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Dealing with Dyslexia – Kieran’s Story

By Halifax Learning on Fri, Oct 08, 2021 @ 12:42 PM

Every child that comes through our doors is unique and bright. We love getting to know their personalities and strengths, and we also love helping them work through their struggles with reading and building strong, confident readers.

In celebration of Dyslexia Awareness month, we want to share the story of one of our students. It’s a story of struggle and success, recognizing the signs of a struggling reader and knowing there is help available.

If you wonder if your child is developing age-appropriate phonological skills, we offer a complimentary Speech and Language screening. We can help you determine if your child is meeting communication milestones by gaining and using skills as expected for their age. Click to learn more and sign up.

Dealing with Dyslexia – Kieran’s Story, as told by his mother, Kirsten.

 

Our child is a bright, loving and caring boy. What we didn't expect were the other traits he was blessed with, such as and not limited to; difficulty with; reading, performing tasks in a specific order, the order of the days of the week, expressing himself, anxiety and temper tantrums at home, but not in the classroom. We thought that this was normal child behaviours for the age, and as individuals, we each possess our unique personalities and such, so this will pass, and we will move on, no big deal, right? It wasn't until we discovered our child wasn't at the same level in reading and writing as his peers in a classroom setting that there may be something else at play here. How could he know a word on one page of a book but not recognize the same word on the next page, or mixing up the order of events or tasks, and why can he spell a word out loud but struggles to spell it correctly when written. I admit, I also struggled with learning to read, spelling, reading out loud, and several other things. Even with my struggles and experiences, I still failed to recognize the signs until hearing about the struggles he had in the classroom environment compared to his peers.

Dealing with Dyslexia – Kieran’s Story (brothers)

We started down the path of discovery with the help of the school. He was in grade 2 at this time, and the teacher sat with me to show me examples of writing from other students compared to our child's writing skills. She showed me samples of the books others were reading compared to the ones he was reading; they differed more than I realized. Without that comparison, I was unaware until that moment what position my son was actually in. How did we not know about this sooner as he was about to start grade 3 next year? We had a lot of unanswered questions at this point. 

The first step was to engage a speech and language pathologist as part of a program offered through the school over the summer break. He passed with flying colours in all areas and was on par or exceeded his peers in some areas. Given this, we were puzzled. It was recommended that we try tutoring, which we did, and it wasn't working. It was then recommended that we obtain a full education assessment by a trained psychologist. This was something we could do through the school; however, there was a large demand for this service, and the wait was over five years long.

We had recently moved back home to Nova Scotia at the time, both my husband and myself were laid off by our former employers out west in the downturn, and we took this opportunity to move back home. We were in the process of finding a family home while temporarily renting. Our son was missing his friends; the family pet passed away, I had a baby to care for, I started a new job, my husband wasn't working, among many other challenges knocking on our front door. All of those things aside, we decided that for the best interest of our oldest child, we needed to go privately for an assessment and figure out the finances, so we did just that. We engaged our family doctor and found a reputable resource to perform the assessment. The assessment process was long and painful for all involved. Having said that, every bit of the pain was worth the effort. We underwent several interviews as a family, lots of paperwork and surveys were completed and submitted by the school, our doctor and myself. Our son underwent many hours of testing and interviews, taking lots of breaks to get through it all before we finally had a diagnosis. It was very thorough, which gave me confidence we had an accurate result. It was discovered that our son has all of the following, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, ADHD, anxiety and poor working memory, quite the cocktail of a mix. Even though we applied for disability on our taxes, we did not qualify since it was determined by the government that they felt our son wasn't affected by these challenges 100% of the time, so any financial support was all up to us. We didn't let this get us down. Once we had the diagnosis and recommendations from our psychologist, the real work began.

Dealing with Dyslexia – Kieran’s Story

After a few tears, laughs, realizations, self-reflection and a few more tears, mainly due to the fears of the unknown ahead of me for our family and our son, I quickly got to work, and I started researching like crazy. I ordered reading material. I reached out to other parents, friends and family that had children with similar diagnoses, friends that were officially diagnosed and living every day with these same challenges to bounce ideas off of, building up a support system and learning about what resources were available to us. During the research process, SpellRead was mentioned more than once by the resources in that support system. I admit I didn't love the cost as we had many obligations at this time in our life, and COVID-19 was just about to hit us, adding further uncertainty to all of this. We had been taking part in the Reading Recovery program offered at the school, but that wasn't enough when COVID-19 hit us as we lost the in-person interaction. We decided, in the end, to engage SpellRead and see where this would take us all as a family and give SpellRead a chance. We owed this to our son to provide him with the best possible chance to grow and build up his skills. We were skeptical in the beginning but stuck with it since it came so highly recommended by others within our personal support system. It took a couple of tries to get him into the right online class. Keep in mind that we were all just sent home from schools and offices as COVID-19 hit us, so emotions and uncertainty were very high at this time for us all. This added many new stresses into the mix that we didn’t have to contend with before like, working from home and homeschooling. For our family, this was a very challenging and stressful time as with just about every other family and business working together to figure things out.

The staff at SpellRead were very patient and willing to work with us through the process during this difficult time to ensure our son was in the right class for his specific individual needs. The first six months were a struggle for our son in the program, and in general, as life threw some interesting challenges our way as a whole family. We stuck with the program and believed in their teachings. We were skeptical at times; we stuck with it anyway and trusted the program. We completed the homework and practiced when we could. The flashcards worked great for us in the car on road trips or long drives when we needed to get out of the house and have a change of scene or to check on the progress of our home build, which had significant delays due to COVID-19 and presented us with a whole other set of challenges associated with that.

We also enrolled in the summer program to keep our son fresh in his reading and writing skills over the summer. We are finally moved into our new home just in time for our son to attend a new school and go into grade 4, along with his little brother starting pre-primary. He is currently in the next phase of the program, where the program's focus is on real words and decoding of real words. Since having our son in the program, he has gained so much more confidence with reading, writing, and so much more. Some of the changes we have seen since the program began are and are not limited to; He is no longer guessing at words. He is taking the time to sound things out more often and trying bigger words without a big a fit or blow-up of emotions. He is spelling with more confidence, he's picking up harder books to read on his own, reading difficult words while playing video games he plays as well as, show and movie titles. He doesn't always spell a word correctly. However, I can make out what he has tried to spell for the most part whereas in the past, I would have to get him to read it to me since it was quite cryptic when written. Even though he didn't know what he wrote most of the time. This still happens but not nearly as frequently and happens more frequently when he is tired or needs a snack. All of these are huge wins in our books. Oh, and another fun one that I must mention is, if my husband and I spell out a word to one another in secret, he is starting to know what the word is we spell out loud, even if we do it super fast! I can't express just how far he has come from where we started and it's all down to all of our hard work and dedication. I know this is a bit of a cliché, but it's true! It takes a community to raise a child.

Of course, there is still work to be done as he has a learning disability, this will not change, the program afforded him newfound confidence he didn't have before, which is invaluable and a big part of success in learning. This program has proven to be a benefit to our son's learning and we are glad we stuck with it despite the many challenges dealt with us these past few years. The financial side is a very small price to pay for his confidence and individual growth, which he will need to succeed and thrive in the world with all of the traits he was blessed with. The main piece of advice I can offer you is, stick with it and don't give up. Your kids are worth the effort and hug them often.

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Linking Early Speech to Reading

By Natalie Corbett Sampson, MSc, SLP(C) on Thu, Aug 19, 2021 @ 04:01 PM

Children typically start reading in the first years of elementary school, but building foundational skills to do so starts several years before they start sounding out words. Words of any language are made by mixing up and combining individual sounds. As babies learn to create words to speak, they do so by gaining phonological awareness; the ability to hear individual sounds and manipulate sounds to create and change the meaning. For example, by three a child knows that for most nouns, you add a /s/ sound to the end to mean more than one (cat to cats).writing connections

As children learn to speak, they often go through a period of time where their use of sounds is inaccurate. They may drop sounds from words, use the wrong sounds in the wrong places, leave out whole syllables. Examples of these common errors are:‘top!’ for ‘stop!’, ‘tat’ for ‘cat’ and ‘nana’ for ‘banana’. Speech errors are part of the learning process, as with crawling and walking, researchers have developed a timetable of milestones to mark expected ages by which children will use each sound accurately. 

But what if they don’t?

When speech errors persist beyond the age they are expected to be corrected, a Speech Language Pathologist may recommend intervention to improve the child’s use of sounds in words, phrases and sentences. Speech therapy will help a child improve intelligibility which in turn boosts confidence and communication skills and reduces frustration and negative behaviour. 

And strengthens a shaky foundation for reading. 

The sounds the child is struggling within speaking are the same ones she will need to use to read. Having a strong enough understanding of ‘t’ and ‘k’ so she can hear the difference and produce them differently helps when learning the letters that represent the sounds. 

English is hard. It has 44 sounds but only 26 letters, spelling rules and exceptions to rules, words that look the same and sound different, words that sound the same and look different. It’s important that all early readers have as many tools in their toolbox as possible including intelligible speech, strong phonological skills and the confidence to tackle reading head-on that comes with being a competent, assured communicator.

Are you wondering if your child is developing age-appropriate phonological skills?  We offer a complimentary Speech and Language screening to help you determine if your child is meeting communication milestones by gaining and using skills as expected for their age.  Simply click below to learn more and sign up.

Speech Language Screener

 

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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

game tip

 

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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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Finished SpellRead? Taking a Break? This Post is for You!

By Melinda Cameron on Thu, Jun 20, 2019 @ 11:48 AM

To our graduating students, it's been wonderful working with you and we couldn't be more proud of all your hard work and determination. To our students who are taking a break this summer, enjoy your time away and we'll see you in the fall. 

Whether we're saying goodbye or see you later, we hope you take some time to read and write this summer. The more you practice something, the better you can get at it. With that in mind, here are some activities and suggestions for continued reading and writing development.

halifax learning summer spellread reading support

Reading Practice

Keep reading! Read something every day in order to continue skills development.

  • Love your Library!

    Did you know that you can check out books from your school library for the summer, even if you haven’t started school yet? What a great chance to get to know a new school!

  • Family Games Night

    Schedule in family games night and stock up on a few board games that promote reading and literacy. We like these games: 

    • Banagrams
    • Memory Games
    • Scattergories

  • Ideas Jar

    Using sentence strips, create a jar of summer activities that can be done on the spot. For example, "play catch in the backyard", "put together a puzzle with Mom", "draw a picture in the kitchen".

  • Be prepared!

    We live in such a beautiful province and many of us take advantage of this warm weather to explore all of the hidden gems Nova Scotia has to offer. If you're on the road, visiting local playgrounds or maxin' and relaxin' in the back yard, be sure pack a few stories! 

Writing Practice

Try to write at least once a day for a 10-30 minute period, in a quiet place free from distractions.  

What do I write about?

Writing can be a fun way to express yourself. Lots of our students find out that they love writing, once they've spent some time with us. If you just can’t think of something to write this summer, here are some ideas:

    • Keep a summer journal. This is an awesome keepsake! Some kids draw a picture and write a few words to go along with it, and some kids write a few paragraphs a day.
    • Send us a postcard. We love mail! We just might send you a postcard in return.
    • Write a letter or card to a friend. Friends and family who live far away would love to hear from you.
    • Enter the Woozles story contest. How amazing would it be to win a prize? The contest closes July 31.
    • Experiment with poetry. Go outside and write a few words about what you see, or try a haiku or acrostic.
    • Write a summary. Describe a book or chapter you just read about and your reaction to it.

How do I work on my sounds?

  • Read through your pack of sounds every day. This should only take a few minutes.
  • Your teacher can give you spelling lists that you can use to build words with your sound cards, then spell.
  • You can also keep any of the game card packs. Play Go Fish, Slam, and Memory to your heart’s content! Here’s a reminder of which games go with which packs:

Go Fish/Memory: 8.4 - 23.4 - 41.4 - 46.4
Slam: 16.4 - 28.4 - 32.4 - 37.4 - 49.4

If you are interested in receiving information on ways to further develop phonemic skills, please get in touch!

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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.

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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 English alphabet and its related sounds are not automatic to a 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.

So, what's next?

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 an additional language.  Her work shows the evidence how important this is. 

Linda Siegel

With Halifax Learning EAL students have successfully achieved grade level skills with the SpellRead program in Nova Scotia and also abroad in China, and in the United States.  Did you know Halifax Learning facilitated an intensive version of the SpellRead program with pilots from China? 

For more information on any of our programs please contact us

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Three Reasons Readers Rush

By Britt P. 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

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