Friday, April 11, 2014

Sounds-Write Down Under

This past week, John Walker, UK founder of the Sounds-Write Phonics Program has been in Perth with Mary Gladstone (Sounds-Write Australia) running training groups as DSF South Perth and staff at a local school. Tutors and Teachers who were trained last year also had the opportunity to spend several hours with John and Mary, before both departed for their homes overseas and interstate.  I was very fortunate to partake of this opportunity.

Not only did I reap the rewards of John's and Mary's experience and expertise, I also benefitted from the experience and questions of my Sounds Write colleagues.  Many thanks to DSF South Perth for the opportunity to spend time with all these amazing teachers.  I picked up a few tips for working with students who have been so traumatised by their journey in trying to learn to read that they can barely participate.  I learned that our brains are hardwired for recognising faces, learning language, picking up social practices, hunting and learning to recognize predators.   All other learning builds on this primary hardwiring.

The book 'Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn' by John Hattie and Gregory Yates was mentioned more than once - I will post more on that in future blogs.  Reference to this book reinforced what was presented in an educational psychology seminar I attended the previous evening - if we want children to be able to spell well they must have explicit instruction with a lot of repetition - at least 4 repetitions for each word if a representation of the word is to be retained in long term memory. The real work in teaching spelling is in the 'extended code' - understanding the sounds represented by more than one letter.

We talked about the reality that there are no 'rules' in spelling and that probably no teacher could cite all the 'exceptions' that are often referred to when the illusion of 'rules' is taught.  We discussed the use of good old fashioned encyclopedias when working with the extended code.  I have another list of professional books I need to purchase as well as non decodable books we can introduce whilst teaching the extended code. So much for curtailing my expenditure on books .....

Sunday, April 6, 2014

b' and 'd'

Many students have difficulty remembering the orientation of 'b' and 'd' when reading and writing.  Students on the spectrum of dyslexia in particular find it difficult 'bedding down' the correct orientation for 'b' and 'd', 'p' and 'q', 'm' and 'w'.  So the challenge is to find a strategy that enables them to quickly make the correct orientation and to practice it to the point of automaticity i.e. to build the neural pathway and to strengthen it to the degree that kids who are hard wired to see patterns and make connections, do with less effort and explicit instruction.

Various approaches are used.  At the very basic level all letters are made up of circles (whole or in part) and strokes.  Sometimes teachers use the terms 'bats' and 'balls'.  For the letter 'b' students are verbally instructed that the bat comes before the ball whilst for the letter 'd' the ball comes before the bat.  But we know from brain research that visual presentation of material always wins out so using verbal language to create the correct neural pathway may not be the most effective.

With my students I have them put their hands in front of them, palms facing them and ask them to close their
fingers.  They then have 'b' and 'd' directly in front of them.  If I link this movement to the word 'bed' then they have an easy and quick method of comparing their hands to letters in front of them to determine if the letter is a 'b' or 'd' and therefore if the sound to be spoke is a /b/ or /d/.

A couple of weeks ago a friend informed me that her son (with dyslexia) had worked out his own way of knowing how to differentiate between 'b' and 'd'.  She then showed me that when we start to make the sound /b/ our lips are tight together and in a straight line, i.e. the 'bat' is first when we say /b/.  Similarly when we start to make the sound /d/ our lips are round and open, i.e. the 'ball' comes first when we say /d/. Since then I have learned that this technique is promoted by reading therapists worldwide.  But be prepared.  Just because they have learned to use the hand or mouth technique to differentiate between /b/ and /d/, children will need to check using their technique every time they encounter the sound or letter.  Otherwise they will continue to guess - incorrectly.

Out of the mouths of babes .....


Loving Words

I was going to say one of the reasons I got involved in understanding reading and how to teach it was because I wanted to be able to influence children's relationship to the written word and the joy that can come from it.  Actually that wasn't the one big reason - THAT was watching my daughter struggle with no observable support from her classroom teacher at that time.  Back THEN I thought that getting children to read was simply about finding the right program to teach them.  What I FINALLY realised was that yes, there is overwhelming evidence that a great phonics program really does make a huge difference, but what I saw at the level of one on one tutoring was that how I was in my being and how much enthusiasm I brought to the learning experience was of equal if perhaps not more, importance.

I love books, I love to read ... and at my age I should probably be sitting around, enjoying the simple pleasure of reading, a lot.  I am happy when I am reading and playing with words.  So how do I bring this to my tutoring of young charges, who, more often than not, have been totally put off reading because they were either not taught correctly and/or just had too much difficulty with the task.  I go back to being able to influence children's relationship to words on a page, the fabulous stories they convey, the pleasure of turning a page, the texture of paper, and the feelings of pride when we construct our own stories.

I am a trained bookbinder.  I have conducted many workshops with adults and children on making their own books.  I have not yet progressed on to writing my own book, but who knows, maybe one day.  

The book, 'Homemade Books to Help Kids Cope' by Robert G. Ziegler, M.D. is a book I hold as one of my most treasured.  I love the idea of writing stories for children who need help with understanding.  I love the idea of parents writing stories for their children and I love the idea of translating these stories into little homemade books if people want to take it one step further.  If children have a negative relationship with words then my aim is to engage them through sensate rich creativity.  Using the process outlined in this book, simple bookbinding skills and kids' interest in writing stories and adding their artwork, I aim to increase the power of the learning and change their experience to one of awesome enjoyment.

I start with a Sounds Write lesson in which children sort words of the same sound into different spellings.  We know from our research that solid spelling skills required repeated exposure (and for many children, lots of repeated exposure!).  We also know that the more senses we engage the more meaning is made of what is being learned and the more rich and solid the neural pathways that are constructed.  In Sounds Write the sorting process is taught and can be followed up with worksheets.  I have taken it one step further.

Here I have taken the story writing template outlined in the book mentioned above and invite children to write a 'decodable' story using as many words with the target sound as possible.  All other words may only be constructed from sounds they have covered.  Any frequent words with irregular spellings will also need to have been covered in the Sounds Write Sequence and Scope.  Its a challenge but not as difficult as it may seem.  And if children are really motivated I invite them to add their own artwork or for those especially keen I am happy to bind up a simple book which they take away.  As these stories and books are constructed I will post them on my blog.


Here is one I constructed with daughter last year - only we haven't got around to adding the artwork!
Published decodable books can be expensive to buy and come along with professional artwork.  We all need resources to support our work using good phonics' programs.  Older children can be put off with some of the 'younger looking' resources available to them.  In addition to being more multisensory and then more potentially powerful, perhaps writing one's own story and illustrations is also more grown up.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Taking the 'S' out of Viper

Whilst looking at this card in the latest local card collection craze my daughter stated that the name of the character was 'Visper'.  This didn't quite sound right so I asked her to look at the word more carefully and tell me again what the name was.  "Oh," she said, "It's Viper."  I asked her why she said 'Visper' the first time around.  She said she didn't know.  And what about you?  Any hunches?

For many children in early primary school they are taught the sounds of letters through pairing with pictures, and in the case of the /S/ sound it is often paired with a picture of a snake.  In my daughter's case her brain has wired into it that the picture of a snake always implies the presence of an /S/ sound. This pairing has been learned to automaticity, which simply means that whenever she sees a picture of a snake in a pose similar to that used on the picture cards of her early primary school, it means an /S/ sound should be around somewhere - even if it isn't represented in a written word.  In her case neural pathways about the pairing of sounds and pictures have been instilled.  What hasn't been learnt to automaticity is that the eyes need to look for representations of sounds via letters in written words if they are to be read accurately.  In an attempt to make the learning of letters interesting and what some might term multisensory, teachers innocently embellish their teaching practices with things like pictures and stories and movement which often distracts the neurological wiring children really need - which is the pairing of sounds with letter representations.

This situation can also be seen with children who have learnt 'l' or 'r' blends to automaticity .  This is where a consonant is paired with an 'l' or an 'r' for example and children are taught to learn through repetition words that begin with 'fl' and 'br'. What I can then encounter in tutoring sessions and in the classroom are students who, when they come across words beginning with an 'f' or a 'b', automatically add in the 'l' or 'r' blend.  For example, a child may be presented with the word 'bend' but through the repetitive learning of 'bl' blends they then automatically read the word as 'blend' even though no 'l' is present in the word.

There are a sizeable number of literacy programs available to schools and parents. And unlike some other countries, in Australia anyone can create their own program and market it to the general public and our educational facilities.  There is also a long history around what is regarded as the 'best' approach to teaching children how to read.  In the middle of all this we continue to have significant numbers of children failing to learn to read, or worse still, learning to hate reading.

For me, the Sounds Write Phonics Program is impressive.  It pares reading back to the three skills of blending, segmenting and phoneme manipulation.  Sounds come first - in every teaching interaction. Superfluous buffering of teaching through the use of pictures, blends, onset & rime, stories, are extracted, allowing the teaching methods to directly create the neural pathways needed for reading.  The alphabetic code (how the alphabet is used to represent sounds in words) is sequentially, cumulatively and explicitly taught.   Dynamic lessons coupled with 'safe' relationship support learning.  For a taste of the Sounds Write program I highly recommend that teachers and parents purchase the Sounds Write Phonics Program App from itunes.  At $2.99 for the Initial Code this is a great way to start.  And for those of you interested in the science behind the practice I highly recommend the blog 12 Jan 2014 post Linguistic phonics: a practical example by John Walker (Founder and Creator of the Sounds Write Phonics Program) to be found in his blog The Literacy Blog.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Insight Inside Children

I was listening to the 22 November 2013 BlogRadioTalk of Elsie Spittle and Linda Pransky when Linda talked about a young girl she was coaching in the 3 principles.  At one point Elsie commented on the level of wisdom in that young soul and in a flash I could 'see' what she was talking about.  Wisdom or Insight is not something that is given to us. Sure we learn a lot from being in physical form and experiencing life (if we pay attention) but the realisations that come, even from our reflections, are insights from deep within ourselves. They are information that we already know.
I do not have the same insights as another person.  I frame my insights with the use of my attention and focus. What I am curious about provides the temenos for the insights that come to me.  If I ponder and reflect upon the 3 principles then I will have insights about them, if I ponder and reflect upon the complexity of living in today's world then I will have insights about that.  Insights will always come to us, but whether we recognise them is another matter and will depend upon our own consciousness about the fact of wisdom or insight from within.
Young people, if engaged with in such a way that they feel secure and safe, will have their own insights about the three psychological principles operating in all of us and about how they are using those principles to create their lives.  As therapists and parents we are never in control of what they may 'hear' or 'realise' from within, we can only listen to our wisdom about how best to quiet their minds, create feelings of security, provide information and pose questions.  But what is realized from within them is totally out of our control.  But insights and realizations they will have - and they will come from the understanding or connection they have to understanding that already exists within them.
Doesn't that blow your mind away?  If we can help our children to understand the nature of the principles that operate within them, to be mindful of their state of mind and the feelings that come with it, to recognise the quiet and loud voices of wisdom and insight, and to reinforce their relationship with and trust in that wisdom, then their lives will be beyond what we have come to realise in our own and they will be okay always.  They already have everything they need inside them.
Elsie and Linda talk about the need for the adults in children's lives to not look for what is wrong in our children, but rather to look for the fact that they have wisdom. Cultivate that awareness and bring it to your children.  This amazing gift will allow them to reap all the richness that resides in their inner being, that gift will be like allowing our children to open their own treasure chests (and not just the ones flashing across movie screens).  Bring to their attention when you see them in their wisdom and doing things right. Talk to them about what this feels like versus the feelings that come with being in other forms of thought.  In time the feeling of being in wisdom will be something they consciously seek and nurture every day and they will notice sooner rather than later when they are in thought that leads them astray.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

When Insight Seems Small ... but is Huge!

During 2013 I did my best to manage part time employment with mothering, maintaining a large and older home, and caring for our family pets.  It was a big ask.  Cleaning the family home became an irregular activity, the pets were provided with the bare essentials and my parenting seemed to swing wildly from taking the time to be present to often rushing from one thing to another.  There were many many periods in which nothing came together in a satisfactory way. And to top it all off my year ended with the feeling that I just didn't earn enough money to keep it all afloat.
But it's interesting how our minds can get carried away by frenetic trains of thought.  In the midst of all that activity I decided that I needed full time work to bring in the money and would just have to pay for a cleaner, after school care, and every other support I needed. This decision didn't make much sense really, my mind was already filled with too much to do, adding more things to manage and keep afloat - all in the name of having more money available - didn't feel right.  Something deep inside me knew this, and I was walking around with one of those inner niggles going on but didn't pay attention to it.  I half heartedly applied for a couple of additional jobs, and then one day I was told of a job going and that the organisation was 'desperate' for someone to fill the position.  The word 'desperate' stuck in my mind (wisdom signalling!).  'Desperate' wasn't my problem or responsibility, it was someone else's - so what was mine?
Finally I stopped blindly moving forward and instead took out my journal, writing what I thought was really my problem and what I could do about it.  The feeling inside me was that rather than extend myself further I needed to slow down more, simplify and nurture my home, including all its inhabitants.  I started sewing, ideas for two blogs came to me and it felt right to stay with my part time work and extend myself through two new blogs rather than seek more paid employment.
I decided to look for sewing ideas in my local library and came across the book 'Down to Earth' by Rhonda Hetzel.  Immediately, I clicked with the information contained inside.  The first chapter begins with questions about defining what is important to each of us and about how we can align our lives more simply with that calling.  My path has now turned, no more continuation with the frenetic thinking about doing more, instead, I am slowing down and simplifying.
And then I listened to the 22 November 2013 BlogTalkRadio with Elsie Spittle and Linda Pransky.  Both these women talked of how much they enjoyed being in service, but had recently experienced the quiet niggle (wisdom) about the need to do less.  They followed the insights that came out of that space and have now realised so much more - for themselves and others.  And just this morning I was talking with my (senior) mother about how overwhelmed she is feeling coping with the complexities that come with technology in her home.  She seems to have more to respond to, sign ups these days seem to come with automatic upgrades (at a cost) unless the company is notified and websites seem to be very difficult to navigate.  In talking with my mother it was clear that much of what she had subscribed to was now no longer necessary - she had enough information in her areas of interest and probably could live without the internet. What I could see clearly whilst she was talking (this is insight) is that we all can get involved with something which, untethered, can lead us into overwhelm and imbalance.
Oh, how grateful I am for the unassuming and often overlooked activity of wisdom in all of us. Neither myself, nor all the women mentioned above needed to keep a conscious and calculated check on their activity, they just needed to heed the quiet murmurings of wisdom, it is always there.  Activity out of intellect will feel one way whilst action out of insight feels another.  One potentially imbalances, whilst the other always balances and harmonises.  Sometimes the murmurings of wisdom out of insight can seem small .... a niggle in the background, but if we stop and listen and follow, its unfolding can be huge!


Monday, January 13, 2014

Insight Always Comes

The beginning of a new year and the beginning of a new direction with this blog.  Children ... are we raising and educating them in a manner that will provide them with the mindsets and self awareness that will sustain them well into middle age and beyond?  I remember my own childhood - and how different the world is now compared to then.  From experience I know that this will be the case for my own child.  But unlike yesteryear, today's children are not so healthily supported by the environments and contexts in which they live.  Children of yesteryear had cleaner air, cleaner food, more nutritious food, cleaner seas and water, more structure and therefore more psychological security in their homes and communal life.  Parenting in that context could be less conscious than what is required today if we are to truly support our children to grow into sustainable human beings.
As a parent today I am surrounded by endless information on how I should raise my child, some of it contradictory.  How do I make good parenting decisions and how do I model for my child how to make good life decisions. The answer lies in knowing myself.  Knowing that within each and every one of us is wisdom, an innate capacity, when our mind is slowed and if we choose to attend, to know from within in which direction to move.  I need to model for my child and use language with my child that points her attention to the fact that within her, if she chooses to listen, is the most powerful source of direction, wisdom, intelligence, she will ever come across.  The fact is that, if one quietens their mind, information will come about the direction in which they turn their attention.
Insight comes all the time - if we quiet our mind, if we let go of the type of thinking we were raised to use, and listen.  Insight is not the same as intellect.  It is almost a still seeing or a still voice, some of you may call it intuition.  Whatever the name you give it, it has a certain quality or timbre and comes with a calm feeling.  For a brilliant discussion about the presence of insight even in moments of anxiety go to the 10 January 2014 BlogTalkRadio Fireside Chats with Elsie Spittle and Linda Pransky.  As a parent you want to develop your own relationship with this 'home' within yourself and develop the art of observing the quality of your mind so that you may consciously drop old patterns of thought and live more from insight.  It is this same observation of one's own state of mind that can then be transferred to observations of and interactions with, your child.
For example, yesterday I had the opportunity to observe my child in an environment outside my home and not my responsibility.  Her behaviours changed considerably.  Instead of seeing my normally present and centred child I was witnessing one that was demanding and unbounded.  I spent most of my time trying to unobtrusively bring her behaviour back into the bounds of some degree of normality (for her) but this felt like trying to contain spilt paint moving quickly in all directions.  Later that evening, when I had a quiet moment to myself I reflected upon her behaviour and what might have been going on for her. What I realised is that she was in a pattern of thought she draws upon when in that situation - but it was not thought from innate wisdom .... insight.  She (her mind) was stuck.
In the past this situation would have been enough for me to drop into my old patterns of thought.  But with a deeper feeling for intellect/insecurity versus insight, I had the wisdom to know I simply had to let things be until she was with me again.  Then I could observe where her mind was at, do what I could to quieten it down and then use language that would start to build a knowledge base (awareness) for her about being in insight versus being in insecurity.  Her understanding would come from her experience of her feelings and the language I use to differentiate and highlight insight.
Insights always comes. In the year ahead I intend to blog regularly about the insights coming to me during my day, both at home and work - about the importance of modelling and teaching about the fact of wisdom and insight within each of us, and about the contexts and information that support the sustainability of our children, or not.  I hope you will join me for this journey, any questions would be most welcome.