASS: the phonics of Whole Language

People often ask my opinion of the THRASS (Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills) approach, which has long been used in many Australian schools. Till now I’ve mostly replied that I’m no expert on it, but I’m yet to see robust research evidence supporting it, and aspects of it have never made enough sense to me to invest in the training.

I once worked at a school in a tiny room where lots of THRASS resources gathered dust. Two huge, laminated THRASS wall charts kept overwhelming their blu-tack and falling on my head.

I looked through the resources, but was working mostly with kids with language disorder or intellectual disability, and they would have been overwhelmed by wordy, THRASS-chart-based spelling explanations like this or this (cognitive load!). The THRASS graphemes kit was too big for our room’s tiny table, and lacked example words and some of the graphemes I wanted, so I made my own.

I tried using a THRASS board game but found it a bit incomprehensible. I don’t like teaching program-specific jargon, like “phoneme fists” or “grapheme catch-alls”, and rapping THRASS chart words might be fun, but I’m not sure why else you’d do it. Continue reading