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Celebrating 20 Years of Evidence-Based Education and SpellRead

Report Card Time in a Pandemic

By Melinda Cameron on Thu, Nov 26, 2020 @ 09:08 AM

This is a special time of year for many students and teachers - report card time! This year’s report card time is different from any other, because school has been much different for most kids. Whether students are now studying virtually at home or in school, there are likely gaps in most students’ education. Last school year at least a third of the scheduled in-person class time was missed for most students. For some students, this was a pivotal moment in their education to miss out on; as Dr. Heidi Beverine-Curry points out, kids at this sensitive stage (now in Grade 1) have missed key points in their journey to learning to read. 

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Keeping in mind this missed class time, should teachers and administrators should change their expectations for student progress? According to reading expert
Timothy Shanahan, students’ future employers and educators will not lower their expectations, so we shouldn’t either. 

If your child’s report card is coming home soon, how can you best use your conversation with your child’s teacher? 

  • Keep your expectations in check, because it has been an unusual year. 
  • Get a clear idea of your child’s skills.
  • Understand how to help them get to where they need to be, educationally. 

We should expect our kids to keep learning even when times are hard; one really important way we can do so is to make sure their reading skills are strong. When kids can read well independently, they can learn about anything in the world. Families who invest time now making sure their kids can read independently are giving them a skill that no one can take away, and that will continue to help them learn as they grow.

There absolutely should be a sense of urgency in making sure students are getting the education they need, and it’s more important than ever that kids learn to read the right way. Halifax Learning can help - we can assess your child’s current reading skills quickly and easily online, and our online SpellRead classes are a safe and reliable way for students to strengthen their reading skills.

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How Parents Can Help Kids Learn Online

By Melinda Cameron on Thu, May 14, 2020 @ 06:15 PM

At Halifax Learning, parents have always been a big part of their child's reading success. These days, it's more important than ever. But how can parents provide the best support on their child's reading journey, as they learn to read online with SpellRead?

1. Be present...

Kids usually need older family members around to start the Zoom or video chat meetings and to make sure the microphone and camera are working correctly. There can also be times when it's good to be around to troubleshoot any issues that come up, like if kids accidentally click the wrong part of the screen or if there's a problem with wifi.

2. ...but not TOO present.

Classes are designed for kids to do successfully with their class and instructor, so parents don't need to be around to give hints about the answers or do the activities! Any support that's needed will be provided by the instructor.

3. Have materials at the ready.

Each online class goes by quickly, so the better prepared kids are, the more work that gets done. Some families set an alarm for 10 minutes before each class - that way, they can be logged in and ready to go when the class starts. Better yet, set an alarm for 30 minutes before each class, giving kids time to have a quick snack and drink if needed and to use the washroom.

Supplies kids will usually need to have include:

  • Pencils and a notebook or scribbler
  • Sound cards
  • Speed packs

4. Be positive!

Make your home a safe place to make mistakes. Not every answer will be correct the first try - if it was, what are we even doing here? Encourage kids by noticing when they're working hard. 

For more information, please visit our website www.halifaxlearning.com

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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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Why do you think SpellRead is effective? We asked our teachers!

By Halifax Learning on Sun, Apr 15, 2018 @ 11:00 AM

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We asked our instructors to share their experience teaching the SpellRead program. They have developed relationships with their students that have created bonds that will last a lifetime. We are proud of what we offer and even more proud of our team of passionate and dedicated teachers. Read more about Brittany's story!

 

How did you become a part of Halifax Learning?

When I was 21 years old I had previously worked for several years delivering another literacy program similar to SpellRead, and I was looking for a summer job. I emailed a few service providers and Halifax Learning got back to me with the possibility of a job.

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Describe a student that you are proud of.

Last year I worked with a student in grade 6 who I had worked with at my previous job, a similar reading program. He was a struggling reader in French Immersion and I knew that, while he had been making some progress with me in the other program, the resources I had were simply not going to be enough for someone who needed a more intensive intervention, especially in spelling and writing.

To my surprise, when I left my position to join the Halifax Learning team, this student followed me and enrolled in SpellRead. We were roughly a quarter of the way through the program and I saw him take off. He completed SpellRead, as well as Writing Connections, and within a year he had everything he needed for Junior High.

I imagine if he had stayed in the other program, he likely would have been there for years, combatting confusion and frustration. This is what I saw over my years there with other significantly struggling students. This sort of situation really proves to me that no matter how wonderful, knowledgeable, or dedicated a teacher may be, it's really the program that makes the difference.

He was the same kid, he had the same instructor, but it was the method that changed, and that's what made the difference.

How would you describe SpellRead to someone that is unfamiliar with the program?

Students are "re-taught" reading strategies, starting from the very beginning of phonological awareness to spelling and into essay writing. They are able to tackle any unknown word, because they are explicitly taught to implement the rules automatically. There is no opportunity for confusion or frustration because we "over-teach" concepts until they are firmly established to the point of independent implementation.

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Why do you think SpellRead is effective?

We aren't complacent. We don't look at our student results and say "Good enough." We are constantly doing research and finding ways to make our program even more effective for every student, no matter what age, learning difference or challenge they are facing.

Many teaching techniques are based in decades-old philosophies or methods or data, but at Halifax Learning we are able to say that not only does SpellRead work, but here is exactly why based on up to date research.

If a student struggles, our attitude is never that the student should simply "try harder", but rather we actively find ways to troubleshoot the issue and find another path to success.

Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience as a SpellRead teacher?

It's been an extremely rewarding experience. I think SpellRead should be available in all schools and offered to every struggling student.

Literacy skills are  a fundamental human right!

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