During these difficult covid times, education remains of paramount importance and includes the vital component of homework. We know this can be a challenge – especially if students are already completing their daily schoolwork at home, as well as their I Can Read lessons. It’s tempting to overlook homework, but homework involves essential activities which support and reinforce your child’s classroom and online learning. It is important that students know how to tackle homework, in order to reinforce what they learn from their lessons.
We’ve pulled together some useful tips on how you can best support your child to complete their homework during lockdown.
First, your child needs to know and understand the task required. Take a few minutes to sit with them to make sure that he or she fully appreciates exactly what is required to complete the set homework.
First, make sure your child has everything they need to complete the task without having to break their concentration to look for whatever item is missing.
If the task requires handwriting, does your child have clean paper and a good pen or pencil before they start?
If they can complete the homework on a computer, does he or she have access to the device for the duration of the task in order to complete their homework uninterrupted?
It’s a good idea to break the task up into a few sections defined by time. For example, divide the homework into a beginning section, a middle section and a final section. By allocating a set time for each section – say 30 minutes, your child won’t find the task overwhelming and feel discouraged by an hour and a half of continuous homework.
This technique gives them a sense of progress and achievement as they go and makes the work feel much more manageable.
Sections of writing tasks
Most writing tasks involve an introduction, a middle section (body), and a conclusion. An easy way to organise the task is to commence with a plan.
Ask your child to plan his or her work by making brief notes outlining the introduction, then jotting down points to expand on in the body of the piece, then finally, a couple of points for the conclusion to summarise what has been said.
Have your child take a break after the plan is completed. Then use another session to write the introduction, using the notes from the plan. The introduction may be only a paragraph if necessary, but should set the scene for the text.
Give them another a break (unless they are keen to carry on) before commencing the main body of the writing. This is the longest part and several paragraphs may be needed to develop the story, or to list details of a report to support the introduction. The middle section may be done over two sessions if necessary.
Finally, they can write the conclusion by summarising the points made and the premise of the writing.
The length of the piece of writing will determine how many breaks you would like to use to make the task accessible for your child.
READING AND SPELLING HOMEWORK
If the homework consists of reading a story and learning some spelling words from the story, divide the homework into sections. For example, if your child has a week to complete the homework before their next lesson, read the story over two or three sessions, ask the comprehension questions and learn the spelling. Separate these tasks so that the homework is completed over several days, rather than all at once.
Ten minutes reading every day (if your child is learning to read) is preferable to one long session of reading in which the child may be decoding new and unfamiliar words.
Children can tire easily with long tasks, which may affect their enjoyment of reading in the long term. Keeping sessions short makes tasks less arduous, and provides something to look forward to during the break.
Tackling homework demands comes down to using time well. Only work as long as your child is able to before taking a break. If your child works on a task for 30 minutes, perhaps a ten minute break will be in order. Reward positive and cooperative behaviour with small rewards that you know will be effective with your child (though be sure to avoid sugary treats that will affect their ability to concentrate). Allow your child to take breaks but always set a restart time. Say, “We’ll have a short break but you will resume the task in 10 minutes, okay?”
Perhaps agree on an activity they look forward to once they finish their homework, such as playing a favourite game, going for a walk, watching a favourite TV show.
Breaking up tasks into smaller manageable units makes the job seem less onerous and this principle can be applied to most homework challenges.
For younger children, please also remember to check out our series of fun and educational Literacy Guides, which will help you to keep the literacy momentum going between pre-reading and reading lessons. https://icanreadsystem.com/resources/
If you’ve found this article helpful, please let us know and we will write some more along these lines. If there are any particular topics you would like us to address, again, please share your ideas with us and we’ll be happy to include our advice in future articles.
We know that online lessons can be a challenge and it can sometimes be difficult for parents to assist their child to participate. For younger children, the degree of parent interaction will be greater, and this is hard when you may be working yourself at home, and/or have myriad chores to keep on top of.
The psychologists at I Can Read have some suggestions to try to help you make your child’s online learning experience a little easier and less stressful.
Here are our top tips for successful home learning.
Create a quiet space for your child.
We know this is difficult during lockdown when all the family is at home, but it is one of the most important issues your child faces. Distractions of family members, pets, noise in the background, all contribute to reduce the effectiveness of their online lessons. If the lesson is presented by a teacher, these distractions at the student’s home will make the teacher’s job much harder too, especially if there are several students participating in the same lesson. It’s also a good idea to clear a desk or table of anything that could serve as a distraction, so the only thing your child has to focus on is the screen, the lesson, and their notes.
2. Give them privacy.
If your child is fortunate enough to have a one-to-one lesson with their teacher, please get out of the way and give them some privacy! Just as your child would not want you to witness them making a mistake in the classroom, nor would they want you to hear them make a mistake a mistake at home. Just as parents are not present in the classroom at school, we need to respect that dynamic and allow children the freedom to express themselves without feeling conscious of the family listening in.
3. Be mindful of the camera and microphone.
If there are other students participating in the lesson, do remember that they will be able to see you and you will see them. This has implications for the privacy of online lessons, and should be avoided, so it is important to remember not to enter the room, or study area while lessons are in progress. It is also extremely distracting for other students to see you or other members of your family during a lesson or at the beginning of a lesson. Also be aware of noise levels in the home, as your child may be required to unmute their microphone from time to time in order to participate effectively.
4. Get lesson-ready.
Get into the routine of setting up the computer and logging into the lesson well before it starts, to avoid any log in or connection hiccups. If the teacher has to wait while you get everything working, this takes up valuable lesson time. Much better that your child is online and waiting for the teacher, than the other way around, which also gives them a little quiet time to get into learning mode before the lesson starts. The best idea is to show your child how to log in to the lesson so that your assistance is not required, in which case you can be in another room for the duration of the lesson and leave student and teacher to it! Remember, the teacher wants your child’s full attention, and your child will benefit far more from the lesson if he or she is able to give his or her full attention to the teacher.
5. Start an end-of-the-day habit.
Home learning can be tiring and requires more focus than you might think, so at the end of their school day, it is tempting to let your child leave their desk straight away and relax, but just a few minutes preparing for the next day will prove invaluable.
Ask him or her to check what lesson they have first thing the following morning and to make sure they have all the materials they need set up and ready for the next day. Then throughout the day, at the end of each session, to repeat the process and assemble all required items for the next lesson.
It is not advisable to have students leave the lesson to look for a pencil or a book, for example, while the teacher looks at an empty chair and is obliged to wait! If there are other students in the same lesson, they will be obliged to wait also, unless the teacher continues the lesson in your child’s absence, which means he or she will miss part of the lesson.
The result is that everyone concerned will feel frustrated and this will affect the whole lesson.
6. Always be positive and encouraging about online lessons.
Remote teachers are doing their best, and they want their students to try their best also. We can all appreciate that online lessons are not ideal, but they are better than no lessons at all. When your child has finished the lesson and has logged off, then praise him or her, ask if there is any homework, and show how glad you are that he or she is taking their lessons seriously and wants to learn. Ask them to talk about their day and be sure to tell them how their positive attitude makes you proud!
7. Monitor your child’s wellbeing.
First of all, make sure your child is getting enough sleep. It’s tempting to let them stay up a little longer because they don’t have to get to school, but being tired will have a significant impact on their learning ability. Make sure they are awake well in advance of their daily lessons, have had time to eat and digest breakfast and keep well hydrated during the day.
Between lessons, encourage them to go outside and get some exercise and fresh air.
It is also a good idea to check on the temperature and aeriation of the room. Too cold and they won’t be able to concentrate, too warm and they will become lethargic. An open window and a little sunlight can do wonders for their concentration.
Should your child find the challenges of on-line learning unpleasant or emotionally difficult and you are unable to persuade him or her to take part, please don’t be impatient – just allow your child to take a break and then suggest attending for shorter periods until he or she gets used to it. Discuss strategies with your teacher so everyone is on board with a plan to engage your child effectively.
Keeping in touch with their friends is also very important, so coordinate with other parents and try to arrange a time every couple of days for your child to catch up with friends online.
8. Have some fun!
Being at home all day is tiring for the whole family, so give your child something to look forward to in the evening. Whether it’s going for a family walk, playing a game, watching a family movie, or reading a book together, this family time is very important and rejuvenating.
We hope this helps you to get the most out of this difficult time, and if you have any other ideas you would like to share from your own experience, please feel free to post them on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you.
This article should not be taken too seriously, except that the subject of the article is Callum who is 17 years old and has reading difficulties. These difficulties are hampering his life. It is not uncommon for teachers to tell parents whose children are struggling, “They’ll catch up.” But they don’t catch up!
Our view is that if a child cannot read effortlessly by grade three, something is wrong. The article points out two home truths. By grade 3, Callum needed intensive intervention in all areas of literacy, which never happened, so he never received the intervention he needed to overcome his difficulties. Second, his mother spent what she could afford on private tutors but by then, the gap between Callum and his peers was too wide, which is code for he was not instructed properly.
In its simplistic fashion, the article identifies that Callum failed to receive ‘phonics training’ which would certainly been of benefit to him. And that would likely be correct, as phonics has only just been reintroduced to the curriculum this year for year 1 students.
But, as discussed in our previous article https://icanreadsystem.com/when-will-they-ever-learn/, while we are happy to see phonics return as a necessary adjunct in learning how to read, phonics, per se is not sufficient. Teaching children to read is a specialised skill, which unfortunately is not prioritised when training teachers. The renowned researcher Max Coltheart wrote a great article about ten years ago, where he pointed out that the solution was not at hand because there were few people in Australia who could train teachers how to instruct children in the reading acquisition process.
The article hones in on ‘phonics’. It may be that children are not taught enough about phonics, but it is also as likely that those who are given ‘phonics training’ are misdirected and remain teachers of sight-based memory driven methods.
The tragedy is, as the article points out, that one in five 14-year-olds cannot read well enough, according to 2019 NAPLAN results, a figure that’s barely improved over a decade of national testing. Unfortunately, this article seems unaware that ‘Reading Recovery’ despite many teachers endorsing it, has little research to support that it is effective. Connie Juel wrote a penetrative report on Reading Recovery showing that its efficacy depended on children receiving one-on-one instruction and, in any event, the learning effects failed to sustain the child after about six weeks.
Teaching children to read using a word’s meaning as their guide is not balanced literacy. It’s rubbish! But it’s true that ‘Balanced literacy has been favoured by most Australian primary schools and university education faculties for decades’, which may go some way to explaining why so many children have acquired reading difficulties. The article contains a plethora of half-truths and misinterpreted assertions, but is it well meaning?
The syllabic approach does not work, but the article cites a number of schools using it. Its references to synthetic phonics is on steadier ground. However, the 18th century did not favour whole language and if you fail to learn how to read at Oatley Public School you must have a learning difficulty. The deviations to Japanese kana systems are meaningless, though it is probably quite true to assert that, ‘A lot of the kids in year 3, who were being referred to learning support, were struggling with phonemic awareness.’ Many teachers mention phonemic awareness, having little idea how to apply it. However, from what we read, there does seems to be a genuine desire to fix up the mess and one section stands above all others: ‘Children who can decode and understand words will find reading easier, the research says. And the more they read, the more readily they will recognise words, allowing them to focus more on what the words mean. They can fall back on phonics to decode unfamiliar words, just as adults do.’
The politicisation of this debate has not helped. School principals and teachers, irrespective of their time in the system, are unlikely to know how to teach reading, although this lack of expertise does not stop many educators promoting what they consider to be a result of their lengthy time in the classroom.
This article appears to place ‘phonics training’ up against the ineffectiveness of alternative approaches. The research does support phonics instruction if it is taught properly as part of the pre-literacy acquisition process but most often, it is not taught correctly.
Perhaps surprisingly, the ‘back to phonics brigade ‘does help. Many children who fail to appreciate that the spoken language consists of words and words consist of phonemes catch on when this simple fact is pointed out to them. The division between opposing groups as to the best instructional approach seems based more on beliefs rather than evidence. If the evidence was read closely and applied, our failures to teach children how to read would decrease significantly. The debate is not truly between ‘phonics’ and ‘whole word-whole language’ approaches any more than there is a debate between smoking or vaping. Both are bad for you. One might be less bad, so to speak.
With our passion for children’s literacy success, we created I Can Read, building a unique system, that has now taught over 300,000 children to read, and has never had a failure.
If you have concerns about your child’s reading education and would like find out more, we are always happy to chat. Please feel free to contact us any time…
Tony Earnshaw PhD
I Can Read Co-founder and Educational and Cognitive Psychologist
Parents often approach us with concerns that their child may be dyslexic.
So is dyslexia growing at an alarming rate, or is there another explanation? We believe the later.
You may not be aware that research into reading acquisition shows that, irrespective of the instructional methods used by teachers, some 60% of children will learn how to read. So this means, that irrespective of the teaching methods utilised by their teacher, around 60% of students work out for themselves the nature of the alphabetic principle, how to access phonemes, how to process a sequence of phonemes into co-articulated utterances, and more.
This 60% statistic enables schools to claim a majority success in teaching children to read, and the remaining 40% are noted as having some kind of learning difficulty. This is simply not true, and the failure rate of children learning to read at school can be attributed to the instructional inadequacy of the teaching method.
Dyslexia has become an easy label to assign to any child struggling with reading acquisition, while ignoring the root cause.
Some years ago, I worked for the Ministry of Education in Singapore as a Senior Educational Psychologist. Our work creating the I Can Read System had been completed, but we had not yet released the product into the educational market. Many children in Singapore attending elementary or primary school could not read. It was a puzzle, given that most non-readers were of at least average intelligence, and there was no apparent culprit that stood out as the cause of these poor levels of literacy. It was the time of my doctoral studies and my supervisor Professor Brian Byrne was visiting from the University of New England. Professor Byrne wrote The Alphabetic Principle and was right up to speed on the bottom-up approach to reading acquisition, starting with phonemic awareness.
We were both quite surprised at the extent of poor literacy in the local schools. I knew that it was unlikely that more than 3-5% of these students would be dyslexic, so it was a puzzle as to why so many had not learned how to read properly.
First a word about dyslexia.
TRUE DYSLEXIA IS QUITE RARE!
True developmental dyslexia is quite rare. A ‘truly’ dyslexic child resists even the best reading instructional attempts to remediate the condition and the condition has been shown to have strong organic associations both genetically and within the operations of the brain. The current estimate is that up to 5% of children may be in this category. The truth is that no one really knows.
Although we identified 20-40% of children in Singapore schools presenting with reading weaknesses, the fact is that most were not developmentally dyslexic and could respond positively to correct reading instruction. Herein lies the key to the problem of acquired reading difficulties: poor, ineffective teaching methodologies.
Singapore aside, acquired reading difficulties exist in nearly every English-speaking country where children are expected to know how to read, including Australia, and the cause is simply poor, ineffective teaching methodologies. Traditionally, children acquire the skill of learning how to read by passing through a pre-school process such as kindergarten, or they may be home-schooled in their early years and receive misguided instructions from parents or care givers.
We can list a number of such instructional approaches but most of them have a few things in common. These variables are the hidden culprits. What they have in common is that rather than rely on cognitive processing, they are memory-dependent. Teachers commonly start their instructions by drawing attention to the alphabet. They write the letters on a board, a,b,c… and the child often learns the names of the letters before anything else. Later the child may be shown a picture of a cat. The child may say the word /cat/ and be told that the word /cat/ starts with the letter c /see/. Overall, the child is taught the alphabet and is expected to memorise it. This is very common. We have all heard teachers say, “Ay for apple!”
However, there is no relationship between the first sound in the word /cat/, and the letter /see/. What this boils down to is that the child learns a whole language-based recall of previously sighted words. Just take flash cards which juxtapose a picture with a word. The child sees these enough times, and should the child have a strong visual memory, he or she will, in all likelihood, acquire a sight vocabulary of up to 2000 words. If a memory-dependent methodology is utilised by the child successfully, it is highly likely that the child may end up with no way of decoding unfamiliar words, words previously unseen and therefore un-memorised.
A child may look at the word ‘cat’ and say, “See, ay, tee” over and over, but sadly will never be able to produce the word ‘cat’ from this combination of letter names. Or another child (who may have memorised ‘cat’ as a sight word) may look at a nonsense word such as ‘dap’, and by saying “Dee, ay, pee,” will never be able to coarticulate the letters in the word to pronounce the word correctly, without knowing that the word is a combination of sounds (represented by letters) rather than letter names.
Some twenty years ago, most western education systems woke up to the effectiveness of ‘phonics training’, although sadly many failed to understand how phonics training should work. Instead of showing the child a picture of a /cat/ (example) and telling the child that the scribble below ‘says’ cat, teachers showed the child a picture of a cat and told the child that cat has three sounds /cuh-ah-tuh/ so don’t forget that (i.e., remember). Teachers have been famously caught starting ‘phonics training’ by writing the letter ‘a’ on a board and telling the child that this letter says the sound /ah/ and so on, except that it isn’t true. Letters do not make or say sounds. Letters represent sounds (are pictures or drawings of sounds). We make the sounds!
By now you might have gathered that the traditional method for learning to read was and is in many places, based on the ability to remember (for example) that the letter ‘a’ says the sound /ah/. It doesn’t!
The word /have/ does have the sound /ah/ but the word /gate/ does not. Nor do the words /was/, /path/, /any/, /ago/ (and there are more). This is where it all starts to go wrong for the child endowed with a weaker visual memory who applies the memory-dependent lessons into his approach to reading. Cumulatively, children taught to read through a memory-dependent sight-based methodology may work out for themselves the relationship between the spoken word and the ear’s ability to access its sounds and then attach the sound to its common visual representation. If they have (innate) phonemic awareness, the brain – having learned the language/words – they may be able to separate and access the sounds making up a word. Having accessed the sounds without being told the sounds, the next step required is the ability to process the sequence making up the word. It might sound a bit technical, and our opinion is that many children with acquired reading weaknesses are likely to have been taught by teachers who themselves, through no fault of their own, are poorly trained in teaching reading. Thus, these children may be experiencing what we call ‘acquired dyslexia’.
Enrolling your child with a specialist reading centre, such as I Can Read in preparation for starting school, will give them the best chance of reading success and equip them with skills they need to overcome the current ineffective teaching methods they will encounter. However, it is important to continue with their specialist reading education if possible, once they do start school to avoid losing the advantage they have gained.
Having established their child’s early learning, parents often fall into the trap of ceasing this specialist education at the start of Kindergarten. It is their reasonable belief that this external education it is no longer required, but in reality, find their child succumbing to ‘acquired dyslexia’ as a result of having to adapt to the education system’s memory-based learning.
Parents choosing to cease specialist learning at school age may find it useful to return to their reading centre periodically for an assessment to ensure their child is not falling behind.
Some children are better able to adapt than others, but at least being aware will be helpful in monitoring their progress.
The I Can Read system has taught over 300,000 children to read, including those with learning difficulties and some with dyslexia. In our experience, every child can learn to read with the right methodology, and any difficulties you do encounter, is likely not due to dyslexia.
Tony Earnshaw | Co-founder and Educational Psychologist, I CAN READ
If you would like more information on reading acquisition, are concerned about your child’s reading progress, or would like to book a FREE assessment, please contact the I Can Read head office at Dee Why on 02 9972 1419 or
A response to the Department of Education’s latest innovation!
NSW Education authorities are now making an assessment for phonics compulsory for 2021 Grade 1 students. It’s about 20 years late!
Frankly it’s ridiculous. The evidence cited by Sarah Mitchell (State Minister for Education) has been available since the 1970s. Clearly an assessment for phonics sensitivity is required but most so-called education experts do not appreciate that, while phonics awareness is a necessity, it is NOT sufficient for the beginning reader. One wonders how it is possible that a government isn’t up to speed on the research.
The reason is that the Department of Education doesn’t follow the research. Remember how it wasted $450 million on the failed system called ‘Reading Recovery’ which didn’t recover many participants even though a plethora of vocal teachers lauded it. It was applied because of political pressure from a minority of interested parties without the benefit of any supportive data.
This new ‘initiative’ from the NSW Dept of Education won’t hurt. It will mislead parents and teachers into believing that, by returning to a phonics inclusive approach, the solution will be found. The Department is playing catch up, again!
Phonics alone is NOT an effective way to teach reading.
Applying phonics as part of the learning process is clearly an improvement on whatever failed systems the Department currently applies, but it does not teach children how to read. Why the Department continues to trot out simplistic non-existent solutions beats us. Do they think that parents will blindly accept their poorly thought-out approaches?
Research has identified a number of necessary variables required as part of the English language acquisition process and phonics is clearly one of them. Phonics is basically the ability to associate a sound with a written letter. There is also the assumption that those tested will somehow have no difficulties processing the sequences of sounds/letters. This is false because many children will easily follow this approach innately without appreciating their actual cognitive activities.
We have no aim to be inflammatory, or political here – we are simply driven by our passion for the subject and our work of more than 20 years, built on solid research that the Department of Education chooses to ignore. This passion led us to create the unique I Can Read system, a proven and complete bottom-up based system which has taught nearly half a million children to read since 2003 and has never had a failure with its core programme. The I Can Read methodology is completely driven by research and was created by Australian registered educational psychologists.
Created here in Australia, our system was accepted by the Singapore Ministry of Education and made available in schools in that country. I Can Read was instrumental in Singapore becoming one of the most literate countries in the world, and has since spread across Asia.
Australian education leaders declined to embrace our system, and meanwhile, Australia has slipped in literacy from 4th in the world to 17th. For this reason, we created our own I Can Read total literacy learning centres for parents who are simply not satisfied with their childrens’ literacy progress in school.
Stick with those who actually know what they are doing in the application of reading instruction and have the data to back up their claims.
If you’d like more information, check out the following pages of our website, and if you would like to talk to someone to find out more, please call us on 02 9972 1419.