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Celebrating 20-Years of Evidence-Based Education and SpellRead

5 Ways to Maximize Parent-Teacher Conferences

By Megan Brooks on Fri, Mar 29, 2019 @ 10:59 AM

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Parent-teacher conferences are put in place for communication, accountability, to celebrate success, and to overcome challenges. They are an opportunity for teachers to relay insight about a child's interactions with their peers, their approach and attitude towards challenging material, and their reactions to new emotions and ideas.  Everyone should take advantage of this time, albeit limited, to increase opportunities for the success of the student. 

Speaking as an educator with 12 years of experience as a reading specialist, the tips below are a collection of my experiences that I have found most useful when communicating with parents. At Halifax Learning I have the privilege of frequent parent-teaching consultations. We also have a systematized assessment procedure that also ensures a discussion at the mid point of a SpellRead student's programing and upon completion of the program. 

Program Walkthrough

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Here are 5 ways to maximize your parent-teacher conference.

 

halifax learning spellread

 

1. Don't Wait!

Don't wait for Parent-Teacher Conferences to open lines of communication. Remember, you are a team and communication is critical. We all know our public school teacher's are overwhelmed with demands, but offering support, relevant information and ensuring you're supporting your child's needs at home will only reduce the demands on our classroom teachers.

You can help support your child's classroom teacher by asking for advice on ways you can support your child at home. Ask for recommendations for:

  • an online course, reading material or an upcoming conference that puts a spotlight on your child's learning challenges. 
  • an incentive program that can be carried out both at home an in the classroom. 
  • additional practice, activities and/or apps.
  • professional services and support in your community. 

 

2. Ask for Honesty

Give your child's teacher permission to be honest. Let them know you are prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly in order to move forward. In order for your child to thrive, the adults overseeing their education need to work together, even if it hurts. 

Teacher's want to tell all parents that their child is exceeding expectations and your child's teacher is likely agonizing over focusing on the positive. As hard as it is to receive difficult news, it's also hard to share it, but when we sugar coat reality, we are providing a disservice to our students.  As SpellRead providers, too often we are asked why no one spoke up sooner. When parents ask for honesty and open communication, parents and teachers can more quickly develop solutions for the child's learning needs.

 

3. Share Information

The golden rule for teaching success is "get to know your students" and no one knows your child better than you do. Relationships are paramount and parents can help fast track this process by sharing as much information as possible. Share with your child's teacher:

  • the challenges and successes that have defined your child.
  • what motivates your child.
  • what causes your child anxiety.
  • what programs and services they have received up to this point.
  • the strengths and challenges you face as a parent in reinforcing the goals set out by your child's teacher.

 

halifax learning spellread

 

4. Include the Student

Your child is the subject of your meeting and one of your best sources of information.  Students should have an opportunity to assess and provide feedback about their teacher, classmates, and learning environment. Yes, a child's perspective can be skewed, but regardless, what they perceive to be true impacts their learning outcomes.

How they feel matters and can help inform their educational journey. Have multiple, meaningful and intentional conversations with your child about their experiences at school and record their comments in a journal at a later time. Ask your child specific questions and allow them to express their feelings completely. After several conversations about school, reflect on your notes and look for patterns that resulted in success or presented barriers for your child's learning. Take this information to your child's teacher with the intention of finding a resolution, not to point fingers. 

 

5. Advocate, Advocate, Advocate

Advocating for your child doesn't mean being a bully and making unreasonable demands. Asking informed questions with the expectation of an informed response is well within your rights. When it comes to your child's reading, you should ask: 

  • When were you last able to read with my child one on one? 
  • What are they reading in comparison to their peers? 
  • What do you notice about my child's reading? Are they using compensatory strategies such as memorization, context or pictures to guess or are they using the sound-letter relationship of the alphabet code to attack unknown words?
  • Are you teaching the five core components of essential reading skills? How? 

… 

If your child is struggling to read, remember:

✓ Reading skills do not develop in a short time.

✓ 95% of the developing readers benefit from explicit, systematic instruction to decipher the alphabetic code.

✓ Developing readers need multiple, repetitive opportunities to master skills.

✓ Reading programs must incorporate all five of the core components to ensure skilled, confident, reading.

✓ SpellRead is an evidence-based program that offers effective, sustainable results and delivered by exceptional, experienced, experts at Halifax Learning. 

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I Write Because I Read!

By Megan Brooks on Wed, Feb 27, 2019 @ 03:10 PM

halifa learning spellread

"The fisherman's huts are small but mighty as they conquer the gusty day. The beach will soon be even smoother and more unique than the first time. I will never forget the exceptional visit to the island. But there is still so much more to explore."

Last week at a planning meeting Sarah read our team a piece of writing with no introduction. She simply began. I assumed it was written by our SL-P and published author, Natalie, but I was stunned when she exposed the true author. 

Meet Anna! She's 11 years old and, like most kids, doesn't jump for joy when handed a five paragraph essay assignment from her classroom teacher. In fact, she wrote it in just 20 minutes after procrastinating for days. You can read the rest of Anna's inspired piece of writing below. Anna is a SpellRead graduate, has attended summer camps and will be joining us this summer as a Junior Camp Leader! We're proud to have Anna on our team this year and we look forward to supporting her as she supports our campers! 

Find out more about Camp!

We don't mean to brag, but this kid can write and we know why!

Anna has had the privilege of being immersed in evidence-based instructional methods that develop solid, sustainable literacy skills since day one. Right now, a child participating in a program such as SpellRead is privileged and often a reaction to years of struggle and anguish by their parents.

We think that needs to change so more of our youth can produce inspiring, impassioned pieces of writing such as Anna's essay below. 

Anna is like most kids. She loves spending time with her friends, being active and occasionally complains about school work. But Anna has the fundamental skills she needs to push through the torment of being an pre-teen and can get it done.

Some might say that writing is the last skill, or even the hardest skill to develop amongst these four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Regardless of the complexity of the skill, we know that evidence-based instructional methods provide students with the tools they need and the best opportunity to produce captivating and thought-provoking pieces of writing. 

halifax learning spellread writing author

I write, because I read.

Michael Chabon, author, credits his writing skills to his love of reading. We know all students can learn to read and one of the many reasons we need them to do so efficiently and effectively is to provide the world with the gift of writers like Anna and Michael Chabon! 

Click here to listen to Michael Chabon describe his love of reading and writing in this CBC podcast, "Michael Chabon on reading, writing and Captain Picard."

There are five core components to inform effective reading instruction and we're proud to say SpellRead was designed with them in mind.

What are the 5 core components in developing reading?

  1. Phonological Awareness
  2. Phonics
  3. Vocabulary Development
  4. Reading Fluency
  5. Reading Comprehension

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

Anna's Essay

Me and my dad had just unbooked from the outstanding campsite. We were heading to a new place to stay for two nights, it was a motel that looked like fisherman's huts jammed together. Once we got to the motel my eyes wouldn’t close. It was about mid day and the sun was shining bright in the sky. There was so much to look at but the smell was superior. It was like someone had just sprinkled sea salt everywhere for supper! However, the first things that caught my eye were the marvelous looking motels and their colors!

As I bound towards the motel, I thought that what was located in front of me was an enchanted rainbow. I anticipated that I was going to be rich! Underneath my feet was some of the most delicate grass I’ve ever felt and the motel looked honestly like a cartoon right out of the T.V. The other houses around the motel resembled nothing else except some flat dull colors.

As my eyes drifted to another spectacular view, I saw one of the most delightful beaches I’ve ever seen, particularly from all the dunes covering the beach. As I descended down the rickety ladder, I pivoted around and found myself gazing into these miniscule openings in between these monstrously giant boulders. In my opinion, they were more like little somber grotos.

The water was the last thing that my eyes saw as I swung around to look at all of its glory. It was like hopping into a whimsical fairytale world! The overlapping waves invited me for an exciting race to the shore. Although the water was bubbling at the shoreline the rest of the water was quite clear. As I looked down, I saw myself as if looking into a mirror. My sight would keep going down past the water to where the seaglass was getting jammed in between two pieces of coral. I then saw the seaglass escape the coral’s grasp, to be found very soon.

The fisherman's huts are small but mighty as they conquer the gusty day. The beach will soon be even smoother and more unique than the first time. I will never forget the exceptional visit to the island. But there is still so much more to explore.


halifax learning spellread

 

Is your child struggling to develop the 4 skills?

Reading, writing, speaking and listening are interconnected and starts with effective instruction. Halifax Learning is recommended by parents, psychologists, teachers, speech-language pathologists and more, but our number one source of referrals come from parents themselves. Why not as a parent that has experienced first hand, the change SpellRead has made in their child's life!
 
Ask a Parent
 

Ready to start?

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation, assessment and consultation.
 
In less than 1 hour you will learn more about how you, or a member of your family, 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!
 

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What is LOVE?

By Shakisha Downey on Tue, Jan 08, 2019 @ 01:37 PM

LOVE Nova Scotia is a charitable, non-profit organization that promotes self-expression through innovative arts-based techniques to support youth who have been subject to violence live beyond the effects of that experience. LOVE's mission is to transform this experience into meaningful, peace-making work. Through its need-specific programs, LOVE provides  youth with the skills and support needed to foster positive, healthy decision-making, and assist them to become independent leaders within their community. 

In 2017-2018, LOVE programs in Nova Scotia saw
236 enrollments.
- Leave Out Violence N.S. 2017-2018 Annual Report

LOVE's programs are available in Halifax, Sipekne'katik and Memertou First Nations, giving youth access to on-call Registered Social Workers and Youth Workers on a 24/7 basis. 


From LOVE Youth:

“This year at LOVE I learned to value friendship.”
- age 14, John Martin Junior Student
“I learned to respect women.”
– age 15, John Martin Junior High Student



Want to get involved?

For the 5th consecutive year, Halifax Learning has had the pleasure of supporting LOVE The Book Club's Annual Fundraiser. This year, we had the chance to participate in an event featuring New York Times Bestseller, Shari Lapena, as she discussed the creation of her latest thriller An Unwanted Guest with celebrity interviewer and Halifax's own, Anne Emery, award-winning author of the esteemed Collins-Burke series of thrillers.

For more information about Leave Out Violence Nova Scotia, and to learn how to participate in next year's Book Club Fundraiser, please contact Ann Sutherland, asutherland@sutherlandwatt.ca, and Pearl Michael, Board Member, LOVE NS, pearlamatheson@gmail.com.

Any contributions will help maintain their running of high-quality, youth-driven programs, as well as provide necessities such as meals and transportation to youth. 

 

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Stepping into Tough Conversations | 24th Annual Africentric Conference

By Shakisha Downey on Wed, Dec 12, 2018 @ 01:42 PM

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What are educators and community leaders saying about black students in the public education system in 2018?

This year Halifax Learning was pleased to attend the 24th Annual Africentric Conference held in honor of the No.4 Construction Battalion and the 100th Anniversary of WWI at Cole Harbour High School.

In upholding their theme of the inequality of oppression, this year the conference narrowed in on culturally relevant pedagogical approaches to supporting Black Nova Scotian students in the public education system.


About the Speakers

Dr. Marlene Ruck Simmonds | BA (UCCB); BCS, B.Ed., MA, M.Ed. (MSVU) EdD Candidate
Dr. Marlene Ruck Simmonds is an education professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, as well as the Director of the African Canadian Services Division in Nova Scotia. She is known for her expertise in counseling, assessment and the development of literacy programs that foster culturally proficient practice.

“There is so much work to be done…”.

Dr. Simmonds proclaims that children and youth are counting on us to create and reinforce positive and supportive pathways towards success, and those same children are running out of time for us to continue jumping through phases of conversation about change and initiative.

“They are too much at risk, and too valuable for us not to get it right, right now.”

Dean Simmonds | Halifax Regional Police Department, Inspector 
Former resident of North Preston, the oldest and largest black community in Canada, Inspector Dean Simmonds started his career in law enforcement in 1997. Working his way up within the Police force, Inspector Simmonds has maintained a major leadership role in developing and implementing a variety of workshops and training programs geared towards improving diversity, workplace equity, human rights and leadership skills. In particular, Inspector Simmonds has served as a member of the Halifax Regional Police Department’s Strategic Planning Team, HRP/RCMP Integrated Cultural Diversity Committee, and Race Relation Advisory Committee for the past eight years.

Ms. Karen Dumay | Teacher
Ms. Dumay is a Languages and Resource teacher at Graham Creighton Junior High School in Cherrybrook, Nova Scotia. Ms. Dumay spoke about the messages we teach Black students about what they are capable of. In doing so, she puts emphasis on the lack of representation of famous Black Canadians with learning disabilities in the media to encourage success and resilience.

Ms. Doreen Mallett | Department of Education 
Mr. Mallet is a member of the African Canadian Services Division within the Public Schools Branch of the Nova Scotia Department of Education.

Dr. Beverly-Jean Daniel | Professor
Dr. Daniel is a member of the Diversity Management Consultant & Assistant Professor at Humber College and Ryerson University. Dr. Daniel is the founder and developer of The Bridge, a student engagement and retention program that aims to increase the rates of engagement, retention and graduation amongst African, Black, and/or Caribbean students at Humber College in Ontario.

What are we working with now?

Many speakers at the conference hold the opinion that Individualized Program Plans (IPP’s) in the public school system, as they relate to Black Nova Scotian students, are:

  • sold to parents “like a used car”.
  • a sneaky way to marginalize - some parents not knowing their children were put on IPP
  • attaching incredible labels to the students that they are never able to shake. These labels hinder their academic, social, and professional development for the rest of their lives, because this modified education program targets them, making IPP, or “special ed.” their identities.

One speaker suggests:

“Putting black children in this program is the simple way for the teacher to get around the fact that they do not have the criteria to support these students in the classroom, in social education”.

 

 

What do our black students need more of?

  1. Motivation → During the conference Dr. Simmonds states that motivation needs to come from somewhere internal, to be driven by something that forces you to act even when no one is looking. This is meant as a push for those in education to step beyond their comfort zones to achieve real results, because it is in the difficult conversations that lead to open doors.

  2. Mentorship → Inspector Simmonds speaks to the exceptional push from within to do more, to make a real change in race relations in the city,  especially because of the community he is from. He credits the “tough” and “uncomfortable” conversations he had in his youth with his mentor Mr. Kenneth M. Fells for this. Remembering these critical moments in his youth, Inspector Simmonds feels they gave him the opportunity to truly realize his own potential, and gave him the power to be great. Mr. Fells’ took the time to appreciate Simmonds’ situations in order to understand his needs, Mr. Fells taught Simmonds something he will hold onto forever. That mentoring in such a way is essential to making a real differences in the outcomes of children's social and academic success in life, especially for Black children and youth.

  3. Courage → Mentors need to step out of their comfort zones to have the difficult conversation about cultural diversity, in order to make a real difference in the lives of youth, and student results.


How can we change the system?

Ms. Dumay speaks on the messages we teach Black students. about what they are capable of. She puts emphasis on the lack of representation of famous Black Canadians with learning disabilities in the media to encourage success and resilience.

In terms of making real changes to their experience, Ms. Dumay encourages:

Change Teaching Patterns
She sheds light on the importance of aspects of IPP which could make it effective that are often overlooked. One of these aspects includes ensuring IPP students are still engaging with the other students in their class and social setting, rather than isolated with their EPA “in the back of the classroom”, for instance. Ms. Damay believes breaking the stigmas associated with student on IPP will improve the overall effectiveness of the programs.

Create Culturally Relevant Classrooms

  • Relatable lesson plans.
  • Welcoming environment.
  • A relationship built on, without the assumption of, mutual respect.
  • Always considering ones unconscious bias.

Furthermore, Ms. Doreen suggests, curriculum alignment by incorporating a variety of cultural representations in the lessons and classroom materials, especially books, available to students!

 

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” - Maya Angelou

halifax learning spellread

Where do teachers go for support?

Identifying culturally relevant resources can sometimes be tricky if you do not know where to look. Luckily, Ms. Doreen provides a search engine for the Department of Education’s resource list on  the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau website.

Halifax Learning is pleased to offer training and professional development to educators. Do you know students who struggle to read? Do you wish you could do more for your students? You can with the evidence-based programs. 

If you are an educator with resources to share send us a note and we'll spread the word! Email media@halifaxlearning.com


What happens to these student once they leave high school?

Dr. Daniel emphasizes the importance of teaching black students self worth.

“The lack of understanding throughout society of the cultural pains and successes we encounter as a people should not minimize black students’ visions of themselves.”

She encourage students about the importance of breaking through the lens of failure that “blackness” is framed in and tasks educators to create environments for students to thrive. Dr. Daniel believes  such environments enables a sense of empowerment and appreciation for oneself.

So what can we do as Educators, and especially Black Educators?

Accept the responsibility of:

  • To be a motivating force! 
  • To be a mentor and accept the task of replicating one’s own success onto the younger, vulnerable generation before us. 
  • To be a courageous by stepping into tough conversations and making real change. 

Where does Halifax Learning fit in? 

The science is clear. All children can read well. 

“I first started at Halifax Learning, as an office administrator,” says Shakisha. “But we are now shifting my role to take on more outreach, to create more partnerships with communities who may not have access to such literacy programs and see what we can do together to encourage everyone, of all ages and backgrounds to get serious about their journey to literacy. I can relate personally to these kids on a lot of levels. Now we have an opportunity to build positive programs to support these youth in academic success.”

From Recent Grad's Career Journey Comes Full Circle. Read the full article here

We are very proud of our clinic student results and our growing list of community outreach work. Breaking down the barriers and challenges families have to access our programs is key to making sure no one gets left behind.  

If you have a student that you feel would benefit by SpellRead’s evidence-driven programming, please contact us

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ADHD, LD, EF | What does it all mean?

By Brittany Curran on Sat, Nov 24, 2018 @ 03:48 PM

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Initialisms have long existed as a popular form of communication and classification: FBI, TGIF, DNA, ICYMI. In a world prone to shortened speak, condensed phrasing can be both puzzling and ambiguous. 

ADHD, LD, and EF are three unique initialisms that help categorize learning differences. Although they may have overlapping symptoms, these terms are not interchangeable.

So, how do we begin to decipher which one accurately defines an individual's needs? Let’s dissect!


ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, formerly ADD) is a neurobehavioural disorder affecting brain development and activity, which then alters a child's abilities, like sitting still or following instructions.

Most kids show attention challenges throughout childhood. An individual with ADHD, however, feels an even greater struggle to focus, and will likely display symptoms in three categories: inattention (e.g. distractions and concentration), hyperactivity (e.g. fidgeting and boredom), and impulsivity (e.g. interruptions and risky behaviour).

But struggling with areas such as focus, activity, and self-control doesn't equal an ADHD diagnosis. Instead, consider that the concern level should grow as children do. 

According to KidsHealth, "kids learn these skills with help from parents and teachers. But some kids don't get much better at paying attention, settling down, listening, or waiting. When these things continue and begin to cause problems at school, home, and with friends, it may be ADHD."

Theories surrounding the root of ADHD are complicated: genes, environmental toxins (e.g. pesticides), and prenatal substance abuse are likely contributors. It is important to also note what is not at the core: "the popular belief that eating too much sugar causes the condition has not held up in research... and 'poor parenting' is not to blame... but parenting styles and strategies can have an effect on children's self-regulating abilities. Children who are exposed to inconsistent discipline or who suffer from neglect may find it more challenging to rein in their impulses or direct their attention later on" (Psychology Today Canada).

LD
Learning Disabilities (LD)—including Dyslexia and Dysgraphia—stem from how our brains are pre-programmed and is not an indication of intelligence. The brain may struggle with reading, reasoning, or recall, but challenges can be curbed through tools and techniques. Furthermore, many children with LDs often excel in other areas, like music and sports.

At an early age, children may face challenges learning numbers, interacting with others, and be easily distracted. Once in school, common telltale signs include word confusion, reading and spelling mistakes, and a slowness to comprehend new skills. Nearing junior high, children may battle handwriting, fact recall, and avoid reading in front of others.

"Children with learning disabilities must be assured that they are not dumb or lazy. They are intelligent people who have trouble learning because their minds process words or information differently... it important to be honest and optimistic—explain to your child that they struggle with learning, but that they can learn. Focus on your child's talents and strengths" (LD Online).

EF
Executive function (EF) skills are cognitive—or brain-based—skills that affect one's ability to make plans, set goals, regulate emotions, etc.; the prefrontal cortex governs these skills. EFs are neuro-developmental, meaning they develop over time, but not necessarily in a linear fashion.

EFs commonly fall under one of these three skill groups: Working Memory, Cognitive Flexibility, and Inhibitory Control. Skills need to be nurtured prior to entering an academic setting, and children will feel better equipped for school with some control over managing thoughts, actions, and emotions.

EFs are described as delayed, not deficits, and there are likely to be accelerations and regressions; fluctuation is normal.

••• 

However your child’s learning journey unfolds, a support team for treatment—which can include doctors, therapists, parents, coaches, and teachers—will help him or her slow down, develop and hone skills, and gain confidence. Early awareness is key: check in with a clinician (even get a second or third opinion) and keep your child's team in the loop.

Being organized and informed can also make a world of difference in your child's progress.

Here are 5 tips to help manage information:

  1. STAY SORTED
    Create a binder to house relevant medical and educational documents, test results, forms, etc.
  2. HELP LINE
    Entrust and designate a family member, neighbour, or close friend to be a supportive resource for you and your child; it takes a village!
  3. SAVE SAMPLES
    Collect examples of schoolwork that highlight strengths and weaknesses; these tangible academic reminders will help remind you of successes and hitches.
  4. KEEP TRACK
    Maintain a running log of communication and correspondence with professionals.
  5. TAKE NOTES
    Scribe memos of your child's educational, social, and emotional highs and lows; keep a journal or phone note to have your personal observations on hand.


Halifax Learning can help individuals with an ADHD or LD brain. To learn more about how our program works, contact us for a free consultation. 

Book a Free Assessment

 

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Phonological Awareness and EAL

By Eryn Steele on Sat, Nov 24, 2018 @ 11:21 AM

The importance of phonological skills cannot be underestimated in teaching English as an additional language. Phonological awareness is understanding the sounds (phonemes) of the English language and knowing the symbol or letter (grapheme) that represents those sounds.

A person who speaks, French, Spanish, Latin or German based languages are familiar with the English alphabet. There may be some differences with accents over letters, but the recognition of each letter is there with many similar sounds. English is derived from Latin, Greek and Germanic languages.

The alphabet and its related sounds are not as familiar to the student from a language that has an entirely different alphabet. This includes Russian, Persian-Farsi, Japanese or Chinese. The beautiful calligraphy of Chinese and Japanese has no relation to English.  Some of the letters in the Russian alphabet do match English. The Greek alphabet also has some similar letters and sounds.

Phonological or phonemic skills are developed by recognizing the letters and the sounds they make when spoken. The next step is putting it all together in speaking and reading. A native English speaker learning another language may experience the same problem learning the sounds and usage of the same letters in French or German.

Where are you from?

Knowing the student's origin will help in teaching them to recognize sounds. People from countries that don't use the Latin alphabet will have to learn to read again even though they read fluently in Arabic or Korean. They are starting over much as English speaking children learn to read.

Chances are the people learning English as a second or even third language are familiar with some phrases. They may be able to piece together a few English words. However, they may not be able to read that phrase if it is written out. They will learn to manipulate the sounds and written language into sentences as they improve their English skills.

Short sounds

Many ESL teachers begin by teaching the short vowel sounds in alphabetical order. Repetition is most important with drills and practice. Blended computer lab programs that involve reading along with working with individual teachers help students to become familiar with the basic sounds and how they are used to spell words.

They move on to learn the hard consonant sounds and rhymes. They are able to identify t,p,g,n,m,  sounds. They progress to other consonants and understand how the sounds blend together to form words and sentences.  Major emphasis is placed on reading and writing sentences as well as speaking. 

Rhyming, used with young children, works with adults as well to understand sounds. It starts with simple games such as learning how many words can be made from using it as a root word. Students learn to recognize the hard consonant sounds that form words such as pit and fit.

These are basic steps in building phonological skills for English Language Learners. More advanced programs teach the difference between spelling with the ph (as in phonics) and the f (as in fan).  Every effort is made to help students improve their English reading and spelling which has rules that are frequently broken. 

Hearing, speaking and reading English are the result of well-developed phonological skills. Study, practice and immersion in an English-speaking environment will help to build those skills.

Dr. Linda Siegel's research clearly shows the importance of phonological awareness and teaching English as a Second Language.  Her work show the evidence how important this is. 

Linda Siegel

At the Halifax Learning Centre we have used the SpellRead program with ESL learners in Nova Scotia and also abroad in China, and in the United States.  We also did a program with Chinese pilots wanting to perfect their English language pronunication skills.  

For more information on any of our programs please email: information@halifaxlearning.com.

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What does "evidence-based" really mean?

By Halifax Learning on Thu, Nov 15, 2018 @ 11:24 AM

 

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When it comes to evidence-based practices, we sometimes think about doctors - professionals who help patients based on past medical research. No two patients are exactly alike, but doctors know they can rely on the evidence that has been produced over the years to help their patients. Similarly, no two of our students are exactly alike, but we know that we have the right evidence-based program to help them build the skills that they need. That's the power of evidence.

Something is considered "evidence-based practice" if: 

  • there is robust support. 
  • group designed studies and research.
  • a large series of single-case design studies.

Having the privilege to be labeled as "evidence-based" is not a small feat and should carry a lot of weight to an individual or parent that is considering their child's learning needs or their own. Foundational literacy skills should not be left to chance regardless of a child's race, gender, socio-economic status, presence of a learning difference, diagnosis of a neurological disorder and so on.

The list is endless. Intelligent, hard working individuals with huge hearts have worked tirelessly to develop programs that work - particularly in reading. We believe parents today are more and more aware of the impacts that the "Reading Wars" of the 1980s are having on our children today.  

"Reading is the most studied aspect of human learning."
- quote for Emily Handford's documentary, Hard Words: Why aren't our kids being taught to read?

Despite the Marianas Trench of research identifying the 5 core components required for effective reading instruction, our students are still not being taught to read effectively or efficiently. 

halifax learning spellread evidence-based

How did SpellRead become an evidence-based reading intervention program?

We at Halifax Learning love to celebrate the origins of the SpellRead program. SpellRead was created by a parent from Prince Edward Island desperately searching for effective reading instruction for her child. She was inspired to help her son, who is deaf, learn to read in a way that works for people of all abilities. One really important piece of her story, that we sometimes don't emphasize as much as we should, is the fact that Kay is a life-long educator and researcher. In creating SpellRead, Dr. MacPhee used research and evidence.

Once Kay had created SpellRead and had taught it successfully, the program was evaluated in various research projects, like in this study on elementary-aged students, and this larger-scale study. SpellRead continues to be evaluated, like in this recent study with students in Halifax's Youth Advocacy Program, and in a current study being done by the NeuroCognitive Imaging Lab at Dalhousie University. These studies consistently demonstrate that SpellRead offers effective, sustainable results. 

Delivering an evidence-based program is important because sometimes there are strategies that seem like they might work, but actually have no benefit or introduce bad habits and compensatory strategies. Our students tell us all the time that they've been taught to guess an unfamiliar word based on a picture, or to skip over the word and then come back to it later.

These strategies might seem sufficient, but they have not been proven and often get in the way of the actual process of learning to read. Anecdotally we find that this type of instruction becomes ineffective for a high number of students around grade 3. As students begin to progress more heavily into reading content without pictures, these compensatory strategies are no longer an option and student's comprehension, productivity and enthusiasm for reading is impacted in a very negative way. 

It's so important that we understand there is science behind reading education, and that it has actually been studied a lot over the years (which makes sense, considering how vital it is to have strong reading skills). Not all methods of reading instruction are equal. Here are 9 questions to ask when evaluating an reading program. We know what works to teach, and we know how to teach it.

How do know if your child is being taught to read the right way? Download our document, "All Children Reading Well" or Contact us today to book a free assessment. 

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Child's Play: Five Word Games for Kids

By Brittany Curran on Fri, Nov 09, 2018 @ 01:26 PM

halifax learning games tutor spellread

Revered British writer, Roald Dahl (Boy, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), believed that "life is more fun if you play games." He also scribbed a character who thought "children should never have baths... it's a dangerous habit(The Witches). Certainly one of these things is true.

Word activities can be an exciting and engaging supplemental tool for encouraging your child to read. They can also trigger a volcanic eruption of frustration and anger if a child playing lacks the foundational skills required to participate in family or group fun. If a raging river of molten hot lava tends to overtake your kitchen table, expert intervention might be necessary. Contact us today for a free assessment!

If not, here are five board and card gamesfrom classic choices to contemporary conceptsto help reinforce spelling, strengthen word recognition, and fuel your little one's imagination. They might even forget they're learning... and it's sure to bring out the kid in you, too!

1. SCRABBLE JUNIOR

For 80 years, Scrabble has become one of the most popular games to grace shelves. Hasbro's newer offspring, Scrabble Junior, is suggested for ages 5 and up, and offers a dual board. The first side has permanent, predetermined vocabulary (like CHERRY, DOLPHIN, and SEA) and players match personal tiles to these words. An adult can help keep score with tokens, and when a player runs out of tiles, the individual with the most points wins. The second side is an advanced edition, so kids can build up to building their own words!

2. RORY'S STORY CUBES

Nearly 15 years ago, creativity trainer and coach, Rory Bamfylde, needed an innovative problem solving technique for adults; "as the brain thinks in pictures but communicates in words, having a visual aid... would be advantageous." So he created Story Cubes: a dice game to help nurture different ideas. To play, individuals take turns shaking up and rolling nine cubes, then generate sentences or scenes from what's revealed, ideally linking a story together from all the upturned images; a suggested prompt is "once upon a time." Story Cube versions feature actions, voyages, and specialized characters (like Batman), and are recommended for ages 6 and up. The best part? Winning isn't everything! The goal is to think fast, be creative, and avoid dwelling on perfect ideas; there are no wrong answers!

3. APPLES TO APPLES JUNIOR

Designed for ages 9 and up, this creative combination game encourages kids to talk their way to the top! With a whopping 576-card deck, all players begin by receiving an equal number of Red Apple cards, which feature a person, place, thing, or event (like GYMNASTICS or GETTING A HAIRCUT). Individuals take turns being the judge, who will read aloud a Green Apple card that states a description of a person, place, thing, or event (like CRUNCHY or MAGICAL). Players choose one of their own Red Apple cards they believe best corresponds with the Green Apple card, and tries to convince the judge it fits! Whoever's Red Apple card is chosen wins that round, and the first player to dominate four rounds, wins! The objective (aside from silliness) is to expand vocabulary; become more familiar with nouns, adjectives, and synonyms; and hone quick-thinking skills.

4. WORD ON THE STREET JUNIOR

Looking to develop vocabulary with a focus on teamwork? Intended for a younger demographic, Word on the Street Junior is recommended for ages 8 and up. To play, every player helps line up the 26 alphabet tiles onto the board's center spaces, then divides themselves into two teams. Team 1 begins by picking a category card (like A RED FOOD) and Team 2 flips over the 30-second timer; Team 1 has half a minute to choose the best answer/word (like TOMATO), then works as a unit to move corresponding tiles to their "side of the street." Now, Team 2 picks a new category card and has 30 seconds to choose the best response for moving tiles toward their side, ideally with a word including letters from Team 1's side to be "stolen." The first team to shimmy eight tiles off their side of the board, wins. Triple- or quadruple-letter words (like BUBBLE or REFEREE) move tiles to your team's side quicker! Having a parent or adult present helps to ensure words are spelled correctly and rules understood!

5. BANANAGRAMS

Available in several editionsincluding My First Bananagrams (ages 4 and up) and Classic Bananagrams (ages 7 and up)—this game challenges kids to reconfigure letters with an emphasis on proper spelling. To play the original version, 144 tiles (or THE BUNCH) are placed facedown on a table. Each player takes between 11-21 tiles, depending on how many people are playing. One person says "SPLIT!" and players flip over their own tiles and intersect letters to form a personal horizontal and vertical grid of words. When a player has used his or her last tile, they yell "PEEL!" and all players grab a new one from THE BUNCH. Don't like a letter in your lot? Say "DUMP!" at any time and exchange it for three new tiles. When the amount of letters in THE BUNCH is less than the amount of players, the first person to use all his or her own tiles yells "BANANAS!" and wins. Monkeying around never felt so educational!

Tips and Notes:

  • All links are to official brand sites, so scope out local or Canadian shops for availability and pricing.
  • Check your library's collection as an alternative to buying or a trial run before purchasing!
  • Invest in a holder for smaller hands or those who need extra help clutching cards, like Gamewright's Original Little Hands Playing Card Holder.

SpellRead loves word games, too! Students' card packs, which use pseudo-words to reinforce sounds, include either pairs to play Go Fish and Memory, or are perfect for the program's own beloved activities: Slam and Secret Seven!

Eager to learn more?

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Three Reasons Readers Rush

By Brittany Curran on Fri, Oct 19, 2018 @ 01:51 PM

halifax learning spellread

In well-informed educational settings, teachers and students take turns reading aloud from a carefully chosen book while others silently follow along. New vocabulary is introduced and discussed, allowing students to focus on comprehending and engaging with text. The teacher models phrasing, fluency, and maintains a consistent, positive approach to error detection and correction. Pace is also an incredibly important variable.

So, what's the rush?

Consider this comparison: SpellRead's program features speed-read packs with pseudo words and syllables reflecting vowels and consonants of a student's current lesson. For these packs, time and accuracy are critical and one cannot "beat" a pack without both. Ultimately, however, accuracy trumps speed; students won't move on to the next pack with a quick time but several errors.

Reading an article, book, or story follows the same suit: a faster tempo can be positive as long as the reader hasn't sacrificed correctness or comprehension.

Here are three reasons why a student might feel compelled to hurry, and tips to help slow down the process!

halifax learning spellread reading

REASON #1: PRESSURE

The pressure to perform perfectly or read quickly can weigh heavy on a child, whether this personal push comes from a feeling of inadequacy ("the other students are faster"), an external pressure ("I think my Mom/Dad/teacher wants me to be quicker), or a learning challenge (dyslexia, etc.). The fear of failure could be intimidating enough that students charge through pages, skipping words, lines, and concepts, without the ability to properly absorb the text.

TIPS:

  • Remind your child or student that they are supported and encouraged! You want them to feel positive about reading, not dispirited.
  • Mix up content. Alternate longer reading tasks (e.g. chapter books or assigned homework) with fun, shorter text. Browse and download articles from Newsela, which offers a variety of topics and subscription options for a range of reading levels.
  • Play a word board game, like Scrabble Junior, pairing your child or student with someone older or more advanced.

REASON #2: BOREDOM

The Owl Teacher suggests that a text's level or theme could cause haste. "Is your student rushing through the work because he is challenged by it or bored with it? Some students, such as [those] with ADHD, rush because the thoughts move so quickly in their mind that they need to put down their answer before they lose their train of thought." Furthermore, students may zip through text because it feels "too easy" or they find the subject matter uninteresting.

TIPS:

  • For extracurricular reading, choose captivating material tailored to the child's interests. In life, they won't always get to read what they want, but find openings for compromise. If they require a more advanced text, pick a story highlighting a favourite thinglike hockey, Halloween, or hippopotami! Just be mindful of the balance between challenging and tough.
  • If their age-level books feel too strenuous, scale back a bit so they conquer "easier" text, which could improve confidence, sight word automaticity, and reinforce fundamental skills.

REASON #3: "WINNING"

For many readers (adults included!), it's tempting to hurry through text and leap to the final pages, itching to learn how it ends. Speed certainly allows us to finish faster, but at what cost? The Owl Teacher explains that an individual may want "to feel smart... and by being the first one done, that helps accomplish that for him." In the classic fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, pace becomes paramount, and we learn that moving slowly but steadily leads to success.

TIPS: 

  • Lead by example. Take turns reading paragraphs or pages, and maintain a reasonable reading speed so they emulate your pace.
  • Add an action where you both stop reading at unknown or longer (multisyllabic) words to analyze sounds; this causes readers to pause and contemplate.
  • Write these words on a separate piece of colourful stationery, which will become the book's running vocabulary list. At the end of reading time, you can look up meanings together online or in a physical dictionary!

Reading should be a marathon, not a sprint. A child or student will get the most out of literature when they incorporate time, tools, and techniques to truly and fully understand text. Your bookworm should inch along at his or her most productive speed, so trust the turtle: precision and perseverance matter more than urgency.

••

At Halifax Learning, we use the Gray Oral Reading TestFifth Edition (GORT5) measure reading fluency and reading comprehension.

GORT–5 is one of the most widely used measures of oral reading fluency and comprehension in the United States. The GORT–5 has two equivalent forms: Form A and Form B. Each form contains 16 developmentally sequenced reading passages with five comprehension questions each. —Pearson

It doesn't take an expert in reading instruction to predict rushing as a symptom of a struggling reader. It does require expertise to remediate the systemic effects of poor reading instruction. SpellRead is a marathon that trains the most important muscle in our bodiesthe brainto complete and win the marathon!

Program Walkthrough

If you or a family member is struggling to discover the love of reading, book a free, no-obligation literacy skills assessment today. In less than 1 hour, you will learn more about how you or a loved one processes language and comprehends text.
Free Assessment

RESOURCES:

Library of Congress Aesop Fables: http://read.gov/aesop/025.html
Newsela: https://newsela.com/
The Owl Teacher: https://theowlteacher.com/
Pearson: https://www.pearsonclinical.ca/en/products/product-master/item-404.html

Topics: reading
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13 Spooky Stories for Halloween

By Megan Brooks on Wed, Oct 17, 2018 @ 02:46 PM

What Would Woozles Recommend for Halloween Reading?

We're thrilled to share our second list of books recommended by our dear friends at Woozles

halifax learning spellread halloween reading books

Ages 0-2

  • Eek! Halloween! | By Sandra Boynton
  • Room on the Broom | By Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler
  • Monster Trucks Board Book | By Anika Denise and Nate Wragg

Ages 3-6

  • The Walking Bathroom | By Shauntay Grant
  • Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo! | By Todd Hills
  • Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat | By Eileen Christelow

Ages 6-9

  • Ghoulia (Book 1) | By Barbara Cantini
  • The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare | By Shannon and Dean Hale

Ages 8-12

  • Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise | By Kate DiCamillo
  • The Ghost Road | By Chris Cotter
  • Spirit Hunters | By Ellen Oh
  • The Witches | By Roald Dahl

Ages 13+, YA

  • The Hazel Wood: A Novel |By Melissa Albert

Did something speak to your spooky side? 
Click here to purchase copies online or or take a trip and experience one of Halifax's most unique and lovable landmarks!

Happy Halloween!

halifax learning spellread halloween 2018 reading woozles

 

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