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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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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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Reading Opportunities Are Everywhere! Do you know where to find them?

By Halifax Learning on Mon, Jan 22, 2018 @ 11:40 PM

 

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I’ve always been drawn to words.  When I was a child, I would read everything in sight.  At least, that’s how it feels when I look back.  I would read a random and eclectic assortment of objects inside and outside my home.  If it had words, I was interested.

I’ve tried to remember as many of the odd and unexpected places I used to find words to demonstrate how important reading is and how easy it is to practice almost anywhere.

Here are some classics you might remember from your childhood and a few that might surprise you. 

Cereal Boxes

It goes without saying that the companies making children’s cereal plaster the box with entertaining content.  This includes word searches, trivia, puzzles, and other activities on almost every side.

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But many cereal boxes, including the ones most kids won’t eat, also have a lot of reading material.  “Family size”, “daily value of” and “source of 7 essential nutrients” can all be found on most boxes.  The same goes for the ingredient lists and the nutritional info. 

Take the opportunity to talk to your child about the ingredients or explain why the various nutrients are important.  It will help them retain more of the new words they’re exposed to.

Recipes

Similarly, I used to read recipes a lot.  My mother had a few tried and true cookbooks and I would often invade her kitchen and begin scrolling down that night’s recipe.

As I grew I began helping her prepare meals, and she knew I’d have no problem with the steps.  Pretty clever now that I think about it…

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Recruit your child to help you prepare meals once a week.  Not only will they be exposed to a brand new vocabulary, they’ll also learn about healthy diets and meal preparation.  This will be invaluable for their health and your peace of mind as they grow.

Instructions

I’m a man and I’m not embarrassed to admit it - I read the instructions.  I have for as long as I remember*.  Often it was a board game or a puzzle.  I would read every rule and make sure they were clear before we started.  Pretty insufferable, eh? 

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But like cereal boxes, board games and puzzles are a rich source of language.  The instructions may be a little dull, but reading them rather than hearing them creates a direct connection between the written word and it’s meaning.  This improves comprehension.  The descriptions and random information on the box is also ripe to be read. 

Printed Material

I don’t mean the books that I read – I mean all of the books, magazines and newspapers my parents had in our home.  Sometimes it was actually hard to avoid printed words. 

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There’s wisdom in that.  Words were around me all the time so I began reading them.  Book spines, newspaper headlines, magazine covers.  I even read the tabloid fodder in the checkout line at the grocery store.  All that yellow lettering really grabbed my attention as a kid.

Lots of studies have shown that homes with many books produce more literate kids.  Increased access and exposure to reading material has a real and substantial impact on future reading skills.

Song Lyrics**

I expect most people can recall the lyrics to a few songs from their childhood.  I can even remember bits and pieces of the dinosaur cassette my parents played for me in the car when I was a toddler.  The words I memorized nearly 30 years ago, and the accompanying melody, are still clear in my mind.

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Adding music to words makes them stickier.  If you aren’t tired of your child’s favourite songs yet, help them learn the lyrics properly.  Maybe put on a lip sync showcase or write down the lyrics and change them to goofier ones.  Karaoke is tons of fun - you'll be reading lyrics the whole time and you’ll improve your child’s word recognition while you're at it.

The Great Outdoors

This category is an outrageous one to distill into a few short paragraphs, so here’s a list of ten things you can read outside:

Street names, billboards, movie posters, traffic signs, the posters on buses (inside and out), the names of businesses, memorial plaques in parks, writing on the sides of cars, educational info at landmarks, and the map you need to get everywhere. 

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Next time you’re out with your kids, ask them to read everything in sight.  Play I Spy but search for words.  If your kids have short names, try and find them on license plates.  There are almost infinite possibilities.

Odds ‘n’ Ends

This is literally anything else you might have lying around your home. 

Old Christmas cards stored in a drawer?  Perfect for seeing different writing and communication styles.  Going on a trip?  Passports and itineraries have lots of information.  Been to a concert?  Ticket stubs are quick and easy.  Too busy running errands to read to your kids?  Have them read aloud to you between stops.  Better yet, take a page out of my mom’s book and recruit your child to help with your to-do list.

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Reading opportunities truly are all around us. For more reading opportunities, here is a list of books that feature siblings!  We'd love to hear your thoughts or any other readable, everyday objects you can think of.  
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*I want to mention that storytelling offers a number of language skills.  The teller creates a narrative and then captivates their audience with their tone, emotion and creativity.  It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s a fun creative outlet that has no real downside. 
**It might have something to do with my deep-seated urge to understand everything around me.  I still struggle to filter the huge influx of information I’ve had access to over the last decade into consumable chunks.  There are way too many tabs open in my web browser.

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