Time to fly

The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you have come!

This blog is a bit of reflection on how far my daughter has come. I used to be afraid of the future. She struggled so much I couldn’t look forward to where she would be in the years ahead. But now I see how far she has travelled and how far she can go. I can see her strengths fighting to be seen and I can see her coming out of her cocoon and spreading her wings. My daughter still has so many challenges in front of her and there are still many hurdles to her success but I have hope. I can see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Just a glimmer of it.

My daughter has working memory and processing speed issues, severe social and general anxiety, Moderate Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia. At the beginning of year 3 when she was assessed she was already years behind and had spent 6 months at a psychologist for her anxiety. By then school was such a dark place for her she would vomit, scream and cry before and after school. She had significant self esteem issues and was a good example of learned helplessness. She had given up. She couldn’t spell anything and reading was something she hated and feared. She would barely speak to teachers or strangers.

She has now just finished a year of high school. It has been a challenge but she has surpassed my expectations in every aspect. My goal was just to manage to hand things in, cope with the organisational aspects, make a few friends and control her anxiety. She had an extra challenge of the death of her grandfather early in Term 1 when she was still finding her feet.

She has impressed teachers with her creative thinking, her hard work ethic, her speeches and her writing. She has achieved grades higher than we could have imagined often getting A’s and B’s for assessments. Even in examinations she has often gone well despite all her difficulties. I’m not afraid of this years school report. I know it will be positive. The high school teachers almost universally (there are always a few) can see how much she tries and appreciate her strengths. Her half yearly report was a positive experience for her. I’ve already had a phone call from the year coordinator congratulating her on a wonderful year. She has exceeded everyone’s expectations. The learning support teacher mentioned how pleased he has been to see her personality come out and how confident she has become.

She has the most wonderful friends who appreciate her quirks, her strengths and support her when she is struggling. They have given her the confidence to be her unique self. They have helped turn on the light inside of her. They have turned up to see her drama performances, hugged her when her grandfather died and laughed with her when she has made mistakes. For the first time she feels like she belongs. For a teen belonging is what it is all about.

My daughter now reads for pleasure and keeps on her bookshelf every book she has read like a trophy. She spends her afternoons locked in her room writing stories. All those stories locked in her head are now finding their voice on a page. On the weekend she enthusiastically completed her English homework. A narrative with symbolism written with creativity and passion. Her creative writing is better than anything I could ever do and always amazes me. She wrote a poem for her grandfather’s funeral that made everyone cry.

On Saturday my daughter stood a metre from a group of strangers and her best friend and recited a Shakespeare sonnet without seeing it. She was nervous and had to wait through a dozen other kids for her turn. My husband lent over and said “How is she going to do it?”. All the other kids were nervous too. She is the youngest in her High School NIDA class. But she stood up and read it. Any mistakes she covered and to me it sounded perfect. She also performed in a pair a long scene from Shakespeare. This is a child who in year 3 could not read or talk in front of anyone.

A Dyslexic kid with social anxiety reading Shakespeare in front of an audience is an amazing achievement. It is a testament to what can be achieved with the right intervention and support. It has certainly not been easy and I’m exhausted and emotional writing this. But I’m so proud of how hard she has worked to get to this point. There have been many setbacks. Her anxiety and learned helplessness hold her back more than her learning difficulties do at times. This year there have been many achievements. There have been far more tears of joy than sadness. There have been so many moments of wow this year that I can now see the path ahead filled with hope.

It is so important to have the highest expectations of our kids. They will do amazing things. They will find their strengths. My daughter has found her feet and now she will fly!

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Recovering from Reading Recovery

I read about the new Reading Recovery research with great skepticism. I have learnt a great deal in the last 5 years since my daughter struggled to learn to read. I have read literacy research until I wore my eyes out and gone to numerous professional developments. Most of all I have learnt from my daughter’s amazing specialist literacy tutor. I have’t been to one professional development where the strategies being taught were ones already being used by our tutor. She was our saviour when Reading Recovery failed spectacularly.

Being our first child and an ex high school teacher I trusted the professional advice of the primary teachers even though alarm bells rang early and things didn’t really make sense. The signs were all there. She struggled to learn the 200 sight words she was suppose to memorise. She flung the PM readers across the room. In my mind I questioned instinctively the value of learning sight words when she didn’t even know how to sound out base sounds. I questioned the value of repetitive and boring PM readers.

I was relieved a little when she was placed in a special reading group. The Reading Recovery teacher was lovely and encouraged her a gave her lots of attention. In first class her reading seemed to make some progress. So I set aside the parental worry at the back of my mind. I regret to this day I did not act sooner.

She started Year 2 fresh from a year of Reading Recovery on a respectful level 20 of PM readers. But unfortunately running records are not the best indicator of an early readers ability to read. A smart child like my daughter had an awesome ability to guess. Reading recovery had taught her this was acceptable. A few mistakes were even let through…”Close enough is good enough!” At home my daughter could finish a sentence without even turning a page and often be correct. This is most certainly NOT a good strategy. This is not reading. It took us years to undo guessing.

We started year 2 with an air of positivity. The year 2 teacher promised me that her reading wasn’t that bad. My daughter, having greater insight than the rest of us, was already displaying some level of school anxiety and avoidance. She knew she couldn’t read. She was a master of camouflage. Mid way through year 2 concerns escalated and anxiety soared. Reading became more difficult. Reliance on multi-cueing strategies taught in reading recovery quickly showed their deficiencies. Her reading totally stalled. Teachers told me “we don’t understand she seems really bright.”

In Year 2 under new NSW government funding we had the arrival of another of my daughter’s saviours. A new learning support teacher who had training in explicit and systematic phonics instruction. She tested her phonics. She could not even sound out the entire alphabet let alone decode words. The school counsellor undertook psychometric tests which showed she was above average in verbal comprehension but had difficulties in processing speed and working memory.

I started googling what it all meant and this lead me down a path to recovery for my daughter. Her anxiety had escalated so much that I delayed assessment or tutoring because it would have failed. She spent 6 months seeing a psychologist. She was so afraid of school and reading by then that we had vomiting, sickness and frequent tears. I would sit down every afternoon and have a cup of tea and calm myself as I never knew what she would be like when I picked her up from school. I became afraid of the school bell too!

I started as best I could to explicitly and systematically teach her phonics after school. She was so broken and so anxious that often even with me she would break down and cry. The Nessy learning program gave her back some of her confidence but my skills at that time teaching phonics were inadequate. Teaching reading requires a skilled teacher. She ended the school year on PM level 22. A year of virtually no progress in reading.

At the beginning of year 3 she started with her specialist literacy tutor the day before she undertook an assessment for Dyslexia. Her assessment showed at age 8 ½ she had a reading age of 7 and a spelling age of less than 5. I reinforced skills at home daily guided by the tutor which meant progress in reading was fairly rapid considering we pretty much started from zero. We reinforced phonics learnt using decodable readers which she enjoyed immensely. Suddenly she was actually reading and could decipher the squiggles on a page. The learned helplessness and fear of books took far longer to overcome.

On a positive note my daughter’s school now teaches synthetic phonics from day 1 of kindergarten. The Learning Support teacher introduced Multilit as an intervention which is evidenced based and follows the scientific criteria of a reading intervention program.

Science has repeatedly shown what is needed in early reading instruction. We also have a great understanding of what characteristics a good reading intervention should include. Reading Recovery does not meet the criteria of a good intervention program.

Phonemic awareness is the ability identify the sounds in spoken words. It is like phonics with a blindfold on. Good remediation for reading difficulties will include an assessment of phonemic awareness and appropriate intervention. “Phoneme awareness instruction, when linked to systematic decoding and spelling instruction, is a key to preventing reading failure in children who come to school without these prerequisite skills.” Moats (2010)

Phonics is the alphabetic code of the English language. It is the relationship between speech sounds and how we represent them in writing using letters of the alphabet. Phonics should be taught systematically and explicitly to automaticity and mastery. This is particularly important for children with Dyslexia who will often need a much more intensive approach to the teaching of phonics. “Current research tells us unequivocally that struggling learners benefit: When the structure of spoken and written language, beginning with phonemes, is represented for them explicitly, sequentially, directly and systematically in the context of a comprehensive reading program” Birsh and Ghassemi 2010

Fluency is achieved when children have gained enough mastery and automaticity of phonics and high frequency words that their reading seems effortless. When children have fluency issues they may fail to comprehend the text and not enjoy reading. Decodable readers, are matched to the phonemes they have been taught, enabling faster recognition of words, which in turn reduces the amount of mental energy required to decode the text. This facilitates the building of automaticity and fluency. struggling readers.”

Reading vocabulary is children’s bank of known words that they can use in writing or reading. Knowing the meaning of words is essential for comprehension. The ability to read a word is essentially meaningless without understanding the word. Early exposure to conversations with adults and being read to is of paramount importance to developing a rich bank of spoken vocabulary.

Comprehension is the extraction of meaning from text and is the end point for reading. It requires a set of complex foundational skills as discussed. Any deficit in any of these skills will hinder comprehension. A child who cannot read at a word or sentence level or a child will poor vocabulary will have impaired comprehension. A child without adequate fluency, poor working memory or attentional issues may lose the meaning of the text.

Reading recovery is based on the principles of “Balanced Literacy” and sprinkles in phonics in context. It is not an explicit or systematic approach to the teaching of phonological awareness. Science has shown repeatedly that a deficit in phonics and/or phonemic awareness (which make up phonological awareness) are the biggest predictor of reading failure.

Research on Reading Recovery has certainly been mixed and there has been much criticism of the research undertaken by Reading Recovery. This is what the experts have to say; “In this open letter, more than 30 international reading researchers expressed concerns about the continued use of Reading Recovery. These experts urged policy makers, educational leaders, researchers, and federal research organizations to acknowledge the weaknesses of Reading Recovery. They concluded, “Reading Recovery leaves too many students behind.”

“While research distributed by the developers of Reading Recovery indicates a positive effect of the program, analyses by independent researchers have found serious problems with these conclusions. Studies conducted by researchers associated with Reading Recovery typically exclude 25-40% of the poorest performing students from the data analysis.”

“The lack of efficacy of Reading Recovery with the poorest readers is not surprising given the research base that highlights the importance of explicit teaching of phonics for this group. Reading Recovery teaches phonics, but the instruction is not sufficiently explicit. A common finding in research on Reading Recovery is that those students who do not respond are weak in phonological awareness (Snow et al., 1998; Tunmer & Chapman, in press b).”

“Reading Recovery has not met the needs of these lowest performing students. Most significantly, its excessive costs can make it more difficult for a school to provide help for all students in need, especially those who are behind in the upper grades.”

https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/read.rr.ltr.experts.htm

In 2016 NSW education dumped Reading Recovery’s $55 million a year specific funding after they commissioned a 2015 research review which found it had limited efficacy, especially considering its huge cost. The report concluded “While the current findings reveal short-term positive effects of RR on reading outcomes for the lowest performing students, they do not support the effectiveness of the intervention on other aspects of literacy achievement or the longer-term sustainability through the early years of school. One possible explanation that is asserted strongly by RR critics is that RR does not provide sufficient tuition in phonics and phonemic awareness to effectively remediate literacy performance among struggling readers (Center et al. 1995; Chapman & Tunmer 2011; Greaney 2011; Moats 2007; Reynolds & Wheldall 2007; Tunmer & Chapman 2003; Tunmer et al. 2013). Center et al. (1995) argue that “while Reading Recovery stresses the importance of using all sources of information available to access meaningful text, it may not provide enough systematic instruction in the metalinguistic skills of phonemic awareness, phonological recoding, and syntactic awareness for students to acquire these processes” (p. 244). The lengthy examination of the research is certainly worth a read here. https://www.cese.nsw.gov.au/images/stories/PDF/Reading_recovery_evaluation_FA_AA.pdf

I think the biggest indicator of the true nature of Reading Recovery is to look at the spectacular failure of New Zealand literacy in recent years, the home of reading Recovery, where the principles on which it is founded dominate the teaching of reading. New Zealand literacy and Reading Recovery are based on a constructivist approach to literacy teaching encouraging a multi-cues approach to the teaching of reading. Phonics takes a backseat and is taught (if at all) in context and not explicitly or systematically. A detailed analysis of the failure of Reading Recovery and the teaching of reading in New Zealand is given in this 2013 article in the Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin. https://www.ldaustralia.org/BULLETIN_NOV13-RR.pdf.

Since this article was written in 2013 New Zealand has continued to be a poor performer in reading despite millions being poured into improving literacy. New Zealand according to the latest PIRLS result in 2016 is now ranked 33, making it the poorest performing country in the English-language world. In 1970 they were ranked first. Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery and the constructivist approach to literacy has been the dominant ideology in New Zealand for decades seeing a steady decline in literacy.

This article by literacy and teaching training experts at Massey University, New Zealand examines the failure of New Zealand literacy. Massey University has also undertaken research into Reading Recovery. “The problem with literacy outcomes doesn’t lie with teachers, but with teaching. As a country, we continue to rely on an approach to literacy instruction that was discredited by scientific research over 30 years ago. Our teachers have been trained and provided with teaching resources that are out of step with contemporary research, and with literacy teaching practices in other countries. Britain, for example, has made significant improvements in literacy learning outcomes since the introduction of systematic phonics instruction towards the first decade of this century.“

“Reading Recovery was introduced in the 1980s to lower the number of children experiencing literacy learning difficulties. This programme has not achieved this major goal. The Reading Recovery website claims that the programme acts as an insurance against reading failure. This is not true, as successive PIRLS results have shown since 2001.” http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/about-massey/news/article.cfm?mnarticle_uuid=FFBE6235-9CB5-4742-97C0-E1AA4ED407B5

Certainly Reading Recovery does give a boost to those children whose failure is due to lack of exposure to a rich language environment. Hattie has shown any intervention or teaching strategy is certainly going to have an affect more than no intervention. This is particularly true for children who may have come from a neglected environment. A true examination of Reading Recovery would be to compare it to an explicit and systematic phonics intervention program.

“Thanks to new scientific research—plus a long- awaited scientific and political consensus around this research—the knowledge exists to teach all but a handful of severely disabled children to read well” Louisa Moats https://www.ldaustralia.org/client/documents/Teaching%20Reading%20is%20Rocket%20Science%20-%20Moats.pdf

Reading Recovery fails too many children. As admin of Dyslexia Support Australia we get many parent members who join our group bemused at the failure of their children fresh out of Reading Recovery. Reading Recovery is an expensive program that has not adapted to research in the last 30 years that shows what struggling learners need for reading success. Reading Recovery wastes valuable intervention dollars and time.We know how important early and appropriate intensive intervention is for struggling readers. We can do much, much better than Reading Recovery.

Reading to children is not enough!

“If every parent, or carer …read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to children in their care, we could eliminate illiteracy within one generation.”

This is one of Mem Fox’s favourite bylines. Every time she is interviewed she likes to declare how she is going to solve illiteracy. Unfortunately she is wrong!

The first time I saw this quote was on a poster in our school library. My daughter had just been diagnosed with Dyslexia. I was already filled with enough parental guilt for not intervening in her schooling earlier. I really didn’t at that point to need any more guilt. It made me so sad and so angry. For a few years I had been asking teachers questions. They would answer …”she seems so bright!” “We don’t know why!” “Don’t worry she will get it.” “Do you read to her?”

Now I know better. I know I did do all the right things to give my daughter the best chance to read. But my daughter has Dyslexia and she did not receive the instruction she needed in school to teach her to read. I know that reading to your child is foundational to learning to read. But I also know that for most children it is not enough and they need to be taught explicitly how to read.

Yes I did read to my daughter more than any parent I know. She was my first child. I left my job as a teacher and spent all my energy playing with my child, talking to my child, singing to my child and reading to her.

From the moment she was born we read to her. We knew her favourite books off by heart. I remember her screaming in the car once so from the front I recited the entire “Each Peach Pear Plum” which was a definite favourite. Books were always how we settled her before every sleep, calmed her when upset and comforted when she was ill.

I remember being part of a government survey when she was a toddler and one question asked whether I read to my daughter 10 minutes a day. I laughed. The lady must have thought I was crazy as I was thinking it was more like hours. It was the thing she wanted to do most. Even before she could walk she would crawl over and grab books out of her book box for us to read. She never seemed to have enough.

I thought that once she learnt to walk she would not want to be read to so much. Instead she would toddle behind me demanding to be read to! One of her first sentences etched in my mind was “Read dis book yep!” All her grandparents, Aunties and Uncles read to her enthusiastically too. They include doctors, teachers a lawyer and even an author.

We owned about 6 or more Mem Fox books. I could recite to you “Time for bed” even now a decade after I read it to my child over and over every night before bed. My husband’s favourite was “Where is the green sheep?” He used to make up silly names for all the characters and would ask my daughter to point out the “Carmen Miranda sheep” and the “Ned Kelly sheep”.

Before school she spent 2 1/2 years at the local preschool. The year before school she had the most amazing preschool teacher 3 days a week who used to teach kindergarten. She read books to the children, did amazing activities, sang songs, played with rhymes.

So my daughter went to school primed to learn to read. She couldn’t have had a better foundation of oral language. In fact her preschool teachers commented about how good her vocabulary was. In her assessments later, when we were looking for answers, she was shown to have verbal comprehension and vocabulary well above average. She loved a complex story early.

In kindergarten we started reading her Harry Potter. Sometimes she’d be wriggling and I would accuse her of not listening. She would then recite to me the last line or tell me what the story line was for the last 10 minutes. At the same age her sister was still enjoying picture books being read to her.

So when she didn’t learn to read we were shocked. She so looked forward to learning to read books because she had always loved books so much. She struggled, she cried and threw predictive readers across the room. She began to hate and fear school. Eventually in year 3 we found out she had Dyslexia and at the age 8 1/2 she had a spelling age of less than 5 and a reading age of 7. After we employed a structured literacy tutor and she spent many hours with me at home reinforcing explicit phonics lessons she learnt to read. But that’s another story.

I know Mem Fox is a passionate advocate of whole language. A methodology of teaching that has been proven time and time again to be not an effective strategy to teach children to read. Her views are from a position of power but are based on significant ignorance. With power and influence comes a great responsibility because the myths you are spreading are doing damage. Kids are being left behind and families are being blamed for their children’s failure.

My understanding is not only supported by research evidence but by the thousands of parent stories I have heard in Dyslexia Support Australia. Parents over and over again tell how they were blamed for their child struggling to learn to read. They discuss in great detail how they always read to their child from day one, yet they did not learn to read. We have teachers in our support group who join when their own child struggles to learn to read. We have parents with multiple children but only one struggled.

I’m not discounting the importance of reading to children in the early development of oral language. It is an essential foundation for later reading acquisition. But well trained teachers can bridge the gap that some children bring to school with them. My child had no oral language gap. My child had no disadvantage other than a disability that could have been overcome without the heartbreak through early evidenced based intervention. Reading 3 books a day to children will not eradicate illiteracy. Training our teachers in systematic and explicit phonics instruction, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension will.

The cutie in the photos is my daughter being read to!

Decoding decodable readers

This blog has been in the pipeline for awhile. I got sidetracked with other projects. I write my best blogs when I’m mad or passionate. Misty Adoniou and her continual efforts to ensure her myths are spread makes me very passionate, sad and certainly angry. So Misty and her latest creativity interpretation of the facts in the conversation article entitled “What are ‘decodable readers’ and do they work?” spurred me into action! One must ask if Misty has ever actually seen a decodable reader. Is the misinformation she spreads deliberate and therefore unprofessional? Or does it stem from a level of astounding ignorance?

Decodable readers provide a bridge between initial phonics instruction, which is the foundation of reading, and the comprehension of more complex texts.

It takes quite some skill to construct the carefully controlled text in decodable readers as the writer is constrained by the phonics pattern and irregular words of the early reader. Though phonics readers for early readers do have engaging pictures the aim is not for readers to use these pictures to help “guess words”. Reliance on picture clues is a very unhelpful strategy which will catch up on older readers when pictures vanish from text. Phonics readers follow the sequential pattern of systematic, explicit phonics instruction which builds on the phonics knowledge of the student to allow automaticity and mastery.

Decodable readers are for the child to practise phonics skills and are aimed at the beginning reader. They should be used in conjunction with parents and teachers reading to a student to increase vocabulary.

Well written decodables with words that children are able to successfully decode boosts confidence, allows mastery of phonemes and allows children to apply their emerging skills.

There is some research to support decodable readers place in readers supporting phonics instruction and it also it certainly makes sense for children to apply knowledge in a realistic reading scenario. “This study suggests that readers with knowledge of the alphabetic principle, given the same phonics instruction, will apply it more (and with more accuracy and independence) in a highly decodable context” (Mesmer 2005)

readers (such as PM readers or levelled readers) are an example of predictable text and they are poorly designed. They need pictures because they use such words as giraffe and aquarium and rhinoceros in a beginning reader. “At the zoo I saw a ……….” if we are going to teach children to read words so they can comprehend a story then picture cues is not the way to do it. Good readers will survive this, educationally vulnerable students will not.” Julie Mavlian

Misty said “”Books like this have no storyline; they are equally nonsensical whether you start on the first page, or begin on the last page and read backwards.

My kids loved it when our tutor switched them to decodable readers. They even requested I read them to them at breakfast again after they had read them themselves. The school readers were atrocious. Some were written when I was in Kindy and I am no spring chicken. I was appalled at some of the boring and outdated topics. You can not tell me that predictable readers that have a picture on each page that go something like…. “The boy jumped.” “The boy ran. “The boy cried.” are engaging or go anyway to the teaching of reading. My daughter even brought home readers with no words. Maybe that’s ok for a child who has never seen a book before but she was read to extensively.

Once there was even a picture of a father smoking a cigar while the mother was in the kitchen preparing the meal and looking after the kids! So don’t let’s perpetuate the myth that decodables are boring. Modern decodables are engaging. Levelled readers were quite often flung across the room by my daughter. This never happened with her decodables. Often i would be perplexed out how they even came up with the levels for the predictive readers. Some weeks the words would be so complex.

Many decodable readers are certainly engaging. At the lower levels both decodables and predictive texts are limited. But at least a decodable at a low level will give the child the joy of actual reading! I remember quite well having to sit through countless children reading predictable readers to me when I helped out at school. To say they are more engaging is nonsensical.

This example of a predictable reader it is certainly dull and repetitive. I think i may have pasted the pages in the books in the wrong order but since there is no story it doesn’t matter! https://www.primaryconcepts.com/articles/SightWord_sample.pdf

My kids absolutely loved the floppy phonics books. The stories and illustrations were engaging. They couldn’t wait to read what adventure floppy would get up to next!

Extract from Floppy phonics level 5 decodable reader “The Gale” https://global.oup.com/education/content/primary/series/oxford-reading-tree/floppys-phonics/?region=international

My daughter’s specialist tutor wrote a series of digital e book decodable readers because she loves to write, knows what struggling is like personally (Dyslexic) and wanted to give adolescents topics of interest that were engaging. As a high school teacher I know how horrible it was for teenagers who were really beginning readers to have to read a predictable little kids reader! They are certainly engaging! Don’t forget these are NOT for kindy kids!!!

“Decodable books allow students to read using the level of phonic code they already know. This brings confidence. When confidence is gained, more code is explicitly taught and new books are introduced. This pattern of explicit teaching and appropriately introduced texts is the key to confident and empowered readers who, when ready, will be able to read any book they might desire! Victoria Leslie, Author Tap Decodable Readers http://www.focusontap.com/decodable-reader-decodable-books/

Misty said :”While they may teach the phonics skills “N” and “P”, they don’t teach children the other important decoding skills of grammar and vocabulary.”

This is absolute nonsense. Of course decodable readers use correct grammar and vocabulary at an appropriate level. They also introduce appropriate sight words. Decodable readers introduce vocabulary a child can actually read. No one is saying they should be the only books children are exposed to. My child has a vocabulary (has been assessed) well above her age level because she has been extensively read to. If we had relied on the vocabulary in predictable readers this would in no way be the case.

I am really not sure why Misty picked as an example of an alternative to decodables some common children’s books. These are not like any predictive or PM reader sent home from school. It is a deliberate unfair comparison. We loved reading Who sank the boat to our daughter. She knew the book off by heart. She still couldn’t read it herself until she received explicit phonics instruction supported by decodable readers. Use of decodable readers does not prevent the use and analysis of rich and authentic text in a classroom no more than predictable readers do.

Misty said: “And as many a parent will testify, they don’t teach the joy of reading.”

My daughter was read to from infancy. Books were how we would calm her, get her to sleep, comfort her when she was sick and bring her out of a rotten mood. We journeyed as parents with her to many far off places. Her first sentence was “read dis book yep!”. She would say this when she learnt to walk and would toddle around the house all day carrying a book and demanding its secrets to be revealed!

So she went to school, with a bounce in her step, adoring books and ready to read! Despite a lovely Kindy teacher she hit a road block. She hit a road block that so many kids will hit, Dyslexic or not, when instruction is not explicit or systematic enough for quick reading development.

Intensive explicit literacy instruction from a specialist tutor in year 3 taught her to read and write. Unfortunately because intervention was delayed she had developed a fear of reading. The fear and negative associations that had been fostered by poor literacy instruction in a “Balanced Literacy Environment”. The tutor introduced us to decodable readers and my daughter expressed shear joy. For the first time ever she was able to crack the hidden code to reading. You have no idea how much joy can be felt when after 3 years of schooling your child can actually read!

In the end her love of books and the skills she has learnt from her tutor outweighed her fear of reading. My daughter,at age 13, will now disappear into the world of books quite often. She reads when she is angry, bored or anxious. She reads to help her sleep. She says she prefers books to movies. We have a chuckle every time I have to say “put the book down” because she is late to dinner and school because its always just one more page. We both know how hard the journey has been.

Decodables allow children to access the joy of reading early without the reliance on picture and other cues (guessing). Children move rapidly through decodable levels.

As my daughter now says “books are the portal to magical worlds!” We need to give all children access to the same magic by using evidenced based teaching methods and not relying on myths, distortion of facts and ideology.

Please support SPELD NSW by buying your decodable readers from SPELD NSW. SPELD is a charity and all profits will go back into supporting SPELD’S goals. Available at the online store.

https://speldnsw.memnet.com.au/MemberSelfService/Merchandise.aspx

See SPELD NSW information on decodable readers http://speldnsw.org.au/news/speld-nsw-recommends-decodable-readers/

For a unique range of ebook decodables designed for struggling adolescent beginning readers please check out. http://www.focusontap.com/titles/ .

Read these great blog and articles

http://pamelasnow.blogspot.com/2018/11/who-sank-reading-boat-sad-tale-of.html

http://thekeep.eiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2367&context=theses

http://speldnsw.org.au/phonics-and-decodable-readers/

https://crackingtheabccode.com/decodable-versus-levelled-readers/

https://www.spelfabet.com.au/2018/05/what-is-a-decodable-book/

References

http://cech.uc.edu/content/dam/cech/centers/student_success/docs/summer-institute-2009/ebbers_decodable_readers_handouts.pdf

https://theconversation.com/what-are-decodable-readers-and-do-they-work-106067

http://www.focusontap.com/decodable-reader-decodable-books/

Text Decodability and the First-Grade Reader

Mesmer, Heidi Anne E.

Reading & Writing Quarterly, v21 n1 p61-86 Jan-Mar 2005

Fighting the good fight – Advocacy and SPELD NSW

Volunteer advocacy is a hard and thankless job at times and it is easy to lose motivation. I’ve been verbally abused quite often and my life seems to revolve around the same frustrating issues. The abuse sometimes seems to outweigh the thanks. But then there are the inspirational moments when a family is helped or a hug is given by a random stranger who I helped but can’t remember. Sometimes the stories of struggling children tug at my heart so much that I am brought to tears. Sometimes the nights are sleepless with the frustration of advocating for change in an education system that is slow to embrace change.

My daughter’s own struggles and successes give me the strength to keep fighting the good fight. I went into advocacy because as a high school teacher I realised that unlike my daughter many children didn’t have a parent with the knowledge skill or drive that I have. Many parents also struggle with illiteracy and have terrible memories of their own schooling. In life and in advocacy I’m a bit like a tornado. I plough my way through just about anything armed with a mountain of evidence. I have the knowledge of the school system and learning difficulties both from a parent and teaching perspective.

I am an admin of Dyslexia Support Australia (DSA) an evidenced based support group, which not only supports families and people affected by Dyslexia, but also strongly advocates for evidenced based literacy instruction for all children. Associated with DSA I have a twitter account and 2 facebook pages aimed at Dyslexia and Dyscalculia awareness. I have been admin of DSA for about 4 years though it seems so much longer!

Through my volunteer work as DSA admin I got involved with all the other Dyslexia advocates and admins across the country. This driven group of angry mums started the Australian charity Code Read Dyslexia Network. I am a founding member and ardent supporter but I am not directly involved in the brilliant work that the board of Code Read Dyslexia Network are doing in raising Dyslexia awareness and driving the push for explicit phonics instruction in Australia. See my blog on Code Read Dyslexia Network here. https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/code-read-dyslexia-network/

Last year I hit a personal roadblock and became a little tired of advocacy. I lost my way a little. This was no doubt compounded by watching my father deteriorate due to the ravages of dementia. At times I actually questioned the point of all the work I do. After my father died in March, George Perry, the new Executive officer of SPELD NSW, and I chatted about the possibility of joining SPELD NSW board. I am not sure whose idea it was but never the less a seed was planted. An opportunity to really make an impact.

George and I met at a Light it Red for Dyslexia event 2 years ago. As a successful dyslexic and with a child with learning difficulties she was keen to learn as much as she could. She also turned out later to be a great choice to drive SPELD NSW forward. George, who has a Law degree, is an example of what can be achieved by people with learning difficulties if given the right support and opportunities.

In back of my mind was the pride my father always had in the volunteer work I do. He brought me up to be the tornado force I am. He brought me up to have a strong opinion but to always back that opinion up with facts. He brought me up to have a strong social conscious and always look after those who were unable to look after themselves. As Regional Director of Probation and Parole Service he had seen the best and worst of people but never lost his faith in humanity. He saw first hand the damage illiteracy does and its long lasting impact on individuals. Many of the children he spoke to in his retirement, as the Official Ministerial visitor to Juvenile Correction facilities, talked about their schooling struggles. The high rates of illiteracy in incarcerated populations are certainly well researched.

So I joined the Board of Directors of SPELD NSW. The Board is made up of a wide range of individuals with expertise in Business, Education, Law, Finance and Marketing. Some have been personally affected by Learning Difficulties and others just have a great personal drive to help people and families affected by learning difficulties. The chairman of SPELD NSW has been a specialist tutor for many years and sees the devastating affects when kids struggle.

After every board meeting at SPELD NSW and every interaction I become inspired to help as many people as I can and drive for change in education. Inspired by the dedication of volunteers and staff at SPELD NSW my drive has been reinvigorated. I feel my skills, experience and knowledge in the area of learning difficulties are valued and appreciated at SPELD NSW. I think at SPELD NSW I might really be able to make a difference. Even my rusty accountancy skills are valued somewhat ,though I don’t find budgetary meetings too invigorating.

It was very exciting to be involved in the SPELD NSW move to new premises in Parramatta, the geographical heart of Sydney. It was certainly inspiring to see the contagious enthusiasm of the executive officer and her dreams for the new space and what it can help SPELD NSW achieve. In house professional development, parent seminars and SPELD NSW as a place to go for learning difficulties in NSW! Hopefully another 50 years of helping families!

A word on SPELD NSW from the SPELD NSW website. “The name SPELD NSW stands for The Specific Learning Difficulties Association of New South Wales. SPELD NSW is a Public Benevolent Institution whose mission is to provide advice and services to children and adults with specific learning difficulties and those who teach, work with and care for them. SPELD NSW is one of the National Federation of SPELD Associations, AUSPELD. It is an incorporated not-for-profit association of parents and professionals committed to advancing the education and well-being of children and adults with Specific Learning Difficulties. SPELD NSW Inc. is a Registered Charity with ACNC.

Yvonne Stewart of Mosman was a Primary school teacher. She started SPELD NSW in 1968. When other States and Territories started SPELD Associations, she created AUSPELD the National Federation for SPELD Associations. She worked tirelessly for over 22 years, most of the time it was run from her home. She and the Committee members went to schools, performed advocacy and helped many parents. In those days it was by letters and phone.

Today, we continue that valuable work.

Big thanks go to all our Members, Committee, Staff and Volunteers past and present who have all helped SPELD NSW remain useful and relevant for our community.”

How to help?

If you have time to spare SPELD NSW certainly has the need for volunteers with any sort of time or commitment. I have done a range of things including move furniture, contact shelves, review the website and pack decodable readers! Please contact George Perry at SPELD NSW to volunteer. https://speldnsw.org.au/volunteer-with-speld-nsw/

SPELD NSW also relies on membership and donations so please join or donate if you can. Every cent is spent wisely! https://speldnsw.org.au/membership/

 

Phonics debate embracing the evidence

Phonics in context debate 2018

I thought seriously about attending the debate. But I knew it would make me angry listening to the same old ridiculous arguments trotted out by the negative team. Listening to it online they certainly didn’t disappoint. I have heard every one of the points time and time again. Seems to be a theme in any phonics debate that the negative team bring out arguments that they have no substantiated evidence for but have become accepted knowledge in the teaching universe. Teachers seem to be in a bubble of ignorance that they hand down to the new generation of teachers. I was a teacher for 10 years so don’t throw the teaching bashing thing back at me!

The negative side was actually hard to analyse because it seemed to lack substance, be emotive and verged on the fluffy side of the debate. I don’t know if this was a deliberate attempt to confuse the audience or showed a level of ignorance on the part of negative side.

Most of all listening to the debate made me so sad. Sad that parents seemed to be lumped with a lot of the blame. The primary function of school is surely to teach children to read. Not parents. Sad that the research and science that has been established over decades is dismissed with the old chestnut “We know best.” Sad that the negative didn’t even seem to listen to the affirmative and continued on their quest despite it making them look like they missed what the debate was about. Sad that so many kids are being failed. Seriously failed. I hear the horror stories of kids as young as 6 wanting to die because they can not read.

The affirmative supported their arguments with research evidence so I am addressing the negative points with research to show the flaws in their arguments. I will include a few anecdotes in there because the negative seemed to like to tell a good yarn.

We have between us been teaching and in education for 100 years.

I hear this one a lot. “I’ve been teaching for decades so I know best.” To be honest I taught with many teachers who have been teaching for decades who were terrible teachers. Never improved the day they walked into a classroom. Never moved with new techniques or learnt from their mistakes. I taught for a decade and I guarantee if I walked back in a classroom today I would be a better teacher. I have researched, experienced and learnt so much as a parent of a child with multiple learning difficulties. I do think about it a lot that I could have done a much better job as a high school teacher, even though I think I was one of the better ones. I could have taught more explicitly, gone to more professional development about learning difficulties and supported kids more who could not read and write.

I think many of the problems of this insistence that “Balanced Literacy” works is that many children look like they are reading initially. Then there is the well documented year 3 or 4 slump when text becomes complex and the picture cues disappear and the child stumbles. By then the teacher has moved on to a bright new cohort of young learners failing to see the strugglers. This was certainly our experience, though compounded by severe anxiety and poor teaching, our slump was in year 2 right after reading Recovery ended. My daughter gained 2 reading levels in the whole year and could not sound out even the alphabet let alone a word.

Reading is a natural process like learning to speak as a baby.

“Children’s life chances.”

“Baby as a meaning maker.”

“Reading is an epiphany.”

The running theme or misguided belief that seemed to be consistent in the negative debate is that the development of oral language is the be all and end all of learning to read. The negative seem to be confused between learning to speak and learning to read!

I have actually addressed this in my previous BLOG https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/phonics-check-myth-buster-2-learning-to-read-is-a-natural-process-and-advocating-just-a-phonics-approach-destroys-a-childrens-love-of-books/

I was so saddened by this that the parent blaming game seemed to be a central argument. As admin of Dyslexia Support Australia in our group we have discussed this many times. It makes parents so sad that the default position of teachers when a child struggles to learn to read seems to be “Did you read to your child enough?” This is so ingrained in teacher beliefs that they never stop to think about their own teaching. As a very involved parent it hurts. Without my intervention working on phonics with the guidance of our tutor there is no way my child would be able to read.

Yes being exposed to a rich language environment does give a good foundation of Phonemic awareness and vocabulary but excellent oral language does not ensure excellent reading. A child who struggles to learn to read because they have not been given explicit systematic phonics instruction will not love books no matter how much they are exposed to great literature.

The scientific evidence that refutes the idea that learning to read is a natural process is of such magnitude that Stanovich (1994) wrote:

That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioral science. . . . The idea that learning to read is just like learning to speak is accepted by no responsible linguist, psychologist, or cognitive scientist in the research community (pp. 285-286).http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar98/vol55/num06/Why-Reading-Is-Not-a-Natural-Process.aspx

Scientists have established that most students will learn to read adequately (though not necessarily well) regardless of the instructional methods they’re subjected to in school. But they’ve also found that fully 40 percent of children are less fortunate. For them, explicit instruction (including phonics) is necessary if they are to ever become capable readers. These findings are true across race, socioeconomic status, and family background.” https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498005.pdf

Not only is this supported by research I can attest to this through personal experience. My daughter adored books until she went to school. I read to her constantly. It was our main activity. I still read to her at age 13. She went to preschool for 2 1/2 years and was surrounded by rhyme, songs and books. She was read to and spoken to by Aunts, Uncles and grandparents who are Doctors, lawyers, teachers and authors. Her first sentence was “read dis book yep” as she followed me around the house toddling and carrying a book. When tested, in our search for answers, she had above average verbal comprehension.

The cover photo for this blog is me reading a book to my baby who struggled to learn to read until she got explicit and systematic phonics instruction.

Phonics is not enough!

“Not sufficient to privilege phonics”

I’m actually wondering if the negative side actually listened to the affirmative side at all or just came with a defined script. Which is poor debating. Both Jennifer Buckingham and Anne Castles started their speeches outlining this as the exact point and Jennifer runs a project FivefromFive it is most definitely not OnefromOne.Troy Verey actually outlined how phonics is taught at his school in 30 minutes sessions explicitly and sequentially. He also outlined how explicit instruction was given in phonological awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. He said more than once the 5 essentials of reading. Yet Mark Diamond ludicrously followed this minutes later with “ Phonics is not enough!”

Meaning comes first

This was reiterated over and over again by the negative side of the debate. I’d like to know how you get meaning out of text if you cant actually read the individual words?

Comprehension is most certainly the ultimate goal of reading but unlike what the negative say there are many foundational skills needed for comprehension to occur. Research supports that comprehension and fluency is achieved when a solid foundation has been laid down to achieve success. The foundational skills of oral language, phonemic awareness and phonics are of paramount importance. Often children with dyslexia have a phonological deficit which will impact significantly on their ability to learn the alphabetic principle and sounds of the English language. This doesn’t not mean that they need alternative methods. It means that they need to be explicitly taught in a systematic and intensive way to decode the sounds of the English language.

The Simple View of Reading outlines that learning to read requires two abilities – correctly identifying words by decoding and understanding their meaning (comprehension).

“ Reading Comprehension = Decoding x linguistic comprehension (R=DxLC)

The Simple View of Reading differentiates between two dimensions of reading: Word recognition processes and Language comprehension processes. It makes clear that different kinds of teaching are necessary to promote word recognition skills from those needed to foster the comprehension of spoken and written language, which is the goal of reading. Though considered separately, both dimensions are essential to reading. It is of first importance for teachers of reading to be clear about which of these two dimensions their teaching aims to develop, and make sure each of them is taught explicitly.” Sir Jim Rose https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/teaching-reading-its-simple-but-not-simplistic

“Research has shown that good readers do not skim and sample the text when they scan a line in a book. They process the letters of each word in detail, although they do so very rapidly and unconsciously. Those who comprehend well accomplish letter-wise text scanning with relative ease and fluency. When word identification is fast and accurate, a reader has ample mental energy to think over the meaning of the text. Knowledge of sound-symbol mapping is crucial in developing word recognition: the ability to sound out and recognize words accounts for about 80 percent of the variance in first-grade reading comprehension and continues to be a major (albeit diminishing) factor in text comprehension as students progress through the grades” Moats, 1999 Reading is Rocket Science.

“ . . . less-skilled readers often find themselves in materials that are too difficult for them (Allington, 1977, 1983, 1984; Gambrell, Wilson, & Gantt, 1981). The combination of deficient decoding skills, lack of practice, and difficult materials results in unrewarding early reading experiences that lead to less involvement in reading-related activities. Lack of exposure and practice on the part of the less skilled reader delays the development of automaticity and speed at the word recognition level. Slow, capacity-draining word recognition processes require cognitive resources that should be allocated to comprehension. Thus, reading for meaning is hindered; unrewarding reading experiences multiply; and practice is avoided or merely tolerated without real cognitive involvement” (Stanovich, 1986).

Rich Meaningful text – decodables are a concern

I suspect that Robyn Ewing may have never read a decodable reader. They can certainly be fun and engaging because there is nothing more exciting for a child then to be able to be able to fluently read a story on the page. In my personal experience as a parent the PM readers were actually mostly terrible. My daughter hated them and would throw them across the room. We even had one that showed a mum in the kitchen cooking while the dad was in his study smoking a cigar. When our tutor switched us to Phonics readers both my children loved the stories and would ask for me to read them to them at bed time also. My daughter’s face would light up as finally reading made sense.

No teacher of synthetic phonics excludes rich and meaningful texts from the classroom. As Troy Verey outlined at Marsden road they start children on decodables and move them to full text as appropriate. Until then they read books to them to improve their vocabulary.

My daughter arrived at school absolutely loving books. From an early age she loved a complex story and preferred that we read things to her like Harry Potter whereas her sister (who is not Dyslexic) wanted us to read simple picture books. But being taught phonics poorly and non systematically in a “balanced classroom” made her hate reading. It took us much longer to remediate her reading than remediate her fear of books. Now after tutoring in explicit systematic phonics and the 5 keys of reading she reads for pleasure. She wants to be an author and writes books for relaxation. She went well in Year 7 English and was reading for enjoyment the text chosen by her teacher to study in class later in the year just by coincidence. English is her favourite academic subject.

Without intervention by myself, her tutor and thankfully a Learning support teacher (came to the school in year 2) who believed in explicit systematic phonics I have no doubt she would have been another child to add to the illiteracy statistics. A child behind grade level in reading at the beginning of year 4 has a 12% chance of ever catching up!

The High Stakes Phonics check is a concern

“Nonsense words are problematic if reading is about making meaning.”

“Disadvantages good readers”

“The JABBERWOCKY!”

The concern actually is that Robyn Ewing has obviously not read the research on the importance of nonsense words (psuedowords).

“the speed of naming pronounceable nonwords is one of the tasks that most clearly differentiates good from poor readers” (p. 40). Also, “the persistent differences between skilled and less skilled readers in reaction times to pseudowords seem to be due to processes…operating on subword processes” (p. 41). One of these “subword processes” is the application of phonics rules to recognize written words.”

” pseudoword naming is discovered to be a “potent predictor of reading ability at all levels” (p. 100).

Keith Stanovich (2000) http://www.nrrf.org/old/essay_pseudowords.html

In sum, one of the most well replicated findings in reading disability research is that, compared to chronological-age controls, reading-disabled children have difficulty in reading pseudowords” (Stanovich, 2000, p. 129). That is to say, there is an “incredible potency of pseudoword reading as a predictor of reading difficulty” (p. 207). A notable experimental finding in this regard is that pseudowords, “such as bint that have word neighbors that are inconsistent in pronunciation (pint, mint) took longer to pronounce than nonwords without inconsistent word neighbors (e.g., tade)” (p. 215).

Studies of the reading of pseudowords also have implications regarding the performance of poor readers with high and low IQs. It is found (Stanovich, 2000, p. 329) “that these two groups of children display equivalent pseudoword reading deficits.” This kind of evidence leads some reading researchers to conclude that “unless it can be shown to have some predictive value for the nature of treatment or treatment outcome, considerations of IQ should be discarded in discussions of reading difficulties” (p. 96).”

http://www.nrrf.org/old/essay_pseudowords.html

There is no evidence in the UK that the test disadvantages good readers. The nonsense words are clearly indicated. I find it quite incredulous that she says that the UK has not improved their reading. The first cohort of the phonics check has just achieved the best PIRLS results in a generation.

Yet Kathy Ruston quotes a Reading Recovery teacher who talks about Marie Clay. The home of reading Recovery and Marie Clay is New Zealand who have terrible PIRLS results.

“New Zealand continues to have the largest spread of scores from good to poor readers among developed countries. The long tail of poor literacy achievement remains, despite attempts to shrink the gap. New Zealand, now ranked 33rd, used to be in first place in 1970. New Zealand is the poorest performing country in the English-language world. Our teachers have been trained and provided with teaching resources that are out of step with contemporary research, and with literacy teaching practices in other countries. Britain, for example, has made significant improvements in literacy learning outcomes since the introduction of systematic phonics instruction towards the first decade of this century. As the UK newspaper The Telegraph noted today, “Reading standards in England are the best in a generation, new international test results show, after the push towards phonics led to a dramatic improvement in children’s attainment.”” Professor James Chapman, Distinguished Professor Bill Tunmer and Dr Alison Arrow http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/about-massey/news/article.cfm?mnarticle_uuid=FFBE6235-9CB5-4742-97C0-E1AA4ED407B5

High stakes testing!? Teachers must be very scary indeed if they can’t sit with their students one on one and perform a 5 minute check of 40 words without stressing out the kids. The overwhelming majority of parents with children with dyslexia in our group found the suggestion that a 40 word check would cause student hardship ludicrous. Because the reality is illiteracy causes far more hardship including children who self harm, talk of suicide, have school refusal, learned helplessness, behaviour difficulties and secondary mental health issues. This has already been addressed in my blog https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/03/09/phonics-screening-check-myth-buster-1-the-phonics-tests-will-be-too-stressful/

The example of the Jabberwocky as reading for meaning really did make me chuckle as I actually used it as an example in my blog of the need for decoding to translate the many nonsense words in rich children’s literature. https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/phonics-check-myth-buster-3-nonsense-words-are-silly-and-we-should-test-reading-in-context/ . How could you possibly read the Jabberwocky from context alone is beyond me. One of the great problems with the concept of phonics for adults is that they don’t realise they are decoding, as they do it so effortlessly, and can’t remember how they learnt to read….especially the ones who need walking sticks. (Robyn Ewing mentioned walking sticks not me!)

Commercial programs off the shelf

Commercial programs certainly play a roll in the introduction of synthetic phonics within a school when teacher training proves inadequate. They are a quick way to achieve teacher training and give a good guide for the systematic approach that must be taken in the teaching of phonics. However none of the panel are selling or advocating commercial programs to be the way to go. As Louisa Moats states “A program is only as good as the teacher implementing it.” If our teachers are inadequately trained introducing systematic explicit phonics through a program will ultimately fail.

I also find this quite strange when many commercial programs with a poor evidence base are being readily embraced in schools in Australia. Brain Gym is now considered the poster child of pseudoscientific rubbish that finds its ways into our schools. Should we dare mention the $50 million dollars a year NSW was throwing at Reading Recovery until a research review showed it was little bang for a bucket load of cash. Many states are still throwing $ at Reading Recovery. Read more about Reading Recovery here. http://www.kevinwheldall.com/2013/02/small-bangs-for-big-bucks-long-term.html

We need to meet the needs of the individual

No actually we need to use a scientifically based approach that gets all children reading. Our current dominate way of teaching children to read learning phonics in context is leaving a great percentage of children illiterate.

“Thanks to new scientific research—plus a long- awaited scientific and political consensus around this research—the knowledge exists to teach all but a handful of severely disabled children to read well. Recent scientific studies have allowed us to understand more than ever before how literacy develops, why some children have diffi- culty, and what constitutes best instructional practice. Scientists now estimate that fully 95 percent of all children can be taught to read.“ Louisa Moats Reading is Rocket Science 1999

“Research indicates that, although some children will learn to read in spite of incidental teaching, others never learn unless they are taught in an organized, systematic, efficient way by a knowledgeable teacher using a well-designed instructional approach. And, while many students from high-risk environments come to school less prepared for literacy than their

more advantaged peers, their risk of reading difficul- ties could still be prevented and ameliorated by liter- acy instruction that includes a range of research- based components and practices. But, as the statistics testify, this type of instruction clearly has not made its way into every classroom.” Louisa Moats teaching Reading is Rocket Science 1999

12% of English words are regular so phonics doesn’t get you far to reading

I really have no idea where this ludicrous statistic came from. “The spelling of words in English is more regular and pattern- based than commonly believed. According to Hanna, Hanna, Hodges, and Rudorf (1966), half of all English words can be spelled accurately on the basis of sound-symbol correspondences alone, meaning that the letters used to spell these words predictably represent their sound patterns (e.g., back, clay, baby). These patterns, though, are somewhat complex and must be learned (e.g., when to use “ck” as in back and when to use “k” as in book). Another 34 percent of English words would only have one error if they were spelled on the basis of sound-symbol correspondences alone.* That means that the spelling of 84 percent of words is mostly predictable. Many more words could be spelled correctly if other information was taken into account, such as word meaning and word origin. The authors estimated that only four percent of English words were truly irregular.” How Spelling Supports Reading And Why It Is More Regular and Predictable Than You May Think, Louisa Moats

“We Don’t leave reading to chance!” Troy Verey

“Too many kids missing out on learning to read due to the rejection of the scientific knowledge” Jennifer Buckingham

It is time as a nation that we took a scientific approach to the teaching of reading as we are leaving far too many children behind. As a parent of one of those children who still has learned helplessness, anxiety and self esteem issues as a result of early reading failure one child is too many.

Finding your Dyslexic Tribe is priceless

And Yet again I find myself in social media defending the usefulness of identification of Dyslexia. Also this week I have had to counteract a teacher saying learning difficulties don’t exist but that is another story. This has come at a time in my daughter’s life when she has finally found her tribe. As my daughter has just become a teenager and suffers from anxiety fuelled by multiple learning difficulties it has become so important that she feels like she belongs in this world. That she feels she is valued for who she is and what she can do. That there are other kids like her. Teens need to feel they belong as they navigate a difficult time in their life. As a high school teacher I have seen many times the sheer pain of the kids who don’t find their tribe.

My daughter attended a high achieving primary school where many kids are heavily tutored from preschool age and academic success was the number one priority for most of the parents. She had some lovely friends who valued her for her storytelling at lunchtime, her quirkiness and her kind heart. They would defend her endlessly when casual teachers had a go at her and make sure she understood her work. But one thing her friends could not do is understand what it is like to walk into a classroom everyday and struggle surrounded by children who seem to learn effortlessly.

Having me as a parent has given her access to a strong Dyslexic community and she has met many kids with Dyslexia which helped putty some of the holes in her self esteem battered by years of failure. She has the great privilege of having a tutor who has Dyslexia and is friends with her Dyslexic daughter. Her tutor says that her greatest qualification as a tutor is her Dyslexia and her ability to understand her student’s struggles. Not being able to read in year 5 and going on to get a Masters from Cambridge shows her students anything can be achieved if you work hard enough! Having adult and older teen Dyslexics to look up too is so important.

High school this year has brought many challenges, especially leaving friends who she has relied on for so long. But thanks to a school, who has a brilliant transition program for kids with difficulties, my daughter made some friends who get her before the start of the school year.

My daughter spent the holidays bonding with her new Dyslexic friends. She said to me E has a brilliant mind and she is even more awesome when she is not taking her ADHD meds. I said that must be lovely for her to hear that someone appreciates her for who she is. Her reply was that I know you tell me all the time how creative I am and how good my mind is but you are my Mum and you have to say that. For kids the same age to appreciate me for who I am it makes me feel good about myself. If she fumbles over her words she knows her friends will not judge her.

On the way home from an awesome time with one of her Dyslexic friends I said to her “You have found your tribe haven’t you?” Her reply was the biggest smile I have seen in a long time.

Her new friends all forget things. They all actually forgot that they had memory issues and laughed hysterically at that. They struggle through their work together in class. They go to learning support together. They complain about the teachers who don’t get it and praise the awesome ones that make school bearable by actually implementing their adjustments. They giggle when they can’t add up while playing games rather than hiding their weaknesses. While other kids in class are calling them dumb their friends are telling them the opposite and appreciating them for exactly who they are.

Through our support group my daughter also writes to another year 7 kid with Dyslexia who was feeling alone. They use snail mail. Her pen pal has lovely writing and she told her. She also told her she types because she has dysgraphia and her handwriting is not so good. They share struggles but also write about normal stuff. They both know no one is going to judge them for their spelling or grammar. My daughter actually smiles when she sees a spelling mistake in her pen pals letters.

The word Dyslexia has also as a parent allowed me to find my parent tribe. I have met some of the most brilliant Dyslexia advocates through my volunteer work. Determined mums mostly who are fighting to get the system to change after watching the horrible toll illiteracy has on our children. My daughter’s tutor has become a firm friend. She is one of the few people who get it when the days are hard and simple things go really wrong. We listen to the daily struggles of our kids without judgement and we know the other gets it!

It is quite lovely (I’m not sure how to describe it) to be around school mums who get your child’s struggles. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to sometimes be able to give advice and help to my new parent friends. Funnily enough last year I chatted online through our support group to one of the mums. Giving her advice about tutors in the local area. Then our daughter’s went to the same school and became friends and neither of us realised we had talked online and by then we had met in person. I know I’m not going to have to get embarrassed about grades. I know I can complain about my child’s resistance to getting her assignment done. I know I can talk about having to help my child structure her essays, research and edit without judgement. We were all feeling a little sick at the idea of an end to school holidays.

With these school Mum’s I don’t have to listen to what they think are their parent struggles when having just those struggles would make my week awesome. Like  parents endless turmoil choosing between schools with the greatest academic rigour. Oh the pure joy of a decision like that. Whilst at the same time I am meeting with learning support at the local High School grilling them with questions. Trying to find a high school that my daughter would be able to survive was my main goal. A high school where she didn’t come out with worse mental health and some of her self esteem still intact.

Other parents don’t really understand what it is like and nor do most of the relatives. Don’t get me wrong other parents have been supportive in the past but you can never understand the constant battles or the daily management needed with a child with Learning Difficulties particularly mixed in with the inevitable mental health issues. I know because I have another child who passes through life with a smile on her face and is absolutely adored by every teacher who has ever had her. She does not approach task with trepidation and the scars that constant failure bring. She approaches everything with determination and persistence.

Talking to my daughter’s new friends parents the other day I mentioned that one of her best friends dumped her and joined the “popular group”. They asked why and I said its because she is a little odd and quirky. She also couldn’t cope with the anxiety which turns her sometimes into silent and no fun. Their reply was to them she was normal and she should fit right in. They also get the anxiety thing. One friend was reluctant to sleep over as she doesn’t know me well. My daughter and I made sure she didn’t remain anxious. Because we can see it, manage it and understand it. Whereas at times I’ve felt embarrassed when my daughters anxious behaviours make her look like a brat child or an unfriendly one.

My daughter’s friends are the only reason that today on Day 1 of Term 3 going back to school is bearable. Last night and this morning the hand wringing and crankiness started with the rise of school anxiety. Better than it used to be. Doesn’t happen for a week and no longer any vomiting. So when she goes to school today she knows her Dyslexic friends are probably feeling the same. So don’t tell me we shouldn’t identify kids with Dyslexia or use the label. In my other blog “The Dirty D word” I have addressed all the issues. But this blog is from the heart. So don’t lecture me until you have walked in my shoes. You will never be able to understand the positives the Dyslexic community brings to these kids or families