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Celebrating 20 Years of Evidence-Based Education and SpellRead

Confidence, Joy, Creativity: The outcomes that count!

By Megan Brooks on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 @ 07:45 PM

 

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An article titled, “Learning disabilities: Kids and families struggle beyond the academics” was recently shared on MSVU - Learning Disabilities  Facebook page. The headline compelled me to click. This short, but important, article contains an important message. 

The author states:

"Compared with the general education group, parents of children with learning problems reported significantly more quality-of-life problems related to academics, for both the child and the family."


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In my experience at Halifax Learning this is always the case. I have to remind myself that the teary-eyed parent across from me has spent hours pleading with their frustrated child to read a book and finish their homework. They’ve spent hours researching conditions, philosophies, methods and programs that claim to have the quick fix. Their skepticism is warranted and understandable. You see, I’m also a parent and nothing means more to me than my child’s happiness. Not even their academic success. But I'm also a teacher and I know that their academic success and mental health are interconnected. 

As an educator I consider myself lucky to have found the SpellRead program. I am lucky to be consistently reminded of the positive impact this program has, not only on our students, but their family as well. This week we received a testimonial from a parent and a clinical psychologist. Her testimonial speaks to the impact that an evidence-based program can have on a student and their family.

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“I am a mother of 3 boys and a Clinical Psychologist specializing in psychoeducational assessments and learning difficulties.  I first realized that my youngest son was struggling with learning some of the foundation level reading skills when he was about 4 years old.  He was having a harder time than would be expected learning the alphabet, rhyming, and hearing sounds that were in words. I did a little bit of extra reading work at home with my son during his Primary year, but towards the end of Primary I knew he would benefit from some additional help.  I also realized that it was not a good fit for him to be working one-on-one with me. His frustration level was high and one of us often ended up angry or upset. I enrolled my son in Halifax Learning summer camp at the end of Grade Primary and then arranged for SpellRead instruction twice a week for his entire Grade 1 year.  I chose SpellRead because it is an empirically based program, and the program I was most familiar and comfortable with for my son.

My son's instructor, Brittany, was the perfect fit for him. Although there have been some trying times, Brittany worked with me to figure out ways to best approach lessons with him.  Brittany has been patient, professional, positive, and encouraging. She knows the SpellRead program inside out and her experience and dedication are impressive. Brittany managed to get my son to grade level (if not slightly beyond) during the school year. Although he is now at grade level, we have decided to continue to work through the SpellRead program.   Now he is accustomed to SpellRead being part of his schedule and I don't want to lose the momentum we've made. I am very grateful for SpellRead and what it has done for our family.”

Click here to read more testimonials. 

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On our website you’ll see that our goal is to bring literacy skills to a point at or above grade level, within one year, but this article and testimonial is also a reminder that improving the academic skills of our students is simply a by-product of our ultimate goal.

We’re very proud to share our student results, but it’s the unmeasurable outcomes that mean the most to us. Witnessing our students discover a new found confidence to take on new reading material, to voluntarily take part in classroom discussions, to write about their opinions and ideas, and put an an end to the homework struggle and rediscover the joy in reading a bedtime story … this is what motivates us.

Developing relationships with our students and their families is important and we're pleased to have a long list of individuals that are happy to share their experience with you! If you're considering one of our programs for you or your child fill out the form below to be connected with a parent of a SpellRead graduate! 

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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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#RaiseAReader

By Eryn Steele on Sun, Apr 08, 2018 @ 11:06 PM

 

 
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Are you a parent trying to #raiseareader?
 
Do you feel anxious, frustrated and confused trying to navigate which academic approach best suits the needs for your child's learning difference? We are bombarded with hashtags, captions, memes, free flowing commentary and rapidly changing ideas, making it difficult to filter through the noise when it comes to education. 


As a parent, monitoring your child’s health is second nature and at the first signs of an illness you don't hesitate to contact a medical professional you know and trust. If your household has been anything like mine lately, trips to the family doctor, walk-in clinics and the emergency room feel like a regular occurrence. Referencing Doctor Google is on repeat and following all the expert recommendations for a speedy recovering is non-negotiable. Fluids. Rest. Repeat.  
We are all alert to the signs and symptoms of a medical issue and prepared to take action. Immediately.

But can the same be said for reading skills? Do parents have the tools, resources and confidence to advocate for their child's learning needs? And do parents know who to trust and what the science says about teaching reading? 

Our experience at Halifax Learning, our unfortunate answer to that question is no. Far too often we meet with parents that are desperately searching for the right support for their child. While these conversations are often difficult, we consider ourselves to have the best job in the world.  We're here to end your search and start the journey towards skilled, confident, learning. 

Things to consider when raising a reader: 

→ Reading skills begin to develop from birth. 

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 Reading and writing are inventions that have evolved over thousands of years. We’re not born with the innate knowledge that the English language is made up of 44 sounds, text is read from left to right or that the words on a page can evoke an emotional reaction, political change, creative inspiration and much more.  

Reading starts at home from day one. Nurturing a positive, committed relationship to literacy begins from birth. In Nova Scotia, new parents are fortunate to receive a bag of carefully selected books from a Read to Me  representative.

 

When you demonstrate an interest in your child’s reading, they are far more likely to experience positive results. According to How to Make Your Child a Reader for Life, written by educator and young-adult novelist Paul Kropp, there are three time periods during childhood when reading may slump

  • Transitioning into kindergarten
  • Grade 4
  • High School 

Although reading at home often and early is important, it is not enough. Many children need explicit, intensive, and comprehensive evidence-based reading remediation programs that integrate the five essential elements of reading instruction.  

1. Phonemic Awareness
2. Phonics
3. Fluency
4. Vocabulary
5. Comprehension

→ It's not just about reading!

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While the ability to read is important for its own sake, it provides the foundation for all other learning, particularly during school years. Consider how much difficulty a struggling reader will have with both textbooks, computer-based lessons and capturing creative ideas and critical thinking into the written word. With proper reading instruction and frequent exposure to reading, writing skills will also develop, supported by a robust vocabulary and familiarity with a variety writing styles.  

 



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Academic success is only a small piece of the pie! 

SuccessKidAcademic success is only one category that will be positively impacted by solid reading skills.

Efficient and effortless reading contributes to psychological traits such confidence, concentration and self-discipline. Reading opens a window to the world, it’s a way to expose children to learn about new cultures, ideas and philosophies. Reading offers a platform for critical thinking, interpretation and is the ultimate agent of change. 

 

 

 →  School memories are enduring. 

Excited schoolgirl at the library reading a bookThe importance of learning to read continues to play a part in your child’s success during adulthood. According to the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network, less than 20 percent of those with the lowest literacy skills are employed. Only 5 to 10 percent of these people enroll in programs designed to improve their literacy for job training.

Helping your child develop a strong reading ability early will help him or her avoid this difficult situation. 

Halifax Learning is committed to helping all students develop positive and successful memories during their academic journey and beyond.

 

Some additional help may be needed to get them through these hurdles. The importance of learning to read can’t be overstated. Our flag-ship program, SpellRead can help you take a proactive approach to fully developing your child’s skills. Contact us to schedule his or her free reading assessment

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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.  
Connect with us on Twitter or Facebook.


*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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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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