Reading Wars!

posted in: Articles | 0

I cannot actually believe that there is still a ‘Reading War’ going on!  And while the ‘war’ rages on, it is our children, our future, who suffer.

I thought that science had spoken. I thought that it was a globally accepted concept that systematic phonics instruction is the foundation of literacy learning. That is what was reflected in the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (2005), in Australia. In the United States, the National Reading Panel (2000), presented very similar findings, and in the United Kingdom, The Rose Report (2006) reported similarly.

The ‘Big 5’ of Reading Instruction emerged.

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension

When I attended University, twenty- five years ago, I was introduced to the ‘Whole Language’ approach to teaching reading. When I started my first teaching job, in 1993, I taught my students using a phonics- based approach, because learning to read through exposure to a rich body of literature just didn’t make sense, since our spoken language is recorded with a code.

Having said that, there is also a plethora of evidence that exposure to rich language through conversation and shared reading “stimulates optimal patterns of brain development at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a life time.” (High,P.C. and P. Klass (2014) “Literacy promotion: an essential component of primary pediatric practice”) This seems like common sense to me.

Therefore, the LTR Language and Literacy Program teaches phonological awareness skills (including phonemic awareness, rhyming, syllables, onset and rime), phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, grammar and writing, within a language, and quality literature- rich environment. Students read texts that they are able to read independently, having been explicitly taught the skills required. They are also involved in listening to texts and reading texts together – texts that may require some support regarding the decoding process, but that will provide opportunities to analyse, think, discuss, grow vocabularies, and learn what quality literature sounds like.

Students are given daily opportunities to think deeply about texts and create their own. They learn that literacy is all about communication. It is about understanding someone else’s viewpoint and being able to express their own effectively. The sooner we can create independence in language and literacy learners, the better for all.

As a teacher responsible for teaching literacy learners to read and write, these ongoing ‘reading wars’ are exasperating! I’m sure as a parent of a child who struggles with literacy, it is equally as infuriating, if not more so. Because we know what is at stake. Those who struggle to learn to read, are not only disadvantaged in terms of accessing the curriculum, but the downward spiral in terms of their self- esteem, social standing and love of learning has devastating effects that are long lasting, and very difficult to counteract.

Professor Maryanne Wolf, in a seminar in August 2017, stated that ‘reading wars’ are an “unnecessary debate. Phonics emphases on explicit decoding principles and phoneme awareness, along with implicit learning from words and texts”, are needed to promote deep reading. She also stated that in the United States of America, the Corrections System prepares for the future by looking at the results of grade three reading assessments. They use these statistics to prepare for the number of criminals they will need to provide for. This is shocking! This is serious!

This is why the so called ‘wars’ must end.

The lyrics from Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ sums it up perfectly. “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”

Why is rhyme important?

posted in: Articles | 0

Why bother with nursery rhymes?  They are so out-of-date!

The LTR Language & Literacy Program uses many of the traditional English rhymes because they are part of our great English language heritage and too much fun to be forgotten.

Children enjoy the rhythm of the English language and the rhyming of words.  They quickly learn to manipulate words and build confidence and enjoyment in oral language skills.  When hearing rhyme, listening and thinking skills are sharpened and the skills of identifying and analyzing the sounds in words are enhanced.  Vocabulary is extended as children hear words they do not know and have them explained.

Playing with rhymes and learning of rhymes leads to improvement in memory and thinking skills.  Movement to the words of songs and rhymes improves coordination and concentration.  Silly rhymes bring fun into learning and help to develop a sense of humour.

Learning rhymes off by heart builds confidence and prepares children for meeting them in print.  Children enjoy making up more verses to simple rhymes, and this builds confidence with the manipulation of the language.  They love to share their efforts with others.

For more information about LTR Learning (Listen, Think, Respond) products and how they meet the Australian Primary School English Curriculum for Foundation/Reception to Year 2/3 students, click on the links.

Early Intervention in Literacy

posted in: Articles | 0

Let us say that by the middle of Term 2 in the first year of school, you notice that a child is not keeping up with the rest of the class, or has skills in one area of literacy but not another.

Question:  What can you do?

Answer:  Think backwards and identify the area of need!

This sounds easy, but it is not always easy to know where to start.

  • talk to the child and determine the mindset
  • set up a folder of appropriate tests and checklists to be administered in a distraction free environment – check gross motor and fine motor skills, hearing, sight, phonemic awareness, memory and concentration, reading, spelling and writing skills
  • having determined what is known and what is not known, set up a folder of appropriate activities and games to reinforce the skills needed – this can be given to support staff to work with the child until the skills are mastered
  • having determined the blockage point, inform the parents of your concerns and what actions you have taken
  • supply the parents with a folder of appropriate activities and games to be practised at home
  • monitor activities in the classroom with appropriate challenge in the area of need

In the LTR classroom, the culture is set up early for caring and supportive behaviour from peers and frank classroom discussion of errors.  Therefore, understanding develops quickly that mistakes are a natural part of learning anything new.  They also know that not everyone learns the same way or at the same rate.  In the LTR classroom, the Language & Literacy Program contains all the resources needed to be able to assess and check language and literacy skills as well as provide appropriate games and activities for support staff and parents.



Executive Function in Five-year-olds – observations

posted in: Articles | 0

If we have a low expectation of what a five-year-old can achieve, we may think this is silly stuff.

Can a five-year-old plan?  ‘I want’ is the simplest form of a plan and most preschool children know how to get what they want.  They also work out the most successful way of getting what they want when it seems to them that their plan is going to be thwarted.  This ‘action plan’ can be switched on and off at will.  Clever little bodies!!!

Can a five-year-old filter out distractions?  Most adults have encountered the young child who fails to hear when they are engrossed in an activity that is very satisfying.  However, even an apparently totally absorbed young child will hear a whispered conversation about a special treat.  Amazing!!!

Can a five-year-old engage in multi-tasking?  Can they make something with play dough, conduct a conversation and plan what they are going to do next, all at the same time?  Watch!!!

Can a five-year-old focus attention on something new and ask questions about it?  Given the opportunity, young children are naturally curious about the environment and fascinated with small creatures, plants, rocks and shells.  They want to know all about it.  Listen!!!

Can five-year-olds remember complex instructions?  For example,  ‘take your dirty dishes to the bench, put the cutlery in the sink and then go and choose a book to read together.’  Try it!!!

Can five-year-olds organize themselves?   Have you ever listened to them organizing a game?  Some can not only organize themselves, but everyone else as well!   Watch and listen!!!

Can five-year-olds control impulses?  Picture this, a Grandma had grandson in the trolley at the supermarket.  He was performing because he knew Gran had put a treat in the trolley and he wanted it ‘now’.  Gran told him to wait until she had paid for it.  He kept performing – loudly.  Gran took the treat out of the trolley and put it to one side and told him that if he didn’t stop, she would not buy it and she would leave it behind in the shop.  Grandson continued to perform but he watched Gran carefully.  She moved the treat further away.  Grandson went quiet.  Gran’s turn came at the checkout and she left the treat till last, watching Grandson carefully.  He stayed quiet.  When it came time for the treat, she took it up and looked at him.  He stayed quiet, so she put it through the check-out and put it in the shopping bag.  She told him he had done well but to wait until they got out to the car.  He stayed silent and waited.  When they got to the car, he was very delighted to get his treat.  It was worth waiting for and he learned a valuable lesson in the process – that he could control himself.  Try it!!!


Boys and Learning

posted in: Articles | 0

Recently, I was enthralled with Andrew Fuller’s paper, ‘Teaching Boys’ because the LTR Language & Literacy Program is built on a pedagogy that has developed over some 50 years and it works particularly well with boys.

As I read the paper, I realized why it works so well and it was a ‘light bulb’ moment for me.  LTR teachers have high expectations for all, no matter the starting point and no matter how long it takes to gain mastery.  Respect for children’s enormous capacity to learn is paramount to success and the classroom culture is one of mutual respect – teacher to student, student to teacher and student to student.  The ‘listen, think, respond’ framework provides simple boundaries and reinforces respectful behaviour in all contexts across the whole day.

Quick fire quizzes are part of the daily routine and everyone becomes excited as the pace increases and success is achieved.  All learning begins with visuals which stimulate the listening, thinking and discussion.

LTR meets the needs of boys and builds their resilience because the learning is active and social and built on the belief that everyone can be a champion if they work hard and practise to improve.  Mistakes are accepted as a natural part of the learning process.  Early success is crucial to getting over the ‘I can’t’ barrier.  Listening, thinking, talking, doing (making, reading or writing), thinking, talking is the routine.

I have also realized that if the pedagogy suits the boys, it meets the needs of everyone and the result is well-being for all, even the teacher!

Some thoughts about ‘Sight’ words

posted in: Articles | 0

As a community of teachers and learners, we need to think about why we do what we do in our classrooms.  I have been thinking about the issue of ‘sight’ words recently, and have put my ideas down on paper.

I have always taught phoneme-grapheme correspondence because I believe that unless the alphabetic code is known and understood, students struggle to read, spell and write.  English is de-codable, and memorization of every word is an unnecessarily daunting task!  Most schools are now using phonics instruction as the most effective way to teach students to read and write.

The faster we can get students reading and writing, the better.  This means that words with spelling patterns that have not been taught yet, should be learned as ‘sight’ words so that fluency and comprehension in reading can occur quickly, but not without grapheme and phoneme explanation.

Having said that, I think it is important to consider which words should be learned as ‘sight’ words.  Why do students need to recognise ‘and’, ‘to’, ‘am’, ‘went’, ‘we’, ‘had’ and other words that have no grapheme complications and can be easily blended together?  These are certainly ‘high frequency’ words, but not needing to be memorized as ‘sight’ words.

We also need to consider how many ‘sight’ words students really need to know, when we are explicitly teaching phoneme-grapheme correspondence.  They only need a small number of ‘sight’ words to get them started with reading, because as they are taught in greater depth about the alphabetic code, they will be using their decoding and comprehension skills to read all words.

If phonics is the way we are approaching literacy learning, we should be teaching the grapheme-phoneme correspondence in these ‘sight’ words as well as expecting students to memorize them.  Then the reading of the words will naturally flow into the ability to write them with understanding and fluency.

Michelle Johnson, LTR Learning (2018)


Why teach traditional rhymes in a multi-cultural classroom?

posted in: Articles | 0

Australian Standard English readily lends itself to playing with rhyme.  Playing with language is a lot of fun and this builds confidence in students who are learning English as an Additional Language in an English speaking classroom.  We have a great supply of traditional rhymes in the public domain which we can use.  They are simple, easy to remember, often have a story with a message and even have a tune!  Well, some of them!

Familiarity with traditional rhymes has the following benefits …

  • Development of memory, linking words together in phrases and sentences
  • Development of the ability to anticipate the possible
  • Sharpened listening skills help students to focus on sounds in words
  • Development of the skill of identifying and analysing the sounds in words
  • Exposure to the quirkiness of English when sounds match but spelling does not, for example ‘high’, ‘sky’, ‘pie’
  • Improves articulation with careful pronunciation, emphasis on the correct syllable and maintaining the beat of the rhyme which are all enjoyable aspects of language learning, especially when embedded in a melody
  • The development of a sense of humour through the ridiculous, the obvious and the unexpected
  • Extension of vocabulary as unknown words are encountered and discussed
  • Familiarity with rhythm and rhyme is the easiest form of poetry
  • Evokes emotional responses to texts
  • Enjoyment of the social group context for communal recitation and singing, particularly relevant to many students whose home culture is saturated with rhythm and song
  • Understanding of the different purposes of language and the connection between print language and spoken language
  • Rhyme and rhythm used as a conveyor of a message make it easy to remember
  • Historical research is possible with older students

10 actions of LTR teachers

posted in: Articles | 0

An LTR teacher …

  1. believes in the enormous capacity of the students to think and learn
  2. knows the required curriculum content and the sequential steps for successful learning of the content
  3. knows the concepts behind the content and teaches explicitly, sequentially, step by step
  4. models all concepts in context – oral language, phonological awareness, phonics, spelling, grammar, punctuation, reading and writing
  5. provides interesting, varied and cyclical activities (constantly revisits what is already known and builds on to that understanding) to enable students to practise often and master the concepts in a practical context
  6. sets up the mode by which the students are accountable for their own learning, can celebrate the successes and face mistakes without fear, together
  7. sets up activities for peer assessment, feedback and active student engagement in learning
  8. evaluates and monitors own effectiveness and student understanding
  9. uses regular formative and summative assessment to monitor student progress and gain information to drive early intervention strategies and/or inform the next stage in the teaching cycle as well as a framework for reporting to carers
  10. regularly discusses classroom practice and shares ideas with colleagues – is a life-long learner

The teacher is the key to student success. 

The LTR Language & Literacy Program provides the tools and the training for teachers to do all of the above.  It matches the Australian Curriculum for Primary School English from Foundation to Year 2-3.  It provides the sequential and cyclical steps for success.  It provides interesting activities, games and discussion points to help students to grasp the concepts.  It provides the context for the concepts.  It sets up collaborative learning and reporting to train students in personal accountability.  It provides ideas for teachers in using embedded formative assessment to inform themselves about student progress and their own future planning for the teaching of concepts.

For more information about LTR Learning (Listen, Think, Respond) and the products that help teachers to meet the Australian Primary School English Curriculum requirements for Foundation/Reception to Year 2-3 students, click on the links.

Why teach upper & lower case letters, names & sounds of letters all at the same time?

posted in: Articles | 0

Here are some of the reasons why the LTR Language & Literacy Program has such a high expectation of five year old children.

We believe that young children have the capacity to learn all aspects of the English alphabetic code with relative ease.  Many children begin school knowing the ABC song and have varying degrees of understanding of letter names.  We want to be explicit regarding the use of letter names and the hearing of the sounds.  There is a widely held misconception that the names are for the capital (or upper case) letters and the sounds are for the little (or lower case) letters.  However, the name is the same for both upper and lower case.  The sounds are the same for both upper and lower case and are determined by the letter’s place within a word.

Capital (or upper case) letters are seen by beginning readers from the first time they pick up a book.  They see both upper case and lower case when they look at a sentence or read a name.  They learn to write their own name, starting with a capital letter.  From the beginning, they learn that a sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop.

LTR teaches numerous sounds for many letters, such as the 6 or 7 sounds for the single letter ‘a’, two sounds for the single letter ‘c’, two sounds for the letter ‘s’ and so on.  The children learn to refer to the letters by name, otherwise confusion reigns.  For example, the letter ‘a’ in the word ‘was’ is making a short ‘o’ sound.  Therefore we cannot refer to the ‘a’ as ‘short a’ because that is not the sound in this word.  To talk about the complexity, we need to use the name of the letter.

Similarly, when we introduce multiple phonograms such as ‘th’, we do not refer to the ‘t’ and the ‘h’ by the separate sounds because we cannot hear those sounds in the phoneme.  Accurate information is to learn the names of the two letters that form the grapheme as well as the sound ‘th’ (2 sounds – one with the voice as in ‘this’ and one without the voice as in ‘think’).

Students also need to refer to the letter names when spelling.

For further information about the products provided by LTR Learning (Listen, Think, Respond) and how they meet the Australian Primary School English Curriculum for Foundation/Reception to Year 2 students, click on the links.

General capabilities – ethical understanding

posted in: Articles | 0

The Australian Curriculum defines the general capabilities as ‘a set of knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that can be developed and applied across the curriculum to help students become successful learners confident and creative individuals and informed citizens’.  The Ethical Understanding capabilities are listed as …

  • understanding ethical concepts and issues
  • exploring values, rights and responsibilities
  • reasoning in personal decision-making and actions

These capabilities underpin everything that is done in the LTR Learning classroom as the students give opinions and justify those opinions, respectfully listen to each other, discuss the effect their own actions have on others, consider the consequences of certain actions on themselves, understand about rules and why we have them.  They learn to be responsible for their own learning and to cooperate with others in the learning process.  They understand that being safe is more than physical but also involves being able to make mistakes, share opinions, ideas and feelings without fear.  They have little desire to copy others because each student responds to the tasks according to their own understanding and all responses to tasks are accepted, shared and encouraged.  The LTR classroom is a hot-bed of communal learning.

For more information about the products provided by LTR Learning (Listen, Think, Respond) and a matrix of how the program meets the Australian Primary School English Curriculum for Foundation/Reception to Year 2 students, click on the links.