Category Archives: UK/US spellings

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

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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

What kind of knowledge is needed for good spelling?

A lot has been written by philosophers and in Dilbert cartoons about different types of knowledge.

Often these are described using terms like “explicit” versus “tacit” or “declarative” versus “procedural” knowledge. What matters most for spelling?

Declarative versus procedural knowledge

Explicit, declarative knowledge is theoretical information about a subject e.g. that we use a base 10 number system, and that our Solar System has 8 planets (sorry, Pluto). Libraries, databases and the internet are full of it.

Procedural knowledge is often harder to describe (more tacit) and more practical. It’s knowing how to do something, like tie up a shoelace, play the guitar or ride a bike.

I have quite a bit of explicit, declarative knowledge about how to play brilliant tennis (yes, the Australian Open men’s final is on, but we love both Roger and Raffa, so who to barrack for?!) but despite years of trying (our tiny country town didn’t have enough kids to field a team without unco asthmatic me), I never managed to convert this into much procedural knowledge.

I’ve been nerdily immersed in spelling books lately, and have realised that most books about spelling are full of explicit, declarative knowledge, but aren’t necessarily much help with the “how”, or what we should be doing to build tacit, procedural knowledge of spelling. Continue reading

Speak like the Queen when spelling long words

Recently I told a tweenage student to “speak like the Queen” when spelling long words, and her mother said “I don’t think you’ve ever heard the Queen speak, have you?” (headshake). “We must listen to the Queen’s Christmas Message this year”.

The Queen’s Christmas Message was A Thing Australians listened to, before we had 27,000 TV channels and our own national anthem, and before Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith became so elderly she stopped going on telly much.

Fortunately, not only is Her Majesty now on Twitter, but her Christmas messages are on Youtube, in case any kids you know want to listen to them, with a view to imitating her wonderfully rounded vowels and crisp and precise consonants while spelling. Here’s last year’s, skip to 0:45 on the video clock for where she starts talking:

I’m sure if we all enunciated words like “sculpture”, “reconciliation”, “sacrifice”, “captured”, “referendum” and “Ebola” like Her Majesty, we’d always spell them right. Continue reading

Reading Bear

Reading Bear is an American website containing free phonics and vocabulary activities which are designed for young children, but aren’t actually very teddy-bearish, so could be used with older catch-up learners too.

The idea came from Larry Sanger, one of the people behind Wikipedia – the sort of person who makes the rest of us feel inadequate, and recalls the Tom Lehrer joke, “When Mozart was my age, he had already been dead for three years”.

Funding for the site came from an anonymous donor, and lots of volunteers and other good people contributed with the intention of creating something great to help little English-speaking kids around the world learn to read, and build their vocabularies. Nice one.

You can use the site without logging in (she wrote, aware that she just lost a lot of readers who are now going to click here and explore the site for themselves), but if you do tell the site your email address and a password, then you’re instantly logged in and can start adjusting the settings and recording your progress.

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English Isn’t Crazy!

“English Isn’t Crazy! The Elements Of Our Language and How to Teach Them” is a neat little book by US author Diana Hanbury King, who’s been working with struggling readers and spellers since before most of us were born.

It’s written for teachers who want to know more about the English language.

The book gives a thumbnail sketch of how the English we speak today has changed over the centuries, from Proto-Indo-European, through the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Old English, the Normans, Middle English, the Classical Revival, Modern English and American English. It’s not as hilarious as the UK Open University’s History of English in 10 Minutes, but is more consistently factual.

A very easy read

I especially appreciated its simplicity and readability, having waded through David Crystal’s dense, 584 page The Stories of English, an authoritative enough tome to have its own Wikipedia entry (since our Environment Minister researched the link between climate change and bushfires on Wikipedia, we Aussies are making more Wikipedia jokes).

“English Isn’t Crazy” is 120 pages long, including seven appendices and a bibliography, and it’s a very easy read. I got through it in a couple of hours. Perfect for teachers easing back from holidays, and parents wanting to help kids understand English spelling complexity.

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Yes Phonics

I've been looking around for extra materials to add to this site's Phonics Resources pages, so I thought I'd work through the ones on Wikipedia's List of Phonics Programs page.

The first one on the list is Yes Phonics. So I went to the Yes Phonics website and found an orange box saying "Test Drive The Express Program For Free! Start Teaching Phonics Today! Start now".

"How good is that?" I thought. Two exclamation marks. I signed up straight away.

Immediately there was an email in my inbox, thanking me for signing up and promising me 14 days of exciting sample lessons, ready to use with my learner.

The email says, "Start by watching this fun, engaging 26-minute video" to learn the basics of how to easily decode English.

26 minutes is nearly half an hour, which is quite long, but anyway it's school holidays and I had time, so I settled down to watch. Continue reading