Sunday, May 24, 2015

Reading Support Toolbag - for Parents

If I had to create a toolbag of goodies for parents who are dedicated to supporting their children to learn to read (and I mean really read - decode - not just guess) I would include the following.
The first is a recently compiled YouTube presentation from Alison Clarke of Spelfabet  In this video clip Alison demonstrates the difference between teaching practices that teach guessing and the approach used in effective synthetic phonics programs.  She begins with a visual representation of a classroom of children, where they sit on the normal distribution curve and what happens to the little chap down the end with an undiagnosed language disorder.  She finishes with what happens to the normal curve when everyone in the classroom receives evidence based phonics instruction!  For those of you who don't know, Alison is a Speech Therapist in private practice in Melbourne and very active in promoting high quality information about reading and spelling.
The second item I would include in this toolbag are a couple of blog posts from one of the creators of the Sounds Write Phonics Program, John Walker''Should Key Words be Taught as Sight Words' is the first post.  The second is 'Linguistic Phonics:  A Practical Example".  Both these posts give clear examples to parents of how classroom spelling lists or 'sight' words should be worked with at home and how the reading and spelling of all words should be approached.  Approaching reading and spelling in this way teaches children about how the English Alphabet Code works, an important ingredient missing in most classrooms.  And if you are interested in why children don't seem to understand how the code works then perhaps this recent post from John 'Sound to Print: The Appliance of Science' will help.  

Next, I think every parent should have a copy of the Alphabet Code Sheet in their homes.  A free, and very useful one can be found on the Phonics International website of Debbie Hepplewhite.  Given how much instruction struggling students and children with dyslexia, need, in order to learn to read, it is imperative that practice is done at home.  Which is why I work in  partnership with parents (and teachers) - to maximise consistency and repetition in skills and conceptual understanding.  But one of the areas which most adults are deficit in, is in knowing the 44 sounds of the English language and the range of spellings for each sound.  Everyone needs guidance on this, and an English Alphabet Code Chart, displayed in the home and referred to often, is invaluable.

And two books which I think are first rate.  The first is 'Overcoming Dyslexia' by Dr. Sally Shaywitz.  Whilst it is written for parents of children with dyslexia, I found it very approachable in terms of understanding the sound basis to reading problems and why differentiation of speech sounds is so important to all else that comes thereafter.  A great resource. 

The second is Raising Kids Who Read by Dr. Daniel T Willingham.  He is criticized slightly in the post quoted above from John Walker for what he says about teaching the code, but the bulk of the book is about promoting reading, and I think he has some great things to say.  I am a person who loves books, has written in a journal for most of my life, and who birthed a child who struggles with reading and learned to dislike it, and writing, intensely.  Thankfully, we are well past this result of poor teaching and lack of understanding about reading.  Some of the suggestions about small initiatives that can be undertaken in the home to open children up again to reading, and to slowly engage them in the pleasure of reading, helped me turn a very stressful and disheartening situation around.  For his suggestions I am grateful.

All of the suggestions and resources noted above have played a powerful role in turning my experience of parenting a child with reading difficulties around.  Due to their suggestions (and her very open teachers) my daughter and I are increasing our experiences of fun with reading and writing every week!  I have been on a very steep but exceptionally rewarding learning curve.  May all parents of children struggling to read and write be blessed with the same end result.  That is my wish for all of them, and why I am passionate about involving parents in learning.