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 all 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 complete her English ho work. 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 their 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.

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

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.

Phonics myth buster 3 “Nonsense words are silly and we should teach reading in context.”

“Nonsense words are nonsense” is utter nonsense!

One myth that immediately shows the tigers stripes is the myth about nonsense words and context. Straight away your opponent has shown their lack of understanding of learning to read, the importance of phonics and their alliance to multi cueing.

Are nonsense words really nonsense? After all any word that is not in a child’s vocabulary is a nonsense word. Without the ability to decode nonsense words the reading of some of the best children’s literature would be impossible!

Crodsquinkled’ – The BFG by Roald Dahl

Woozles’, ‘Wizzles’ and ‘Heffalumps’ – Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne

Hornswogglers, snozzwangers, whangdoodles and Oompa-Loompas –Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Nonsense words or pseudowords are an essential part of the phonics check. Pseudoword decoding issues are a well established predictor of reading difficulties. Nonsense word tests such as DIBELS have been used for some time as an indicator of decoding difficulties.

Keith Stanovich (2000) …cites several experimental studies that conclude;

• “the speed of naming pronounceable nonwords is one of the tasks that most clearly differentiates good from poor readers” (p. 40).

• It thus is not surprising that pseudoword naming is discovered to be a “potent predictor of reading ability at all levels” (p. 100).

• there is an “incredible potency of pseudoword reading as a predictor of reading difficulty” (p. 207). http://www.nrrf.org/old/essay_pseudowords.html

The phonics Screening check has been examined for validity. “Our analyses show that the phonics screening check is a highly valid measure of children’s phonic skills. The check showed convergent validity by correlating strongly with other measures of phonic skills (e.g., teacher judgements of phonic ability and psychometric tests of nonword reading and spelling) and with broader measures of reading (e.g., single-word reading accuracy, prose reading accuracy and comprehension). It also demonstrated discriminant validity, by showing weaker correlations with more distal skills (e.g., vocabulary and maths).

Furthermore, the phonics screening check seemed to be sensitive with respect to identifying children at risk of reading difficulties.” (Duff 2015) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1467-9817.12029

It needs to be emphasised that this is a simple check of one essential element of reading. An element that can certainly derail a child’s road to effective reading quickly. We also now understand that the majority of children with Dyslexia have a phonological deficit and these children make up the great majority of children who fail to learn to read and require intensive intervention.

In my daughter’s case we were told time and time again she was going ok despite the fact that my parent alarm bell was ringing. It wasn’t until half way through year 2 ,when our new school learning support teacher tested her phonics, that we knew something was really wrong. My daughter could not decode even the most simple nonsense words. Yet she had given the impression she was reading for over 2 years due to her wonderful ability to “guess”. My daughter was read to from a young age and has an enormous vocabulary so she has the ability to guess in context. She would often finish sentences that were over the page. This is not reading.

I’ve heard teachers and parents claiming good readers fail the test and they get tricked by the nonsense words. Nonsense Words are clearly indicated with a monster symbol! There is only one correct pronunciation!

It’s highly Likely that these mystery children have been taught to read using context clues and guessing strategies. These children also may have had the phonics check nonsense word section poorly explained to them. They are also likely to be at risk of reading failure later due to inability to decode.

What about the teachers who in the UK are teaching nonsense words? I’ve heard this as an argument. I haven’t seen any evidence. If they are teaching nonsense words then this is the fault of the teachers and not the check. The only way to teach how to decode nonsense words is to teach decoding explicitly and systematically.

There are some situations when a very limited teaching of nonsense words is valid. It is probably appropriate to explain to children before the phonics test what a nonsense word is, give some examples and show that it is indicated by the monster. Also explain to kids these words have to be decoded. In the case of my daughter we use nonsense words as a diagnostic tool. She has such an extensive vocabulary and has poor guessing habits so we need to test whether she can actually decode. Whether she has learnt a phoneme or guessing is very evident once we throw in a few pseudowords.

Using cues in context for reading comprehension as an adult or a capable reader is a useful strategy. Reading in context for word identification using multiple cues for beginning readers is not a useful strategy and is often a fallback coping mechanism for the poor readers. Encouraging of guessing is not reading and is a very difficult bad habit to undo in struggling readers. It took a long time for us to teach our daughter to decode rather than guess. Going through every word starting with a “D” that you know when faced with an unknown word is not efficient. As a parent it is maddening when my child does this. When she is encouraged to decode she will get the word quickly.

Scientific evidence strongly demonstrates that the development of skilled reading involves increasingly accurate and automatic word identification skills, not the use of “multiple cueing systems” to read words. Skilled readers do not need to rely on pictures or sentence context in word identification, because they can read most words automatically, and they have the phonics skills to decode occasional unknown words rapidly. Rather, it is the unskilled readers who tend to be dependent on context to compensate for poor word identification.” http://www.readingrockets.org/article/use-context-cues-reading

The year 4 reading slump is well documented and is often when children with Dyslexia are diagnosed. In year 3 we switch from learning to read to reading to learn. The text becomes much more difficult at this point and the pretty pictures that children have used to help them guess have vanished. Lack of ability to decode unknown words becomes very evident at this point and affects fluency and comprehension if decoding is not automatic. Reliance on multiple cueing systems fails miserably.

“The 3-cueing approach is a microcosm of the culture of education. It didn’t develop because teachers lack integrity, commitment, motivation or intelligence. It developed because they were poorly trained and advised. They didn’t know the relevant science or had been convinced it was irrelevant. Lacking this foundation, no such group could have discovered how reading works and how children learn.” (Seidenberg, 2017, p.304) For further information on the three cueing system read https://www.nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hempenstall/402-the-three-cueing-system-in-reading-will-it-ever-go-away

Anyone who declares nonsense words are nonsense does not know how to teach reading or how to identify children at risk of reading. I need a big digital stamp for every time I hear this nonsense.

Let me leave you with a little nonsense.

Jabberwocky a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought —

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

An explanation of the poem can be found here….including how he made up the words. http://www.alice-in-wonderland.net/resources/analysis/poem-origins/jabberwocky/

Cutting down phonics Screening Check myths feels a bit like slaying the Jabberwocky …

Phonics Myth Buster 2 “Learning to read is a natural process and advocating just a phonics approach destroys a children’s love of books!”

This myth makes me super mad for a number of reasons. It’s the ultimate straw man and is frequently trotted out when faced with research and logical arguments. It is also one of the most ridiculous arguments in the anti-phonics arsenal.

Surrounding children with books does not teach them 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. Her first sentence was “read dis book yep” as she followed me around the house toddling and carrying a book. She had a lovely kindy teacher who read her books and played games but she was not so good at teaching phonics. My daughter developed severe anxiety centred around school and reading and would throw her readers across the room with ferocity. I can attest to the fact they were not great literature either!

In year 3 we hired a structured literacy tutor who taught her explicitly and systematically phonics, Fluency, comprehension, phonemic awareness and vocabulary. Gradually her love of books outweighed her fear of books as she learnt to read. So she has gone from being a non reader in year 3, without the ability to even sound out “cat”, to year 7 loving books. I still read to her every night. She has dozens of books piled into her bed to read. To calm her anxiety she reads. She writes stories constantly and says “books are magic portals to other worlds.” English is one of her favourite subjects.

Can anyone please point out who the phonics only advocates are?

I’m not sure who these so called phonics only advocates are because they get mentioned so much and I’m yet to meet them. I’d really like to meet them and tell them how stupid they are…..but I fear they are but a mystical creature. They are the boogie men of the phonics world. Made up to scare all the teachers who don’t want to accept the science that conclusively shows the importance of an explicit and systematic approach to the teaching of reading, including phonics.

Let’s examine some of the phonics check expert advisory panel. Do they advocate a phonics only approach?

Jennifer Buckingham is behind the Five From Five initiative which aims to improve literacy levels by ensuring all children receive effective, evidence based reading instruction. I will give you a clue…..Five from Five….not one from one. Jennifer Buckingham advocates “The simple view of reading is that learning to read requires two abilities – correctly identifying words (decoding) and understanding their meaning (comprehension). Acquisition of these two broad abilities requires the development of more specific skills. An extensive body of research on reading instruction shows that there are five essential skills for reading and that a high quality literacy program should include all five components…..Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabluary and Comprehension.” http://www.fivefromfive.org.au/five-keys-to-reading/ Five from Five is a great website with substantial research information. It is worth taking a look.

Pamela Snow, according to her University profile, specialises in research in “the oral language skills of high-risk young people (youth offenders and those in the state care system), and the role of oral language competence as an academic and mental health protective factor in childhood and adolescence and applying evidence in the language-to-literacy transition in the early years of school.” So put simply she researches the role of oral language and effect on literacy.

What Pamela Snow says about the myth …”One of the tired and hoary old chestnuts that is regularly trotted out against those who argue for better and more systematic phonics instruction is that there’s more to reading than simply decoding text. That’s a bit like saying that there’s more to making a cup of tea than boiling the kettle. Advocates for evidence-based phonics instruction have always seen learning to decode as a necessary but not sufficient part of literacy learning. The Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) asserts the importance of both decoding and comprehension. So if you can’t get words on and off the page, what hope do you have of participating in digital, critical, multi or any other sort of literacy?”http://pamelasnow.blogspot.com.au/2016/04/reading-is-verb-literacy-is-not.html

Check out her blog the Snow report as it is excellent.

Mandy Nayton states “Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, structured synthetic phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency and reading comprehension strategies provide all children with a clear learning advantagehttp://auspeld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Balanced-Reading-Programs-What-are-they.pdf

So stop trotting the myth out that phonics is promoted as the cure all to reading. Also stop throwing the love of books back at us “phonics advocates.”

The phonics check is a simple check to identify children most at risk of reading failure and ensure all children are given adequate phonics instruction. “We know that children taught to read using structured synthetic phonics will be a year ahead of controls and national norms initially and will maintain or even add to this advantage over time (Johnston and Watson, 2003; McCardle and Chhabra, 2004).” http://auspeld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Balanced-Reading-Programs-What-are-they.pdf

It is time to drop the myths and ideologies and follow the evidence. We are leaving too many kids behind. Pamela Snow could certainly give you the research on the consequences of illiteracy and as an admin of Dyslexia Support Australia I can give you the horror stories.

Never give up, never surrender

To all the parents who are on the start of their dyslexia journey.

  • Seeking answers.
  • Finding the right path.
  • Fighting for help.
  • Struggling to take a breath.
  • Heartbroken over their child’s suffering.
  • Crying themselves to sleep.
  • Navigating snake oil.
  • Waking in terror of their child’s future.

It certainly feels like I’ve been travelling the bumpy dyslexia road for a lifetime and sometimes it feels like an eternity.

I wish, I regret….guilt

  • I wish I had listened to my inner alarm bells sooner. I was a high school teacher. I trusted the knowledge of the primary school teachers.
  • I wish the school taught explicit systematic phonics and structured literacy better so she didn’t get so far behind.
  • I wish they had identified and intervened earlier with evidence based methods. Reading recovery was a smoke screen which gave us the impression she could read but in its wake was a child who still could not read with no self esteem intact.
  • I wish I took her to a psychologist sooner as I had no idea how bad her anxiety had become. Paralysing her every moment at school and seeping into every corner of her life.

Parental guilt can eat you alive. Don’t let it. It is the school’s responsibility to teach your child to read. They are suppose to do this! They are suppose to know how to do this! The important thing is that you are fighting for your child now with every inch of strength you have.

Arm yourself with knowledge! This is your weapon! If the school doesn’t know what should be done then it is knowledge that will give you power to demand what your child deserves! Every child has the right to an education!

My daughter has come so far that I have to remind myself where she used to be. It is not about comparing her to others but it is about how much she has managed to achieve despite the odds. She is unrecognisable to the scared and broken child she once was!

Dyslexic children can learn to read, love books and be happy to go to school. All I ever wanted was to pick up my child from school and see a smile. Nowadays that happens most of the time. My daughter has dyslexia, dysgraphia, anxiety and maths difficulties. So school is still tough some days. But she is moving forward and we have way more good days than bad days. She reads and writes for pleasure and with enthusiasm.

It has taken a lot of sessions with a structured literacy tutor, assistance and understanding from the school and some wonderful teachers willing to learn and listen! These days I ring and write to the school less! We have far more wins than losses! It has taken over 2 years to build up her self esteem and overcome the learned helplessness. Teaching her to read took far less time than putting her back together.

We used to hear my daughter say frequently the words no parent wants to hear;

  • I am stupid!
  • I am dumb!
  • I can’t do anything!
  • I don’t want to go to school!
  • I hate myself!
  • There is no point trying!
  • I give up!
  • I hate reading!
  • I will never learn to read!

My daughter now believes in herself. She now believes;

  • She is smart and talented.
  • She has strengths and weaknesses like anyone.
  • She is capable of learning anything but sometimes she just has to work harder.
  • She can manage her anxiety demon and push through the hard times.
  • That being dyslexic is awesome and she has been empowered by being a member of an amazing dyslexic community.

You will be proud of them everyday because every little thing they will have to fight for and work hard for! They will come out the other side strong, resilient and capable.

You will cry. You will cry together and you will cry alone. You will cry with each success and with each set back.

One day they will look back on their school days knowing that their parents never gave up on them. They will understand one day how much you fought for them and how you could always see their brilliance!

Never give up on your child! Never let them give up on themselves! They will do amazing things. It might just take them a little longer or they may go down a different road.

Never give up and never surrender! 

Parent Fact Sheet

See the link for basic facts and where to get more help. https://www.dropbox.com/s/wjut52pjgzuf0qd/Parent%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?dl=0