The library is a very special place. The hushed tones and walls of books to explore make it a wonderful haven for any child. But in this fast-paced world when everyone is so busy, a trip to the library can feel like a luxury of time you just can’t afford.
Well, maybe it’s simply a case of re-prioritising. Are all those things you have to do as important as helping your child discover the magic of finding and choosing the amazing books they want to read?
Now, we’re not trying to make you feel guilty at all – but wouldn’t it be nice to give yourself a break too? A visit to the library is one thing, but rather than rushing in and out to swap over your books, why not treat yourself to an hour or two, just sitting and reading in that lovely quiet space in companionable silence with your child?
Get to know your librarian
Once your library visits become routine, you will both look forward to your time there, and as a regular, you will likely get to know your librarian quite well. He or she may start to look out for books they know you will like and keep them aside for you, and you’ll get to know when new books are coming in.
Teach your child how the library is organised
The library is not just a nice space to read books! It’s a place for creativity, learning, researching and even exploring technology. For school age children, you can combine your trip to the library with completing a homework task. Show your child how to use the library’s system to find the books they want to read, and information they need to find. Your librarian will probably be very happy to help you.
Encourage your child to keep a record of their reading
It’s a good idea to have them keep a small journal and enter the name of the book and the author as they finish each one. Ask them to write a few sentences about the book, maybe stimulated by a few questions such as:
What did you enjoy most about the book / story?
Who was your favourite character, and why?
What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
Would you like to read more books by this author?
This way, your child will be able to articulate the kind of books he or she likes to read. You can use this record to find similar books you know they will like or challenge your child to seek out something new and very different.
Get to know your school librarian
Helping your child to feel comfortable navigating the library is a wonderful way to familiarise him/her with the library, and will also encourage them to make full use of their school library. It’s a good idea to make contact with the school librarian and help nurture that relationship. School librarians love to help children get the most from this wonderful resource.
Make the most of activities
Many libraries offer a schedule of learning activities for children, which you can take advantage of, and where your child will meet other children and make new friends.
The knowledge that the books they are reading do not belong to your child, and they must take very good care of them introduces children to the concept of responsibility. Having their own library card adds another layer of responsibility, which comes with expectations that must be upheld.
Preparing for the future
Exposing your child to the library on a regular basis from a young age will help them learn what resources are open to them for the future. Once they need to tackle some complex projects in middle school, they will be unfazed by using the library for research and even studying there from time to time to complete their tasks more effectively. These projects and assignments will become more intense as they grow, and their research skills will prove invaluable in well preparing them for fully utilising their university library when the time comes.
The library is full of hidden gems. Aside from the obvious access to an enormous amount and variety of books, some libraries offer children the opportunity to join book clubs and engage in fun learning activities. The earlier your child is introduced to the library, the more they will benefit, thereby setting them up for future success.
For more ideas on how to foster a love of literacy in your child, check out our previous article…
As Albert Einstein famously said “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library”.
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.
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.
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