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Coping with the “COVID slide”

By Halifax Learning on Tue, Sep 08, 2020 @ 08:15 AM

Most of us probably remember the return to school after summer holidays as a roller coaster ride of emotions. We scaled peaks of excitement at the thought of seeing friends again, tumbled down into regret that the holidays were over, and swirled around anxiety over what the next grade may bring.

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We hit classes coming down the proverbial “summer slide;” the previous year’s lessons flung into the recesses of our minds.

This September, students all over are facing a new kind of academic ride – the so-called “COVID slide.” Add to these past two months of summer the previous three months or so that students weren’t in school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lockdown has super-charged the annual summer slide, and many students will be struggling to keep up.

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Lost souls

Dr. Paul Bennett, the founding director of Schoolhouse Consulting and a respected education professor and policy researcher, claims the rapid and unplanned transition to distance learning “turned the Canadian school system upside down and disrupted the lives of some 5 million children and families, and their teachers.”

Educators were virtually scrambling to master new technology, while the majority of children were left to cope with “a vague and changing set of home learning guidelines.”

Sure, classes continued online during the latter months of the school year, but it’s debatable how engaged the students were in their lessons. Reducing the number of expected hours of work didn’t help motivate students to knuckle down either. “In actual practice, these programs took on a crazy-quilt pattern ranging from high tech to low tech to no tech, highly dependent upon a student’s school district, individual school or classroom teacher,” according to Dr. Bennett.

Nor did guaranteeing students their March grades, which, Dr. Bennett says, “removed most of the incentive to work until the end of the year.”

And he’s not the only one to recognize if not sound the alarm over the situation. A CBC News investigative report concerning the Maritimes indicated an estimated one out of four students in junior and senior high schools went missing or were completely unaccounted.

While the New York Times education reporter Dana Goldstein reported on June 5 that by September , most students would be “months behind” with “some losing the equivalent of a full year’s worth of academic gains.”

And the global non-profit, non-partisan think tank, the Rand Corporation, which is based in California, highlighted a CNN report that losses could be particularly problematic for grade school students who should be in the process of laying critical foundations of reading, writing, and math skills, potentially robbing a generation of students of vital stages of learning.

Back to school – with a plan

Scary stuff. Though it’s comforting to know that at least the Nova Scotia’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development also has recognized the issue. “The lengthy at home learning, followed by the summer break, will have created a variety of different responses, needs, and strengths for students,” reads its Back to School Plan.

Highlighting the Mi’kmaw word kinu, meaning “all of us together, inclusive,” the province plans to emphasize “the importance of reaching out to students who were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and by this year’s school closures to understand the gaps in learning opportunities they may have experienced.”

How parents can help

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So what can parents do outside the school system to give their kids the added momentum they may need? Various volunteers, including students, have jumped into the education arena offering informal tutoring services, which could be looked at.

On the other end of the scale, organizations such as Halifax Learning can go a long way toward bridging the education gap with professional private assistance. Founder and CEO, Sarah Arnold, is a strong advocate of the SpellRead program, which was developed by Prince Edward Island’s Dr. Kay MacPhee and is widely referred to by psychologists, speech therapists and educators alike.

Sarah has channeled the organization to meet the current demand for online instruction in SpellRead. But she remains a strong advocate of basic techniques such as parents simply reading together with their children on a regular basis. And it needn’t be lengthy home lessons either; frequency rules here, she says.

Clearly, as we swing into September, educators everywhere are recognizing the importance of learning routines – at school and at home -- in navigating students away from the COVID slide.

At Halifax learning we continue to offer our free reading assessments, we are offering these online and in person.  

In less than 1 hour you will learn how your child, process language and comprehend text. Our assessment is not a product of the SpellRead program, but an independent standardized assessment that provides benchmarks for the foundational skills identified in research required for efficient reading.

You will also receive a digital copy of the report within two business days with no obligation to enroll in our programs. This information can help access school support as well. 

Our SpellRead students are assessed three times over the course of a full registration to ensure progress and success!

Book an Assessment with SpellRead

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Free Reading Resources for Homeschool Parents

By Halifax Learning on Tue, Jul 07, 2020 @ 01:09 PM

Teaching a child to read can be so rewarding. But sometimes it can be difficult to get your child engaged. These free reading resources for homeschool parents will help you teach your child how to read and turn your child on to reading so learning at home isn’t drudgery.

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Understand the Five Essential Reading Skills 
When you’re teaching your child to read, it can be helpful to know the breakdown of all the skills your child needs to develop to read efficiently before you start. The 'All Children Reading Well' resource from Halifax Learning explains those five core components. It all starts with phonological awareness, the ability to identify and manipulate words and syllables. We break it all down so you can understand the process your child will go through from start to finish.

Download our free guide, "All Children Reading Well" to learn more.

Starfall.com Website
The Starfall website offers fun and engaging games for children in Pre-Primary through Grade 3. It’s run by a non-profit organization (the Starfall Education Foundation). Your child can work through all their reading levels, starting with the ABCs and then Learn to Read, It’s Fun to Read, and I’m Reading. The Word Machine can be so much fun.

Watch your child enjoy clicking letters to change simple 3-letter words into brand new words. Plus check out their library of fiction and nonfiction picture books that read along aloud with your child. 

Khan Academy Kids App
Khan Academy is best known as an excellent website that offers a variety of free educational lessons and practice. Experts from Stanford University collaborated on their app, Khan Academy Kids. Designed for ages 2 to 7, it offers early literacy and reading practice. Five different characters (such as Kodi Bear), are your child’s guides through activities and stories. Your child will enjoy original activities, books, videos, games, and lessons.  Their book reader allows kids to follow along with recorded audio narration or read on their own across fiction and non-fiction levelled books.

Preschoolers can learn their ABCs and phonics sounds through read-along stories and enjoy tracing letters and copy words through fun games. They’ll also be able to practise reading labels, packages, and door signs. And enjoy rhyming, counting the syllables in each word, and start blending sounds together.

Beginner readers in Primary through Grade 2 can enjoy interactive story books. They can be read along aloud to the child or they can choose to read independently. The Khan Academy Kids app is available on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, and Amazon Appstore.

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Phonics Rhymes at Education.com 

Although some of the resources at Education.com are for paid members only, games, worksheets, and lesson plans are available with a free membership. Their learning library is designed for Preschool through Grade 5.

Kids remember what they rhyme because rhymes are catchy and fun. That’s why these games are terrific for young learners. For instance, in the “Short E Mud Hopper” game, listen for the short e sound to help the muddy monster find them. The “Silly Socks: Poetry Featuring the Letter S” lesson plan involves identifying the letter S, reviewing the S sound, and printing the letter S with a poem about socks.

Duolingo ABC - Learn to Read App

Rounding out our free reading resources for homeschool parents is Duolingo, famous for its language instruction website and app. With the app, your child age 4 and up can enjoy games, stories, and activities with no ads and no in-app purchases to worry about. They’ll love the fun and engaging stories and activities such as letter tracing. Lessons are gamified so your child wants to enjoy learning to read.

One of the best features of the Duolingo ABC app is that it is usable offline so your child doesn’t have to be connected to the internet or your data. Available for iPhone and iPad.

Want to see where your child is at in reading so you know where to start with these free reading resources for homeschool parents? Click here to schedule a free online reading assessment. 

We assess their phonological and phonetic skills, word recognition, reading fluency and comprehension as well as spelling and writing skills to give a clear picture of their strengths and weaknesses and the way your child is reading.

Book a Free Assessment

 

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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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How Halifax Learning Supports Homeschool Parents

By Halifax Learning on Wed, Apr 15, 2020 @ 01:10 PM

So, you’ve decided to homeschool. You’ve got this! But sometimes you may need a little outside help. After all, it takes a village to raise a child. Halifax Learning staff are athletes, coaches, volunteers, published authors, entrepreneurs, and parents, too! Here’s how Halifax Learning supports homeschool parents.

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Free Online Reading Assessment 

When you’re starting out homeschooling, you may not know your child’s reading level. It’s handy to know so you can start from there to meet them where they’re at.

Halifax Learning offers a free online reading assessment. It only takes about an hour to complete. Your child’s phonological and phonetic skills, word recognition, reading fluency and comprehension, as well as spelling and writing skills are assessed to give a clear picture of their strengths and weaknesses and the way your child is reading.

Tips on How to Choose a Reading Program

If you’re seeking a reading program or a tutor for your child to help them learn how to read or improve their reading skills, it can be difficult to know how to choose. We have a free resource available, How to Evaluate a Reading Program, that can help. It not only gives you questions to ask the teacher or tutor, but also indicators to watch for in your child that may reveal they need some help with reading.

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Reading Help

Instilling the joy of reading in your child is so important for their future education. We are proud to have successfully supported over 3000 struggling readers in Halifax and throughout Nova Scotia since 1997. Halifax Learning offers a variety of programs for children learning how to read and struggling readers. Many parents choose to homeschool their kids with special needs because they’ve fallen through the cracks and they feel their kids’ needs aren’t being met and their skills aren’t being developed. Our SpellRead Program is perfect for kids with challenges. It’s a structured literacy program that helps all developing readers, including children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and ADD.

The SpellRead Program is based on specific skill mastery. Children move progressively from simple activities with easy sounds and one syllable words, to blending sounds and two syllable words, to clusters and polysyllabic words. It’s a fast-paced, engaging program. Our goal is to bring your child’s reading and spelling skills to a point at or above grade level within one year.

Writing Help

Competent writing skills develop through reading. The more your child reads, the better they write. Our Writing Connections program is designed for children in higher grades who need to develop excellent writing skills quickly.

Like SpellRead, Writing Connections begins with simple topics. Your child is provided with ongoing mini-lessons and opportunities to practise each skill to mastery before introducing a new concept. They will learn all about and practise using capitals, punctuation, commonly confused words, and sentences properly. They will also cover past and present tense, paragraph structure, essay structure, resumes, and cover letters – all excellent skills for your homeschooled child to develop.

More Support for Homeschool Parents

Halifax Learning supports homeschool parents through our newsletter as well. Get tips for reading, writing, and spelling success, community events, and more. Sign up for our newsletter here.

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Bundles of Joy

By Britt P. Curran on Sun, Jan 19, 2020 @ 12:55 PM

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We entrust individual tool-kits made for emergencies to ensure preparedness in times of need or against the elements.

First Aid: rife with bandages, alcohol swabs, and tweezers. Car gear: brimming with vice grips, jumper cables, and a handheld GPS. Survival sets: jam-packed with the likes of granola bars, matches, and a rescue blanket.

But safety needn't be the only motivator for compiling personal provisions. Last decade—which sounds like LIGHT-YEARS ago—spawned a shopping boom of moderately customized subscription boxes. From beauty and pets to accessories and meal prep, these deliveries introduced consumers to new products and new ways to simplify or enhance day-to-day.

Learning kits are no different. Tailoring a go-to bundle for your learner means no fumbling for a sharpened pencil or humming and hawing over a book choice: everything is already prepped in a designated box, basket, or bin!

Herewith, two 10-item educational packs to have on-hand during homework, a holiday weekend, or yes, even a hurricane!




MATH MIX

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CALCULATOR
For checking, not completing, work!
LARGE, FOAM DICE
Your favourite dollar, craft, or game store might carry a variety of oversized dice. To use, have your learner roll two at a time and either add, subtract, or multiply the numbers, depending on skill level. Take turns challenging each other, or both roll two dice at a time and total your set to see who has the highest number!
1-100 FLASH CARDS
Helpful for familiarity and distinguishing high numbers, flash cards are a tried-and-true method for studying and recall. Battle it out by shuffling the card deck and splitting into two even piles. Flip your pile's top card at the same time as your learner: the highest number wins both cards! Count your pile at the end to see who reigns victorious.
BASIC OPERATIONS FLASH CARDS
Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division cards foster learner engagement and automaticity. Timed readings also fuel speed and accuracy, and tackling single questions at a time promote focus. For example, if the card reads 4 x 5, the learner concentrates on just this; it isn't jumbled together on a page full of equations, which can be overwhelming.
PENCILS + SMALL SHARPENER
Have at least four writing utensils primed for problem-solving, and a sidekick sharpener for the inevitable broken lead.
GRAPH PAPER
Large, grid paper helps keep numbers aligned and work neat. Grab a stack at your local stationery or office supplies store, or print at no cost from this fuss-free site!
WORKSHEETS
A workbook on par with your learner's grade or skill level helps reinforce fundamental skills (e.g. mental math) and could effectively advance fluency. Digital inventories are often organized by concepts (decimals, order of operations, fractions, etc.) and offer thousands of printable activities. Math-Drills.com even features a holiday section, like Valentine's Day sheets, aimed at incorporating seasonal festivities into numerical practice.
RULER + PROTRACTOR
Make taking measurements and identifying angles easier by supplying the right tools. Opt for a clear ruler so learners can see work or lines underneath!
BUTTONS
Basic operations are strengthened through tactile and visual work. Seek out 50-100 buttons of any colour and size. Place all buttons on a table and ask your learner to isolate a designated amount, like 20 buttons, then regroup into fives. Discuss how four groups of five are created from 20 buttons. Ask them to rework the buttons into groups of four. Discuss how 5 x 4 = 20 AND 4 x 5 = 20. Reconfigure the 20 buttons again, asking your learner to make two groups of 10. Discuss how 2 x 10 = 20another way 20 can be divided. Continue with varying scenarios and operations.
WALL CLOCK
Manipulate the hands on a clock and ask your learner to write down the time displayed. Additionally, set a time and ask them to move the clock ahead by one hour and ten minutes; see if they can correctly change the hands. Continue exercises with different times. Looking to get crafty? Create your own clocks from Instructables for endless practicing!



LITERARY LOT

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NEWS ARTICLES
TIME for Kids offers printable news stories organized by grade and feature a high standard of readability and interest.

NEW + KNOWN BOOKS
Have a few surefire favourites to give your reader a confidence boost. Contrast to the well-worn pages of a beloved book, fresh reads can spark a similar excitement. Find a topic, level, or work by a treasured author to present a new challenge. If helpful, co-read to share the load, and tackle the longer, more daunting pages.
BOOKMARK CRAFT
What's better than a personalized bookmark to complement your kit? Browse Pinterest for a bounty of ideas, or peruse this well-curated DIY collection!
TIMER
Swap out your oven clock or cell phone for the job: pick up a cheap kitchen timer (and batteries) to designate for speed-reading flash cards, blocking off an independent writing portion, etc.
PHONETIC FLASH CARDS
From vowel sounds to real words, handy flash cardslike those for mathemphasize repetition, practice, and comprehension.
POCKET DICTIONARY
Seek out a second-hand tangible copy and avoid using a laptop or technology for searches, which helps minimize screen time. Thumbing through a dictionary (or thesaurus!) flexes your learner's alphabetization muscle, and creates moments of success when a word is found, read, and understood. Your Dictionary also offers a litany of literary terms with a printable version for kids!
PENS, PENCILS + HIGHLIGHTERS
Writing utensils and accessories are invaluable. Stick with a trusty HB #2 or try these mechanical pencils designed for handwriting. Pen options can include glitter, felt, fine-tip: whatever motivates students to express themselves! If printing a story or article, encourage your learner to highlight words they like, don't know, or want to include in a summary but fear forgetting.
BLANK JOURNAL
Opt for lined notebooks to inspire neatness. Your learner can write down the book's main points; create brainstorms for future poems and projects; summarize the story; etc.
BOOK LIGHT

In case the power does go out! Handy clip-on lights illuminate pages at night, during an outage, or in dim reading environmentslike a tent while camping.
MAD LIBS
A popular literary pastime since 1953, Mad Libs create prime opportunities to supplement learning. Not only are parts of speech discussed (verbs! adjectives!) but the end producta silly story customized by your learneris sure to elicit laughs. These classic printable editions are great for class, home, on-the-go, or in the car!



While they might not provide shelter during a storm—or help home cooks decide which spices complement certain ingredients—these kits can offer unplugged entertainment and practice. The best part? Creating a kit is a bonus activity for you and your youngin at a one-time cost with the rare addition of surplus components.

Here's lookin' at you, kit.

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2020 Vision

By Britt P. Curran on Wed, Jan 01, 2020 @ 04:38 PM

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New Year's resolutions can make even the keenest of change-craving individuals squirm with anxiety. We might take the countdown to midnight as seriously as Cinderella, anticipating a wave of consequences if there isn't enough shift, shuffle, or progress.

But much like fashion's jelly sandals, steely resolutions are a thing of the past; the should and must and have-to dialogues are dated. To approach 2020 with plans, not pressure, allows both you and your learners alike to breathe easier, placing good intentions and realistic goals at the new year's forefront.

With 2019 in the rear-view mirror, here are four ways to make January—and a fresh decade!—sparkle with educational success.



CHECK (OUT), PLEASE!
Libraries rival It's a Wonderful Life for timelessness. While e-readers and downloadable novels are popular present-day preferences, little competes with the task of physically trekking to a library to peruse classics, new releases, or suggested reads. Before visiting, reflect on a recently beloved story and Google "books similar to (title here)." Browse names until one peaks your interest, then search the Halifax Public Library's online catalogue to check availability, put on hold for pick-up, or join a wait-list.
Once at your local branch, ask staff for recommendations. In July 2015, the now five-year-old Halifax Central Library housed more than 80,000 books alone—a statistic substantiating that you and your learners will surely find something fitting!

In an effort to re-welcome youth to their neighborhood site, HPL offers Read Away Your Fines: a program aimed to help individuals ages 5-17 quash outstanding account charges. Accompany your learner and chat with staff about starting. Every 15 minutes of on-location reading = a $2 decrease toward unpaid fees. It's a win-win-win: the library reduces its borrower debt; young persons have more opportunity to check-out items this year; and designated reading time encourages active, intentional literacy.

Similarly, to motivate community members back to public libraries, HPL hosted a "Go Fine-Free" initiative in December, 2019, to waive individuals' outstanding fees. As a limited-time opportunity, the mission hoped to alleviate borrower debt without judgement, question, or expectation. Stay tuned for news, events, and potential comparable offerings!


KEEP IT CHILL
What's cooler than magnetic poetry? From basic building pieces to a slew of novelty versions, your kitchen appliances will become a new canvas for learning, laughing, and wordplay silliness.

The original Magnetic Poetry brand features a vast selection of younger editions, including Story Maker, Kid Artist, and Opposites. Work together to create sentences and ridiculous poems, or leave your child to their own imaginative devices and see what transpires on the fridge! **IMPORTANT: Supervise website browsing, as other themed kits are named and geared for older audiences.

For younger learners, foam letters help foster alphabet familiarity. Woozles and Tattletales, two beloved local children's bookstores, offer varieties like Magnetic Wooden Letters by Melissa and Doug and Magnetic Learning Letters, respectively. Craft and discount stores also feature options, so see what budget, size, and style is most attractive!

GIVE ME A CLUE?
Group word activities nurture togetherness and teamwork, with a bonus focus on fine motor skills.

Crosswords are a tangible, challenging choice for family time. Kids Puzzles and Games promote free printable crosswords, as well as word scrambles, Sudoku, mazes, and much more.

Depending on the ages of your learner(s), find a topic and length that feels manageable and fun, not impossible. Reviewing the answers afterwards and filling in blanks can also be a helpful way to finish without frustration!

TAKE NOTE
In keeping with a pen-to-paper theme, source out stationery that suits your learner's likes, hobbies, and preferences. Try themed cards (forest animals, anyone?), Post-its, dollar store index cards, or whatever else inspires imagination.

Every weekend—or as often as doable—have your learner draw a name to see who's on his or her to-write list. Extend the recipient list beyond the immediate family! Maybe a cousin, coach, teacher, friend. Place as many names into a Mason jar as your little likes, and lead by creative example: fill your own jar, perhaps including your kids, siblings, boss, neighbour, favourite barista, whomever! Set aside 10-15 minutes together to scribe your own notes.

Seal and decorate with stickers, then hand-deliver (or mail) before the next time you draw! Eliminate the pressure for anyone to produce a flawless memo and write what comes to mind. Maybe a haiku? Recall a fun, shared memory. Tell your reader something new, or jot down a simple "thanks for being you!"



Halifax Learning believes in practices that focus on enjoyment and effort, not perfection. Need more ideas? Two posts from 2018 and 2019 highlight parallel exercises!

Go ahead: Spell "CHEERS" on the freezer door, too.

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Making the Grade

By Britt P. Curran on Sat, Dec 07, 2019 @ 04:29 PM

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December has swiftly approached like a quick-on-its-toes cat, ready to pounce on ribbons, bows, and dangling ornaments. Parents, students, and educators alike share in the end-of-calendar year anticipation as much as those same feisty felines await long, winter naps.

The academic weeks leading up to the holidays boast their own brand of busy. By now, mid-term reports are distributed, PT meetings completed, and, potentially, a new dialogue has emerged regarding your child's areas of concern.

First things first: let's retire the phrase "bad report card"; words implying disappointment are unlikely to inspire change. They also often overshadow the full picture: every child has strengths, but something isn't clicking. Look beyond the letter or number of struggling grades. Which of your child's skills have been well-developed? What's been progressing as hoped or expected? What needs work or improvement?

Take an in-depth look at the data. What could a "C" or "D" really mean? What's considered when tallying percentages? Perhaps he or she has strong organization skills and positive interactions with others, but the actual workassignments, comprehension, correctness—is where they might be fumbling, not failing.

Parent-teacher interviews may be short, but try to make those minutes matter. If you're feeling post-meeting uncertainties, contact your child's teacher or administration with specific questions for additional feedback. Furthermore, HRCE's website suggests the following four prompts to help guide the conversation (during a chat or after):

  • "What do you see as my child's unique strengths/challenges?"
  • "How can I help build on/support my child's learning strengths and challenges at home"?
  • "How is my child's progress evaluated?"
  • "What outcomes has my child met and what are the outcomes my child is working towards?"

Lower or worrisome grades can prompt a dip in self-esteem. Be mindful of changes in your child's mood or behaviour and reach out to the school, a healthcare professional, or trusted resource to help boost confidence and self-worth when a learner feels heavily impacted.

photo-1479091792771-cdb6e8b16ed6The emphasis on grades can obscure other positives and accomplishments. During the upcoming two-week break, consider creating a "ME JAR": a crafty project to highlight strengths, skills, and special qualities. Re-purpose a large Mason or candy jar (or snag a cheap dollar store or second-hand container) and help your child decorate as they please—stickers, paint, washi tape, photos, rhinestones.

Cut strips of colourful paper and scribe encouraging, descriptive words that encapsulate who they are. Steer away from too many physical adjectives, like PRETTY or TALL, and focus on character traits and internal worth: KIND, PATIENT, BRAVE, GENEROUS, ORGANIZED, TIDY, POLITE, CURIOUS... the list goes on and on—literally! Be more specific, too: SUPER AT LAUNDRY,  MAKES A YUMMY SMOOTHIE, HELPS YOUNGER BROTHER, etc.

Every day or once a week, pull out a piece together and read aloud while both offering evidence to hit the point home. (Psst: lead by example and make your own jar; self-love can be inherited, learned, and nourished.)

FUNNY
PARENT/GUARDIAN:
"You are funny because you tell your grandfather jokes."
CHILD:
"I am funny because I do silly impressions."

MULTIPLICATION MASTER
PARENT/GUARDIAN: "You are a multiplication master because you know your eight times tables."
CHILD: "I am a multiplication master because I try to help others in math class."


The potential adrenaline from finishing strong isn't a myth. While the school year is into its fourth month, there's still a substantial amount of time to make meaningful changes. Use long weekends and snow cancellations to incorporate learning. Co-read a story, offer a creative writing exercise, enjoy an educational board game, or try a math worksheet—like these customizable ones from Web Math Minute.

Little rewards for hard work go far, too, and they needn't be extravagant or even monetary. Stickers, a bookmark, cozy socks, five extra minutes on YouTube, colouring a printed page, Go Fish!, or a free or low-cost community event. Perhaps even start a fridge chart where children build towards a bigger goal, like a movie date, hosting a sleepover, or a snowy outdoor scavenger hunt.

The holidays come but once a year, but the gift of feeling strong and supported—academically, emotionally, mentally? That will guide your learner better than the best red-nosed reindeer.

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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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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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What's in a Word?

By Britt P. Curran on Tue, Sep 10, 2019 @ 02:08 PM

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While you welcome September with open, slightly chillier arms, back-to-school buzz rivals the hum of bees. A new academic year is equal parts transition and awareness: students need time to find their footing, but it's important to be proactive and persistent with learning struggles.

These nine terms shed light on the structure and sounds of words. Understanding the science behind phonetic practices—and gaining the ability to decode—helps nurture a fundamental formula: information + implementation = comprehension.

(We really like math, too!)


SYLLABLE [si·lə·bəl]
A whole or part of a word consisting of one vowel sound alongside one or more consonants; often thought of as a word's "beat." For example, remember has three syllables: /re/ + /mem/ + /ber/. The word chop has only one syllable; its single vowel sound /_o_/ is surrounded by the consonant sounds /ch/ and /p/.

PHONICS [fŏn·ĭks]
A teaching method for reading that focuses on correlating letters with phonetic sounds or values; the ability to hear, distinguish, and apply phonemes.

PHONEME [fō·nēm]
The smallest unit of sound that is combined to make words. The English language has only 26 letters but 44 phonemes, which can share the same sound function. For example, /k/ and /c/ (kite and cord), and the consonant /c/ also makes an /s/ sound (city).

GRAPHEME [gra·fēm]
A letter or group of letters (and all of its sound possibilities) that merge phonemes. For example, /m/, /sh/, and /tch/ (my, rush, and watch). Graphemes can also be represented differently but make the same sound (comb, machine, and future).

DIGRAPH [dī·ɡraf]
Two letters that make a single sound. Consonant digraphs include /ph/, /mb/, and /sh/ (phone, lamb, and shop); vowel digraphs include /ay/, /ow/, and /er/ (day, cow, and her).

TRIGRAPH [trī·ɡraf]
Three letters that makes a single sound. For example, /igh/, /dge/, and /tch/ (sight, fudge, and witch).

DIPHTHONG [dif·thäng]
A vowel sound created by combining two vowels. For example, /i_e/, /oa/, and /ee/ (nine, boat, and peek).

MORPHEME [môr·fēm]
The smallest meaningful unit in language. Different from a word, which can always stand alone, morphemes are either bound (cannot stand alone) or free (can stand alone). Bound examples include /-un/ (untie); /-ly/ (quickly); and /s/ (cats). Free morphemes include words that, when combined with other words, create new ones but itself cannot be further divided.  Examples include "dog" (doghouse); "book" (notebook); and "pick" (toothpick).

ALLOMORPH [al·ə·môrf]
A combination of two or more morphs that transform into a morpheme. For example, the plural morpheme /s/ has three or more allomorphs, including: /s/ (cats); /z/ (dogs); and /iz/ (pushes).



Feeling definition dizzy? We get it!
Contact us to discuss our practices, programming, and purpose—and to see if Halifax Learning is right for you, your child, or a family member.

In the meantime, peruse our active research on SpellRead's success while building your own vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day!

Doesn't language totally coruscate?

 

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