Good literacy is not just about learning to read. While reading is indeed the foundation and the cornerstone of literacy acquisition, a full immersion approach is required to really help your child to thrive throughout the whole spectrum of their education.
What we call the ‘total literacy learning experience’ includes spelling, grammar, comprehension, creative writing and oral presentation skills. This holistic approach will create so much more than competent readers; students who learn through the total literacy method become confident in every aspect of the English language, and the effects of this will reach every aspect of their education and development.
Consider how difficult maths might be for a child who struggles to read well. They may actually be quite competent with the mathematical challenges themselves, but never manage to excel in the subject, simply because they cannot fully understand some of the written instructions.
If a child seems to perform quite well in school, but finds maths homework difficult, the issue could very well be one of literacy. In class he or she has the benefit of the teacher’s explanation, but at home, must rely on the written instructions provided.
If you have seen your child’s progress in maths (or any other subject) deteriorate during the recent periods of home learning, it may be due to the increase in written instructions they were required to process, versus direct teacher interaction.
We see time and again the incredibly positive impact the total literacy learning concept has on the general education and confidence of a child. Confident readers with competence in spelling, grammar, comprehension, creative writing and oral presentation skills tend to excel across the wide range of subjects that form their school education.
The power of mastering the English language in this comprehensive manner cannot be underestimated. It is truly the vehicle that will drive your child’s whole education.
In addition to reading acquisition, let’s look at these other vital elements of a child’s literacy learning.
The key to good spelling is the ability to decode and construct words. That’s why it’s critical that any reading acquisition programme develop your child’s literacy through sounds, and pre-reading skills. This method avoids memory-dependent techniques and instead focuses on how the brain processes information from sounds to sight.
This means students learn how to ‘really read’ unfamiliar words and are able to spell successfully from their understanding of how words break down into sounds, rather than attempting to memorise their spelling. Decoding words in order to read them and encoding and spelling words are two sides of the same literacy coin. They go hand in hand to advance your child’s reading and writing abilities.
Grammar can be confusing, but once the rules are understood it’s a breeze for students. Children learn to identify parts of speech and how to use them effectively, when and how to use apostrophes, commas, prepositional phrases, colons and semicolons, and much more, as well as applying correct homophones suffixes. Grasping the rules of grammar is essential for reading comprehension, and creative writing.
Comprehension in reading is often the biggest challenge for school students. Being able to read a text does not always mean understanding it. It can be especially difficult for children to pick up on content that is inferred or implied. If you find your child does not fare well in reading comprehension, consider that the issue is much wider than the subject of literacy itself. Full and clear comprehension of written instructions, text books and assignment briefs for every subject may also present problems for them.
Learning to write well is a natural progression for a student who has been taught how to read the right way. The ‘total literacy learning’ method enables students to learn how to write a sentence, when to paragraph, how to use figurative language, how to write persuasively, create engaging openings and compelling arguments, and how to write creatively. Combining a structured teaching program with freedom of expression, creates significant results. It’s hard to overstate the importance of producing well-written material to a student’s success through school and university, and beyond into their working life.
At I Can Read, we pioneered the concept of a fully integrated total literacy learning concept, which includes our unique and proprietary reading system, based on years of professional research and studies by our educational psychologists.
If you want to give your child the very best chance of academic success – contact us to find out more – we always love talking literacy!
We all understand that reading and writing play an essential part in learning – in fact, literacy is a fundamental foundation and framework for all aspects of education. Literacy development is the key to your child’s ability to engage, not only in education, but in society in general. Literacy skills give children the confidence to communicate with others, to think analytically, engage in critical thinking, and grasp new concepts with cognitively flexibility. Without these basic skills, children are unlikely to excel in school and in later studies.
With a very long holiday looming, you have the perfect opportunity to really explore literacy with your child in a way that will create a passion for books and reading and instil a love of literacy that really will last a lifetime.
Accomplish this and see how their general education begins to take flight when they return to school.
It’s a well-known fact that children have a much larger capacity for learning than adults, which is why it is so important to create the desire in your child to seek out books early on and engage them in a continual process of wanting to learn new words and literacy skills.
If you needed a further incentive, according to a study by the UK Literacy Trust, children who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have robust mental well-being.
So, here are a few ideas to keep you busy this holiday…
Explore the art of storytelling
We all know how children love to play and use their imagination to tell stories, create elaborate ‘play’ scenarios, and express themselves generally. Notice how they love to tell you all about new words they have learned, and how excited they are to put these new words into practice.
Leverage this natural ability by encouraging storytelling. This is a powerful strategy for improving children’s writing and creative thinking abilities as it does not offer any restraints. For younger children who have not yet learned to write, just have fun making up stories together and exploring the sounds of the words they are using. You can also use this method to build vocabulary, by discussing the meaning of a word and looking at different ways of saying the same thing.
To help you keep the ideas flowing, try offering your child a few random objects (or pictures of objects) and ask them to create a story around them. You can make it more fun by making a bag of different items and asking them to select one ‘blindly’ from the bag. You can even create separate bags of ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ contents and have them pick an object from each bag. For example, this could form the basis of a story about a space man, who has a purple monkey and lives in caravan. The stranger the objects, the more creative their stories will be!
Put on a show
Many children love to perform for you, so another fantastic way to engage your child or children in talking and storytelling is to have them put on a show! Give them a framework to work to, which encourages them to write or plan a story first, then act it out using props, or maybe even puppets. As well as fostering creativity, this will help boost their language skills and build their vocabulary in a way that simply feels like play. This also has a very positive impact on their general self-confidence.
Simply does it
Now, we know you won’t be in the mood for story games and pantomime every day of the week, so mix it up with some very simple activities that are also extremely effective.
Activities such as singing nursery rhymes, playing a game of “I spy”, rhyming word games, treasure hunts with written clues etc.
Make writing fun
Finding ways to make writing exciting for children is often a tricky task. Try making up some prompt cards they can use to get started and write sentences or short stories, depending on their ability.
These might include openings such as:
I went to the beach, and I played…
When I was at the zoo, I saw…
If I could fly I would…
If I was invisible, I would…
One day I want to visit…
You can encourage your child to talk about their ideas first, then write them down and draw pictures to make it more fun.
If you have more than one child, or your child has friends over, try having them write a story together by each writing the first sentence, then swapping or rotating and have the children take turns, swapping after each sentence to create the story. This is a great way to get them thinking about what has already been written and make decisions on how to continue the story. The stories will naturally be weird and wonderful, which will provide much amusement and engagement. We bet they will continue doing this of their own volition once they get the hang of it.
One inventive mum we know of used to write her daughter a note at the end of each day, to tell her what she had enjoyed that they had done that day, something that made her laugh, or how proud she was of something her child had achieved. She would leave this by her daughter’s bed every night so she could read it in the morning. It wasn’t long before her daughter started to reciprocate and leave a note for her mum before she went to bed. This is a lovely way to encourage writing and exploring new words to properly describe what your child wants to say, as well as creating a very strong bond between parent and child.
If you do try this though, please don’t ask your child to reciprocate, they will do so in their own time, and you may jeopardise the initiative if you push it too soon.
Draw me a picture
If your child prefers drawing to writing, you will have more success engaging their creativity with drawing games, rather than trying to force the issue with writing. If they feel comfortable, their skills will develop, and they will get to writing as they progress.
Ask your child to draw a picture of some favourite stories and ask them to just write names or some words that help to bring the story to life with their picture. Again, you can use the pictures to have your child re-create the story with a new twist and add more pictures and new characters, which they will need to name. How about having your child draw each of the characters in the story individually, then creating new scenes and mixing up the characters to create a new story?
If your child is very young, you can even download printables from the internet and ask them to colour in the pictures if they don’t feel so confident in drawing pictures of their own.
Revitalise reading time
One of the best ways to improve literacy skills is by encouraging a love of books and maintaining that love. Interaction when reading is important, even for babies and toddlers, so start off with board books, lift the flap books etc., that have tactile elements and sounds.
Using finger puppets or characters can also help to bring the story to life and make the experience more enjoyable. As your child gets older it’s fun to encourage them to try different voices for different characters. You can also weave discussions into your reading sessions and ask them questions about each character, what they think about the places they live or visit, what the weather is doing, etc. This helps them engage much more in the story.
If your child is tired, or is not keen on reading generally, don’t underestimate the value of reading to them. Listening to a story will help your child develop their vocabulary, as well as their ability to listen and concentrate and connect sounds and words. You can stop and discuss the story at intervals to check their understanding, and discuss words and their meanings, as well as sounds and similar sounding words. If you read a favourite book regularly, discuss how they might make the story more interesting by adding a new character, or making a different ending to expand their imagination.
By introducing children to a diverse range of books, including fairy tales, funny stories, adventures, factual books, poems, and historical tales, you will improve their ability to understand a wide variety of concepts and the world around them.
Team up with technology
With devices such as iPads, smartphones and e-readers present in everyday life, we certainly cannot ignore technology. There are some good literacy apps and websites out there but beware of any that rely on memory-based learning and word acquisition and seek out those that focus on letter and word sounds.
Here are a few we would recommend: Word Mania and Hopster are fun and educational apps that will engage your young child.
For older children, word search games and crossword puzzles are beneficial too.
Our final thoughts
As a parent, your role in establishing fertile ground for the growth of your child’s literacy learning is a vital one and will help them to thrive at school. Your main goal should be to develop an enthusiasm for literacy, creating a rich and inviting environment that fully immerses your child in the learning experience with joy. Achieve this and you will be well on the way to helping them acquire the all-important skills and knowledge that will have them set for life.
At I Can Read, our approach to learning is fun and experiential, in very small groups, which will give your child the essential skills required for literacy success. We love working in partnership with parents to establish total literacy learning. You can find more information on our programmes here.
And if you are looking for holiday activities for your children that are both educational and great fun, check out our holiday programmes here.
You can also request our series of Literacy Guides that will help to keep your child engaged and entertained during the break.
Wishing you all a magical Christmas and New Year break.
As the lockdown continues, we’re sure you must be running out of ways to entertain your child, never mind keep them engaged in learning. In previous blogs, we’ve offered suggestions of how to make the most of home learning, so now – especially as we enter the holiday period – we thought you might appreciate some ideas for fun games you can play with your child that are also educational, so they will be improving their literacy skills without even realising.
Even once Term 4 resumes, you might find these games make a welcome break from your child’s daily learning, so keeping one or more as part of your daily routine will be a great way of building their vocabulary and phonemic development.
Play word games while walking with the family – I Spy, finding something beginning with a certain sound. This is an easy one that you don’t need any materials for and takes very little effort. Be sure to use sounds rather than the letter names, which will better assist their reading acquisition.
Make a treasure hunt in the garden or house with clues they have to read. This game requires a little more time investment and creativity, but is great fun and the reward mechanism involved is something children love. It might be somewhat onerous to make this a daily, or even weekly activity, but every couple of weeks or once a month is a good idea, as it gives your child something to look forward to – and gives you the time to think up more creative clues and hiding places.
Invest in some crossword puzzle books, or download some printable crosswords and do them together. Easy crosswords are fun and educational, such as these: https://www.puzzles-to-print.com/crossword-puzzles-for-kids/ We also love this website, which has crosswords based on the books of Roald Dhal. This is a great way to combine reading and games. You can spend time reading the books first, then work on the puzzles, which is a clever and fun way to nurture comprehension.
Word searches are fun too, but it’s important for younger children to source puzzles that use lowercase fonts. You can find some lower case printable wordsearch puzzles here https://30seconds.com/mom/tip/15256/Printable-Word-Search-Puzzles-for-Kids-10-Activities-That-Help-With-Spelling-Vocabulary-Memory-Much-More
Download and work through the ICR Literacy Guides. Head to the RESOURCES page of our website, where you can request our Literacy Guides, which break down reading development into easy bite-sized chunks, with guidance on each topic. We post a new guide every month, so you can request all of the guides currently available, then check in each month to get the next issue.
Set aside time for reading together each day – making it fun. Not all children have a natural love of reading, so if reading time feels stressful for your child, or they find it difficult, they are going to resist. Think of ways to make this a special time of the day for them. For many children, simply having some quiet, uninterrupted time with you and reading together and maybe enjoy their favourite drink or snack as a treat is enough. But you can also get creative with this, and have your child create a tent where you can snuggle up together and read, or if the sun is shining, make a little picnic in the garden to accompany your reading time. Take the time to invest in making this essential learning time special and in no time you won’t have to persuade your child to read – they will be the one reminding you.
Make a list of words and play a “yes” or “no” game to work out each word, with questions such as:
· Does the word begin with the sound /cuh/?
· Does the word end in a vowel?
· Does the word have two syllables?
Make up silly rhymes, even inventing nonsense words. This can be so much fun and as the rhyming is the important part of this exercise the words don’t even have to mean anything.
Take turns in coming up with words that begin or end with a certain sound. You can also turn this into a more physical game, for example, by combining it with a game of ‘catch’. Think of a sound, then each person has to think of a word beginning with that sound as they catch the ball. Keep going until you run out of words, then start again with a new sound.
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.
Contact us via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 02 9972 1419.
I recently came across this article, which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5th March 2021, with the alarming title;
Kids in the crossfire: ‘It’s not just that they can’t read – it affects every minute of their day’.
You can read the full article here, but as a literacy and reading acquisition expert and educational psychologist, I wanted to offer my interpretation of the piece.
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
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.