Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Strategy #4: The spelling and reading top 10

Strategy #4: When the going gets tough...shift the focus.

Some of you reading this may believe that if your child has an identified weakness in a particular area of learning, one of the best ways to address this weakness is to focus more intently on it. I agree with this to a certain extent. For example, if you or your child's teacher has used a particular strategy to explain a concept to your child and they are still struggling with it, I believe it is then appropriate to try a different approach. However, I don't believe it is healthy to continue to focus on this concept to the point where the child starts to question their own self worth because they begin to view themselves as a failure.

We know that children with learning difficulties, especially dyslexia usually have a poor self image which ultimately affects their learning. If your child is having difficulty learning to read and write, or they are finding it difficult to keep up with the rest of their class, it is very important to shift the focus away from academics so they don't come to believe that this is who they are as a whole person. It is only a small part of who they are and therefore they should not be defined by this.

A poor self image can impede a person's emotional and intellectual development throughout their life. Here's what media mogul Kerry Packer once said about his school life.

“My life was sport. I was academically stupid. My method of
surviving through school and those sorts of things was sport.”

Fortunately for Mr Packer he had the tenacity to over come his learning difficulties to become one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs, however, some students are not so fortunate. Here are some things you can do for your child to shift the focus away from academics.

1. Reward effort not results:

When it's time for the school reports to come home I always read the attitude comments first. If my children are concentrating in class and their teachers are happy that they are putting in all the effort they are capable of I am more than happy with that. Liz Dunoon, author of "Helping children with dyslexia" says, "I always believe a mark of average C or 50-70% pass is exceptional" for her own children with dyslexia, and I have to agree. Your children need to know that you love them unconditionally, regardless of the results shown on their school report.

2. What is your child passionate about?

I'm not talking about saving the world here, but I'm sure some children would say they are really interested in SOMETHING, be it the environment, bugs, dinosaurs, rocks, monster trucks, dance, drama, cooking, soccer, martial arts or athletics.

If your child doesn't know what interests them, and you don't know what they like to do or what they are good at, then find out! There are many and varied activities such as museums or programs set up by local councils in the school holidays that cost minimal amounts of money. Take your kids along and let them experience some success outside of the classroom. It has been proven that if children experience success in one area of their life, they begin to believe that can achieve success in other areas of their life too. Mr Packer is a prime example!

3. Link their passion to books:

After you've discovered what subjects interest them, take them along to the local library and see which sections they gravitate towards. Borrow and read books for pleasure so that they begin to associate reading as a pleasurable activity.

4. Make a positivity poster:
You can call this anything you like, but basically your child places a picture of themselves in the centre of the cardboard and then draws or collages pictures of themselves doing all the things they like and are good at around the picture.

If they'd like some written words, perhaps you could scribe (write) them down so the expressive process is not lost by trying to spell words correctly. Try some of these words to get you started:

The idea is for your child to see there are many things in life that they are successful in. Invite members of your family and friends to write positive comments on small slips of paper that can be added to the poster should your child wish. This is such a positive experience and goes a long way to help your child develop a sense of who they are that is not defined by their academic success.

Until next time,

Monday, 17 September 2012

Strategy #3: The spelling and reading top 10

Strategy #3: Read, read, read!

When your child begins formal schooling at the age of 5 or 6 they bring with them sophisticated listening and speaking skills which will help them interpret the print they will encounter inside the classroom and within the community. Hopefully they will have a sound understanding of the alphabet (the symbols or the "morphemes" of our language) and the sounds (the "phonemes") they represent. How then does your child use this information to become a fluent reader? The answer lies in the practise of reading itself.

Here are some useful strategies to help you and your child enjoy reading and encourage them to become life long readers and ultimately life long learners.

Shared Reading:

This works very well with children under the age of eight. I am an advocate for introducing babies to books so they attach positive emotions to reading from a young age.  Shared Reading involves sitting with your child and reading to them.


By encouraging your child to interact with the book it allows them to orientate themselves with the conventions of literature which involves such things as learning how to hold the book, identifying the front cover as well as the characters and the print within the book.

When you read, move your finger underneath the words which will show your child that we read from left to right (in English). Your child will learn to respect books and associate positive emotions to this experience as you bond together through the reading experience.  

Paired Reading:

Is a strategy you can use to help your child with reading fluency. It follows on beautifully from Shared Reading and allows your child to make meaning of unfamiliar words as they experience them within the story. The method involves a skilled Reader (the parent, older sibling or school buddy) and the child who is learning to read, both reading a book together. Paired Reading differs from Shared Reading as both the parent and the child read the book aloud at the same time. The parent (or more skilled reader) needs to move their finger underneath the print so that both readers stay together.

Every child benefits from taking part in a Paired Reading session, it’s not just for children with learning difficulties! Paired Reading will not only improve your child's reading ability but also their confidence.

Here’s a bonus…Parents who have used this strategy report that their children are more co-operative at home! This may be due to the child’s self-esteem improving, but it could also be due to the parent’s relationship with the child becoming stronger as parents spend more time with their children.

Take a look at the following You tube video and follow the easy steps to a successful Paired Reading session:

Paired reading has been used by Teachers to improve reading abilities in primary and secondary schools.

Paired reading is also a powerful tool that can help your Dyslexic teenager. This strategy is especially useful when they have large amounts of reading to complete for a variety of subject areas. It allows the Dyslexic student to encounter subject specific vocabulary in context.

Audio Books:

Are fantastic! If you have a learning disability it has never been easier for you to have access to assistive technology. This is technology such as computers, MP3 players and even smartphones that help you to succeed through helping you to read and therefore gain information. Many local council libraries have eAudiobooks and eBooks available for free download if you are a library member. Gold Coast residents can find out more by going to .
This little guy has the right idea, although I would like to see him open the book and read the print whilst listening to the text. Audio books provide the same opportunities as Paired Reading for your Dyslexic child to access quality literature with a sense of independence. This is so important when they are becoming older and want to be viewed as independent learners. Audio books can be loaded onto your child's MP3 player and nobody is aware if they are listening to "P!NK" or "Pride and Prejudice".
On a personal note, I have used all of the strategies listed above. When I was pregnant with my twin girls I actually read to them before they were born (I know, tragic but true!). Having already completed two teaching degrees by the time they came into the world, I understood the importance reading played in gaining early literacy, however one of my children still presented as Dyslexic. Today, she is an avid reader who has devoured more literature than her non-Dyslexic twin. I believe this is because for her, reading never lost it's sparkle.
Even though reading became somewhat laborious during the "home reader" phase of years 1, 2 and 3 (when all the children are focused on which "Level" they are on) as a parent, I kept reading to her and we kept reading together - searching in the local library for books that interested her. Then we introduced her to audio books. Fortunately for us (and you might find this works with your Dyslexic teenager too) we couldn't access the third audio book in a series she was reading, however, she did managed to find it in print and the sparkle was so strong that she just had to read the book without the assistive technology, low and behold... she was reading all by herself!
Keep reading until next time!


Strategy #2: The spelling and reading top 10

Here is strategy number 2 of my top 10 strategies to help your child become a more confident reader and speller. I'm sorry, but some of you may find this one means you need to do a bit of homework yourself, but I know you're up for it!
Strategy #2: Understand and Introduce Syllables: Once your child has a basic knowledge of letters and the sounds those letters make, then they will start to read and form simple words. When this happens it is time to introduce syllables. Many parents find it difficult to help their children with this because they do not understand how syllables work.

It’s Ok, because you're probably children of the 70’s and 80’s who were subjected to the “Whole Language” approach to teaching spelling and reading. The “Whole Language” approach focused mainly on gaining meaning from literature rather than using phonics to decode and construct words. This means you essentially missed out on learning the spelling and grammar rules, however, you were expected to observe these rules in use and apply them. It’s a little bit like running onto a European handball court without any prior knowledge of the rules and being expected to work the game out as you go along and win a gold medal. Most of us were set up to fail. Thankfully, it has been recognised that playing without the rule book is just too difficult!

Things you need to know about syllables:
  1. Language has rhythm and a syllable is a beat or clap within a word.
  2. The number of syllables in a word is exactly the same as the number of vowel (sounds) in that word. (I’ll explain this in a minute!)
  3. Within every word you have vowels and consonants.
We can see the vowels below are A, E, I, O, U and we also include Y as it acts just like a vowel in English some of the time. All the rest of the letters are consonants.

Let’s look at dividing some words into syllables:

So, if you have any of the words below, which have one vowel and therefore one syllable/beat, you place a circle around it.

Any of the following words have two vowels and therefore two syllables or beats.

When a word has a double consonant, such as HOPPING you always divide the word in the centre of the doubled consonant as this will alert your child to the doubled letter in the word. This is for them to avoid writing HOPING instead of HOPPING.
Lastly, back to point number two above. Many words are spelt with a combination of vowels. You will notice that usually when two vowels are together we pronounce the first vowel sound. You may have heard your children saying "When two vowels go walking the first one does the talking." Such as:

Boat = long vowel sound "O" / Suit = long vowel sound "U" / Eat = long vowel sound E

Breaking words into syllables makes it easier for your child to identify the sounds within a word and also makes it easier for them to remember the components of the word because it's being chunked down into smaller pieces.

Here are some fun activities based on those from Neil Mackay's fantastic book called "Taking the hell out of homework." They will make remembering the weekly spelling list a little easier:
  1. "Clap and tap" the syllables with your foot or march them around the room; these are all great ways to make multisensory links that help your child internalise the word. Remember that language has rhythm - that's why poetry works.
  2. "Make and break" the word. This involves borrowing some letters from your scrabble set and asking your child to make the word, then break it into syllables.
  3. Write, the word onto a slip of paper, seperate the word into it's syllables and then tear it into it's syllables. Ask your child to reconstruct it the word a few times. 
  4. "See and write" the word. Ask your child to close their eyes and visualise or "see" the word they have just worked on. Ask them to write it on their eye lids or take a photo of it. Ask them to open their eyes and look at it again, then close their eyes and see it on their eye lids "Written in fire!" Then ask them to open their eyes and write the word on a piece of paper.

By repeating this process for a few minutes throughout the week your child should have more sucess with their weekly spelling words.

Remember, syllables help your child to pronounce words correctly and this will help them to make connections with those spelling words and eventually transfer them from their short term to their long term memory.

Until next time,


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Strategy #1: The spelling and reading top 10

Over the next few days I will be posting my top 10 strategies to help your child become a more confident reader and speller. Some of these strategies you may have seen before, many may be new. The best thing is, your child will actually start to enjoy reading, writing and spelling more because through using these strategies they will begin to have more success and then their confidence will begin to grow.

Strategy #1: Learn the names and the sounds of the alphabet:

This is so important and is sometimes seen as a little bit old fashioned, but I cannot stress enough how important it is for your child to become familiar with the symbols and sounds that form the foundation of our language. Singing the "alphabet song" is great, but do this whilst pointing to and holding actual letters made from wood, magnets or even play dough.

This way when your child sings "A" they will know what an "A" looks and feels like. Slow down when you come to "L,M,N,O,P" and please let them touch each letter individually! Here is an even better alternative, learn a new song. The sounds and speed in this You tube video by A.J. Jenkins are perfect for Australian kids:

Instead of placing the alphabet in a long line, sequence them in an arc around your child so they can touch each one. Let your child "flip, slide and turn" each letter to form a multisensory link with them. Tell your child the name of the letter and what sounds it makes. Start with those letters that are meaningful to them, such as the first, middle and last letters in their names or use the examples from the song above.

    When I work with individual students to Target Dyslexia we always use "Capital" or "Uppercase letters" to start with as these are easier to distinguish from each other. Then we introduce the "Lower Case" (as shown above) letters at a later stage. If you are starting this strategy with preschool children, it would be my recommendation to begin with lower case letters. If your child has been identified as having a specific learning disability such as Dyslexia, then introduce the letters using "Upper Case" first.

    At this point I think it's appropriate to talk about handwriting. As I mentioned before, children need to make solid connections between the sounds used within our language and the letters that represent those sounds. This means it is important that they learn how to write properly. Take a look below at how Ella is taught how to write her name.

    This may seem "old fashioned", and you might think it a waste of time because our children spend so much time in front of screens and keyboards these days, but I would argue for that very reason we need to encourage our children to learn to write. After all, no computers are allowed during examinations when they get into senior high school.

    Therefore, it's important that your child learns how to hold a pencil correctly, sits up straight, uses their non-writing hand to steady the page and begins by writing something meaningful to them, such as their name. If you have pre-school children, please expose them to lower case letters first (but with an Upper Case letter for the beginning of their name, just like Ella did). If you have children in school I urge you to speak to their teacher and ask for a copy of the handwriting being taught at your school. Please remember, all letters begin from the TOP.

    Until next time,


What's it like being Dyslexic?

Here's a great little animation that highlights what it can be like for students who have Dyslexia.
Hope you enjoy.


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Dyslexia: Should I label my child?

You are possibly on a journey to discover the cause behind your child’s reading difficulties. Along this path you may have seen quite a few specialists and possibly the word "Dyslexia" has been mentioned.

This can be quite confronting for some of us...I'll admit that I was very wary of labelling my own children with a learning disability. I came to realise that I needed to put my own insecurities aside and focus on their needs above all else. Therefore, often it is parents who have a difficulty with placing a label on their child. Usually, this involves our own school experiences and not our child's current situation.

Current research has shown that by correctly identifying learning difficulties and disabilities, students (be they children or adults) experience a great sense of relief in knowing that there is something different about their "learning style" and not them as individuals that separates them from their peers. Following are 5 reasons why it is important to get the correct diagnosis:

1. So your child can come to terms with their learning difference and begin to identify and use strategies to learn that best suit them. These are called "Metacognitive strategies". For your child to posses knowledge about how they learn best is very powerful. It provides them with a sense of ownership and accountability.

2. If you or your child are Dyslexic, you're in great company! Some of the greatest minds throughout history and the present day have been diagnosed as having Dyslexia. It's an exclusive club and one to be proud of. Take a look at this great youtube video to see the good company you are in!

3. As parents, you will need to be your child’s strongest ally and in most instances their voice. You need to know exactly what their areas of strength and weakness are and why. Having the correct diagnosis gives you credibility and provides evidence in "Black and white" that there is a problem with measurable outcomes.

4. So your child’s school has all the information required to provide your child with the support needed to succeed throughout their school career. This can take the form of specialist training for teachers and support staff, in-class support, scaffolded learning experiences, providing additional time for exams, allowing your child to use assistive technology in the classroom, providing a reader or a scribe for exams or negotiating adjusted assessment tasks.

5. Presently there is no additional funding to support children identified as having dyslexia in Australian schools. Therefore it is paramount that if you believe your child has Dyslexia or any form of learning difficulty that you have not been able to find an answer for, please preserve and get  the correct diagnosis. This information can then be used by schools to inform government bodies of the real need for assistance that exists within our schools. Click here to find out how to help make your Queensland school "Dyslexia friendly".

I encourage you to take a look at Liz Dunoon's book "Helping children with Dyslexia"
especially Chapter 1 as it lists Dyslexic indicators from pre-school through to senior school.
Liz's website is loaded with information and useful strategies to help your Dyslexic child.

Until next time, take care.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

One for the parents

Very quickly, I wanted to share this thought with you from Dr Sally Shaywitz's book, "Overcoming Dyslexia".

"I strongly believe that behind the success of every disabled child is a passionately committed, intensely engaged and totally empowered parent." Sally Shaywitz, M.D

Remember, when you have a child with Dyslexia it is usually a long road to get a positive diagnosis as well as some supporting strategies in place that not only help your child but fit in with the routine of your family. I know it's difficult, but rest assured your determination and drive will see you finally find the right people and the right solutions for your child. You will be a stronger individual assured by the knowledge that you have done the right thing to ensure success in your child's educational future. Even though you may feel as though it is you and your child against the world sometimes, never give up or lose your sense of humour!

Jeanelle xxx