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Celebrating 20 Years of Evidence-Based Education and SpellRead

Happy Feat

By Britt P. Curran on Sun, Nov 17, 2019 @ 10:51 PM

photo-1532012197267-da84d127e765-1Starting anything new—school, a sport, saxophone—can feel equally exciting and intimidating. A first day is typically part introductory, part investigative, and our often natural response is to proceed with curiosity and caution.

Before SpellRead students begin, some steps are already complete: an initial assessment, a report of results, chatting with parents or guardians, and setting up a schedule. But it's the ins and outs of sessions and how the program works that best illustrate a learner's potential growth.

Halifax Learning instructors place emphasis on effort, not perfection. We want each individual to try, even if that means spelling words incorrectly, requiring several prompts during reading, or asking questions to recall story details. Errors allow learners to develop, recognize personal strengths, and focus on what needs work.

For more than 20 years, SpellRead teachers have helped students navigate the highly-structured, heavily-researched program. As classes unfold, the snowball effect of understanding, applying, and approaching literacy with greater ease and enthusiasm is common. When learners feels capable in their printing, pace, and practice, confidence comes. Below are just four examples of past and present success in action.

Nearly six years ago, a then seven-year-old boy began the program struggling to recognize the letters and sounds in his own name, but his dedication to trying gave small victories real impact. After nearly a year of attendance, he came across a long word during class and proceeded to analyze without so much as a pause: /str/ + /aw/ + /b/ + /_e_/ + /r/ + /r/ + /___y/. He then looked up and said: "STRAWBERRY." The progress was measurable, but his personal pride? Invaluable. He recognized the word—as a beloved flavour of ice cream, or what one might pick during the summerbut never before knew its "pieces." Now, however, he had the tools to tackle a myriad of foreign or confusing words.

Ava also had an "aha!" moment. Earlier this month, her mother shared inspired comments:

She has been reading "The One and Only Ivan" (by K. A. Applegate) A LOT lately. She said it’s her favourite book. I don’t even have to ask her to read because she takes it everywhere... and reads whenever she has time. She has never been that child to carry a book around and read for pleasure.

Ava began SpellRead in Grade 1 and finished the program's first hurdle, Phase A. This year, she returned as a Grade 5 student in Halifax ready to complete Phase B and C. Her mom couldn't be happier:

I definitely feel like things are clicking for Ava [and] I am thrilled!

Two Dartmouth students recently finished 120 hours together with impressive speed-read times, strengthened vowel and consonant recognition, and grade levels above where they started in September, 2018.

One of the duo began frequently overwhelmed with hefty paragraphs and 20-word spelling activities; his reluctance sprang from frustration and confusion. Nearer to his "graduation," he requested longer word lists. He anticipated the writing portion of class. He didn't blink at bigger paragraphs, knowing the instructor could help prompt, correct, or take over if necessary. But he didn't need much of a nudge: with the skills learned—and having just turned eight—he could approach vocabulary words like "between," "sprain," and "twinkly" with precision and minor guidance.

His classmate, another Grade 3 student, completed her registration reading challenging chapter books. From the start, she loved being creative through art and poetry. Her initial homework, however, was a bit challenging to understand; like many students, she often omitted vowels. She has now learned 18 primary and 12 secondary vowel sounds, allowing her writing to be clearer, more legible, and expressive. She's currently share-reading "The Bad Beginning" (the first in Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events") with her mom, taking turns tackling pages and already anticipates the second installment.

Stories (and even small moments) of success help reinforce why educators do what they do. They teach to see learners thrive, to boost self-esteem, to achieve an academic feat. And to help highlight the notion so poetically articulated by the historical orator, Frederick Douglass:

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."

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Got ESP?

By Britt P. Curran on Mon, Oct 14, 2019 @ 01:21 PM

While wafts of pumpkin spice-in-everything-nice fill the air, fall also brings a fresh batch of homework. At Halifax Learning, we know firsthand the importance of momentum. Reading requires practice; to take piano but not play a single key between lessons does little for progress. Reinforcement builds mastery and maintenance has purpose.

We also understand that homework can be daunting for both students and parents alike. A three-pronged approach (your other ESP!) can help learners conquer assignments with less tension and more confidence.

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WHAT IS ESP?

ENCOURAGEMENT

At the forefront of our initialism, encouragement fosters an environment of optimism. Although praise is important, it's deeper and different than a simple "you can do it!" If a child isn't feeling capable, being told they are might not successfully motivate. Slight rewording matters, and phrases like "I believe in you" and "I'm here to help" shift the emphasis from expectation to reassurance.

Guide your learner to say, "I would like to finish this task before bed" instead of "I must finish this task within an hour." Alleviating the pressure proffers the likelihood he or she will work harder or longer than intended⁠—or at least feel okay with what has been accomplished.

If your learner craves limits and goals, remember that wording matters here, too. For example, "try writing three sentences in the next 15 minutes" as opposed to "fill a page before supper." The key is realistic objectives followed by self-compassion if the task is not completed.

Similarly, encourage learners to swap phrases like "I should have been able to read by myself" for "I would like to read independently soon." Both sentences stem from the same notion: wanting to achieve. But speaking softer to oneself and othersboth in tone and verbiage—allows room for error and empathy.

A tangible record of success, like a reading chart or graph, can also fuel encouragement. Reading Rockets suggests parents or guardians "create a bingo card or passport where each space can be filled in by reading a mystery book, or a piece of non-fiction. Once the goal has been reached, reward your child with something... it doesn't have to be anything elaborate... just something that lets your child know how proud you are of his or her accomplishment."

SUPPORT

Sandwiched in the middle of ESP is support, which refers to action-oriented involvement and assistance.

Co-reading, even with older learners, can do wonders for literacy stress. Take turns reading pages and offer prompts when needed for that extra nudge. For longer books, chapters could range from 4-15 pages, so "sharing the load" helps. For shorter books, a page may only contain one sentence, but teamwork still allows text to feel less daunting.

To prompt, a sentence could say: "the string of lights made the street look brighter." Your learner might recognize the, of, made and look as sight words. For string, ask them to place their right pointer finger under the word while dragging it along. Help if needed by saying st, then str, then stri, etc. There's a chance they'll say string or something similar, like stripe (correct to string if they do). The goal is to recognize and apply this word on subsequent pages or in future books, and also understand the makeup of string (str + i + ng).

With mature and more challenging books, learners will likely come across several larger or unknown words. For example, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first chapter alone includes "cloaks," "seized," "persuade," "faltered," and "prodded"! Help pronounce or look up the definition together in a physical or online dictionary.

Jean Gross of Oxford Owl notes that "the important thing is to keep the flow going and keep your child interested and enjoying what they are doing." Furthermore, if confidence wavers, "notice what your child has done well and tell them... [also] react positively when your child is struggling or gets things wrong. You can make clear that mistakes are how we learn."

PATIENCE

Rounding out the approach is patience. Reading comes easier to those who can read. This may sound obvious, but imagine how challenging and discouraging learning a new language can be (even if the child's native tongue, it's still a language).

Gross also stresses that automaticity takes time: "You [may see] them read a word perfectly well one day, then forget it the next. But this is normal when we are learning a new skill. Our performance is always erratic to start with. We have to repeat something again and again before it sticks... tell your child this, and let them know that you know they are trying their best."

Effort, not perfection, is important. When learning barriers exist, it's common for individuals to hit emotional and mental walls. The adage "practice makes perfect" is dated and potentially detrimental. Instead of placing perfection on a pedestal, try "practice makes progress" and ensure learners know that language wizardry is a marathon, not a sprint. They can become stronger, they will gain self-compassion, and it is worth the effort.

As for total word domination? Leave that to Hermione.

 

BONUS: WRITING

jessica-lewis-4VobVY75Nas-unsplash-1If your learner struggles to summarize what's been read or seems defeated by the task, change it up! Give them a journal or lined stationery to start a running "vocab list." No pressure to write down every unknown word⁠—aim for two every five pages.

Alternatively, if they're truly reluctant and haven't been assigned specific compositions, have them jot down a few fun, detailed sentences about a personal topic (sports, school, best friends, holidays, etc.), so they begin associating writing with joy, not just frustration.

When spelling, students often want to copy directly from the book or ask adults how to write the words. There's a delicate balance to this request. If the child is really frustrated, offer the first or second sound as a start. Similarly, try to keep the book closed during writing so there isn't a temptation to peek. For slightly older students, offer to spell 3-5 words on paper or a whiteboard to jumpstart ideas.

REMIND THEM: "What's better than best? You tried the rest!"



Looking for more personalized insight? Contact us to help gauge your learner's skills:

Book an Assessment with SpellRead

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Celebrating Family Literacy Day 2014

By Eryn Steele on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 @ 09:20 PM

Today, January the 27th is Family Literacy Day in Canada, a day we have been celebrating for 16 years.  Our young readers have made some significant gains with the aid of our passionate and dedicated teachers - both in the public system in Nova Scotia and privately at our Halifax Learning Centres in Halifax and around the province. The question still remains though - 

Are we prepared to teach our young people how to read? It's hard to say .... 

A simple Google search of "Are teachers in Nova Scotia prepared to teach reading?" does not generate a yes or no hit and that's because teaching someone to read is not that simple.  Parents, experts, teachers, tutors and policy makers all have the same goal in mind when it comes to ensuring student success, but regardless of our intent, many students continue to struggle in developing strong literacy skills. So often we hear how important reading is, to develop the love of reading, but maybe more attention needs to be paid on how to be an effective teacher of reading?  Well, there are experts out there ready to tell us how, but are we listening?

 Family Literacy Day 2014

What are some of the best practices in teaching reading? 

* Understanding the difference between letters vs. phonemes.

*Teaching phonemic awareness.  This is an early stage of learning to read that relies on a child's ability to manipulate sounds through auditory processing, for example, rhyiming.

*Teaching phonics.  This is the symbolic stage of learning to read that connects sounds to their letter combinations.  Understanding letters vs. phonemes is critical at this stage in teaching a child to read. The English alphabet contains 26 letters, but 44 sounds, therefore understanding letter combinations is critical.  

*Decoding by using nonsense words shows understanding of phonemic and phonological awareness. 

*Spelling is a diagnostic tool that shows a child's mastery of phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding. 

*Summarizing can be done when a child is reading fluently and effortlessly.

*Predicting and making connections to their own prior knowledge can be done when a child is fully engaged in a text. 

 

SpellRead is rooted in scientific research and these very principles and therefore our instructors are diligently trained specifically to teach reading.  Families in Nova Scotia are at an advantage that other Canadians simply do not have access to and that is the SpellRead program.    

Reading Rockets features several podcasts from experts in the field of reading who discuss the importance of knowing how to teach it.  After viewing several of these podcasts, one will take away that it is easy for many of us to take for granted the importance of phonemic awareness and phonics, but (so artistically captured by the National Reading Campaign) Readers Save the World and I am assuming we are talking about those who are reading well and reading effortlessly. 

In addition to best practices, teaching reading must be done through a systematic, organized and outcomes based model that exposes the learner to multiple opportunities for repetition and success. Our goal Halifax Learning is to help every student that we can.  One of our colleagues at Ooka Island, (an online reading skills adventure program) often states that their (Ooka Island) goal is to help eradicate illiteracy.  We don't want to take someone else's mission – but that is our goal too and should be the goal of every Canadian as we celebrated Family Literacy Day, 2014.

Submitted by,

Megan Brooks

Site Director of our Tantallon location 

 

 

 

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