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.
It’s hard to know exactly how your child is performing in literacy, and how to benchmark their progress. With children home-schooling, you currently have a rare opportunity to see them in action and with this guidance can gain a valuable insight into their reading competency.
By around the age of 7, all children should be literate and well able to read. In order to become literate, children must be taught how to read by teachers who are properly trained in the acquisition process. Though you could reasonably expect this to be the case in our schools, it unfortunately is not, which goes some way to explaining how and why Australian children now rank around 17th on the world scale where once they were ranked 3rd.
This article however, is not about why our ranking in Australia is so dismal or how it came to be. It’s about markers, which identify that your child may be at risk of reading failure. This is very important because the fact is that should your child be failing to acquire the necessary skills to become literate, it is likely that without the correct intervention, your child will continue to underachieve in this area. If you would like to read more information on this topic, check out our blog article on the subject https://icanreadsystem.com/why-the-final-australian-education-system-is-failing-your-child/
For the purpose of this article, we will assume that your child is 7 years or older and you have some concerns about his or her reading skills. Many children under the age of 7 years are not yet appropriately literate but the indicators of later reading failure are more subtle and as a parent or primary caregiver you should get your child assessed in order to determine if there are or will be problems in the future.
Assuming your child is 7 years or older, we can make some observations which should raise the red flag and you might consider doing some follow up. Please do not take on board anyone who says, “Oh, he’ll be right. He or she will come good later.” The evidence is that the child will not come good unless you take some positive action.
Let’s explore what observations you might make and what might be done to remedy them.
Children destined to become poor readers are hardly likely to enjoy reading, so make a note of how much your child actually reads without being pushed. If your child presents as quite competent in other indirectly related areas such as use of social media and communication, it may be that they just prefer not to read books. Try to avoid acting too concerned with your child, but time how long they might take to read something they themselves have picked up, and casually try to determine how much they comprehended. Should your child only read reluctantly, you may have some issues to address.
Today, with a lot of research identifying the importance of the relationship between sound and associated alphabetic symbols, you might like to note how easily your child associates sounds with the letters of the alphabet. Difficulty manipulating sounds in words is one of the hallmark characteristics of reading difficulties and can be seen at a young age. Your child might struggle with rhyming, word games, or recognizing words that start with the same sound so a few game-like exercises might indicate there are some issues to address.
For instance, if your child has difficulties playing the age-old game of ‘I Spy’, you might need to take a closer look. Make sure that you play the game by saying, “I spy with my little eye something beginning with the sound /cuh/,” but don’t say with the letter ‘c’. Choose objects represented by unambiguous first sounds like ‘cat‘ or ‘car’ but not ‘city’ which starts with the sound /ssss/ for example.
You can play a game by saying, “I’ll say 2 words which start with the same sound, like /cat and /car/ so what sound do they both start with?” The answer is /cuh/, not ‘c’ (the letter name).
In short, a child likely to have reading delay or problems with acquisition will probably present with a number of issues, which are listed below. These indications may be summed up as negative. Negative, in that your child is unlikely to read much or will not enjoy reading if he or she is challenged in these ways. You may be advised to get an assessment if you are concerned. A good assessment will determine the root cause for your child’s issues. Our experience is that an early identification of possible impediments to becoming a good reader makes it much more probable that the issues can be rectified with the right intervention by a professional reading teacher. Bear in mind that your child may, in today’s world, just not want to read when he or she has an internet connected device to play with. It’s worth your while to find out.
Here is a list of the more common indicators of reading delay:
Slow reading speed.
This indicates your child has issues with processing the text. They may be struggle to remember sight words rather than having the ability to decode the words and therefore be able to read words that are new to them.
Transposing letters in words.
This is when your child mixes letters up, causing them to incorrectly ‘read’ certain words.
Poor reading comprehension
Not only does the child have issues with articulating the words but also in understanding them.
Difficulty identifying single words
If your child reads books they are familiar with, they begin to memorise the text. Try pointing our single words to see whether they are able to read them in isolation. Memorising text could mean your child is lacking decoding skills.
Problems with spelling
Spelling issues are quite complex and linked to decoding ability. If your child has problems spelling relatively simple words, this indicates they have not acquired the phonemic skills required to correctly construct the words.
Omission or substitution of words while reading
Look out for your child glossing over, or guessing challenging words, rather than sounding out and decoding them.
Reversal of words while reading
If your child reverses some words, for example, the word ‘bad’ becomes ‘dab’. This usually happens when the first and last letters are similar, or mirror images of each other.
Your childstruggles to decode words by breaking them down into syllables. They may even have difficulty with single letters and associating them with specific sounds.
Limited sight word vocabulary
Sight words are subject to recall abilities, and there is a limit to the number of words a child can retain in his or her memory. This is why decoding skills are so important. Sight words do have a role to play, but should not form the basis of reading acquisition.
Resistance to reading and lack of enjoyment
This is a big indicator of poor or weak reading skills. If reading is difficult for your child, it will always feel like a chore and they will resist.
In summary, people traditionally believed that learning how to read was something they ‘picked up’ as part of their overall education. Some children actually do pick up reading skills and there’s a reason they do. But those who cannot, need to have parents on their toes and taking notes, because – and keep this in mind – ‘it is unlikely that your child will grow out of any reading difficulty’ and poor literacy will prove to be a real hindrance for them in today’s world.
If you have concerns about your child’s reading abilities, please contact us for advice. We are passionate about early literacy and always happy to discuss any issues you may have, or answer any questions.
We continue to offer our free diagnostic assessment service via zoom, maintaining our face-to-face process as far as possible.
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