Cherry Tree by 10000 Maniacs

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Here’s a song I’d never heard before brought to my attention by @Kennypieper for all people who care about children reading.

(Twitter is wonderful – even in the holidays I keep finding fascinating stuff brought to me by this marvellous community of interest.)

Check Kenny’s blog out too: he’s been working with Inanimate Alice this past few weeks as I have and his reflections – and those of his students – have been most inspiring.



Phonological awareness

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We left our daughter for the first time with a baby sitter when she was about two. Although she knew her carer well she was distressed at our departure – until, that is, she became distracted.

I told her we were going to the theatre and would be ‘back soon’.

She dismissed the ‘back soon’ bit: after all her notions of time are not like mine. A minute can be an aeon when you want your mum.

However, she latched on to ‘theatre’ – a word not previously encountered. ‘That’s in my name’ she declared. And truly it was: Thea recognised not the meaning of the word but its individual components. She was able to segment the longer word into one that was important to her. Later that month she delightedly noticed the phonological similarities between ‘Smarties’ and ‘Martin’.

Preschool phonological awareness skills significantly predict later reading ability; but it also seems that phonemic awareness is a skill which develops through learning to read. Problems in detecting differences between groups of spoken words, or in deleting individual sound segments, (e.g. ‘flag’ without ‘f’, ‘enigma’ without ‘ig’), are believed to lead to phonemic awareness difficulties.

So, because Thea was playing with sounds within words at such a young age, I was confident that she was likely to become a proficient reader and speller.

Reading skill is closely associated with the ability to hear and process the sounds in spoken words, and to be able to segment these. (That’s why getting a child’s hearing checked is so important). When the child sees words in print s/he needs to recognise that these visual symbols represent sounds. Visual difficulties can very well contribute to a dyslexic profile, but auditory processing tends to be the most fundamental, not to mention intractable, challenge. (Get eyes checked regularly too).

Ascertaining whether a child can read nonsense words is an important part of assessment, as difficulties here can be a product of this primary underlying phonological disorder.

In addition, as well as difficulties encountered in applying phonemic information in reading tasks, such as non-word reading; poor readers’ demonstration of deficiencies in verbal processing have been noted in auditory perception, in segmentation, and in speech production difficulties. (Has s/he had input from Speech and Language Therapists?).

Also crucial for an identification of dyslexia are differences in phonological processing speed. Poor readers may have similar levels of accuracy in tests of phonological awareness, yet remain slower to progress in terms of their reading development. Slower response times taken for processing sounds and words are indicative of deeper phonological problems.

Such slowness to process phonological information, then results in tardiness in learning verbal labels for new reading words. Taken together these inefficiencies impact on a poor reader’s ability to establish and retrieve phonological representations from long term memory, and thus accounts for word recognition difficulties. This would also in part explain the fact that many poor readers in the early stages rely so heavily on visual codes in acquisition and phonemic processing, as well as in other reading-based tasks. All this can hide fundamental difficulties until too many unfamiliar words appear or the working memory is so overloaded that no more sight vocabulary can be retained.

The child who ‘can read with my eyes shut’, the book child who knows much about formal language structures and the nature of early reading schemes, can delude himself and his teachers into thinking that reading is developing apace. It is often at transition times that alarm bells begin to ring: when reading and writing tasks demand more complex vocabulary along with increased quantity of text read and produced.

Anyway, this was meant to be a short post in my holidays, pointing out this rather charming clip of a 2 year old well on the way to achieving proficiency in phonological processing. So, I’ll stop and go and read a good book now.


Assistive Technologies: Why pay?

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In this online public lecture, Professor Ian Smythe talks about technologies available for free to support learners with dyslexia.

In this webinar, Professor Ian Smythe will present a number of free resources that can be used to assist learners with dyslexia to access materials on and through their computer.

In a social model of dyslexia support, appropriate assistive technology would be supplied free to everybody, irrespective of the extent of their disabilities and the paperwork to support it. However, current policies provide money to the lucky few with little analysis of impact, productivity and value for money. Professor Ian Smythe shows that there is plenty of free software available, and often it is as good as the commercial versions. A dedicated web page with resources will be available after the talk.

This webinar is aimed at teachers, school administrators, parents and learners themselves.

Free technology Toolkit

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Here is an incredibly useful site that highlights lots of free resources with inclusion in mind.


There are many links to some really interesting resources which could be hugely stimulating and valuable to all learners but especially those who learn in non-traditional ways.

UDL stands for Universal Design for Learning:

a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

My passion is to remove the obstacles to learning for all students and these free tools offer opportunities for struggling learners that promote academic success. When material is digital or electronic, it is flexible and accessible. It is our responsibility as educators to provide materials that promote success. Please encourage all educators to consider using these free tools.

Check it out.

Just discovering Glogster (Where have you been all my life?) is worth the visit!


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This is fun – and potentially useful for those times when your mind goes blank and you can’t think of anything that rhymes, except for rude words.

I’m minded of the occasion when a little boy was mortified because he inadvertently crossed an invisible boundary. We were using Humpty Dumpty:

‘HD sat on a log, HD saw a … ‘.

HD sat in the cart; HD couldn’t …’

I had ‘start’ in my mind but that’s not what emanated from the mouth of this babe and suckling!

Mind you,  he remembered it and learned the concept of rhyme with less difficulty than many!

And here’s a bit of theory about the problem that learners with dyslexia have:

The phonological module of dyslexia argues that dyslexics have impaired reading ability because they have a deficit in phonological processing. According to this model, dyslexics have a difficult time with written language because they have an impaired ability to deconstruct written words into phonemes, thus preventing word identification. This low level phonological deficit prevents words from reaching high level linguistic processing, which would allow the reader to gain meaning from the text. Thus, dyslexics have intact memory and comprehension language processes that are not activated because they can only be activated after a word has been identified through phonological processing. The phonological model of dyslexia explains why dyslexics have difficulty with reading while remaining intellectually capable of processing very complex thoughts and ideas.

Building underlying skills

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Here are some free resources. I had a shot of these games and activities and, while not blown away by their graphics, feel they may be useful for assessment of very specific dificulties. Let me (and Ian Smythe) know how you get on.

Do you try to teach phonological skills to dyslexic individuals young and old?

But what about those other skills necessary to support learning of those phonological and visual skills. Dys2 offers over 300 fun visual and auditory games to support learning of auditory discimination, rhyming, alliteration, auditory memory, visual memory, visual-spatial and other important skills.

And before you ask, it is all provided free.

Example problem: Where do you find fun activities to practice rhyming skills? Answer: Dys2 (Under Auditory Discrimination and Auditory Memory)

If you are a teacher/tutor wanting to try or to sign up your students, send an email to

For accounts in other languages, see the website, Dys2 .

(Partner Languages – EN, BG, CZ, DE, GR, LT. Games in ES and DK are still available through the original website.)

Who’s in the Literacy Club? Which One?

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When I was a little girl, acceptance and membership of The Literacy Club was defined by the thickness of the book, the speed of the tongue, and the amount one’s brain could hold (at least until test time rolled around.) Comprehension was something that happened when the work with words was done.

BUT – Knowledge is both a cause and a consequence of comprehension.

Traditionally, membership of the ‘literacy club’ was seen as dependent on our ability to move through a set of hierarchical skills that can be conquered.

• 1st., learn the sounds,

• then the letters,

• next move onto words and phrases,

• and finally, once that’s all straight, THINK!

And of course, in this model learners with dyslexia are excluded.

If we base teaching on a conceptualization of reading as a single line of development from simple to more complex tasks, it will perpetuate the myth that reading is over and done with by age 7 or 8; unless you’re stupid.

Reading is a life long endeavour, that develops in competence and confidence the more it is practised across increasingly more difficult and diverse text. In an era of new literacies we are in a simultaneous state of learning to read and reading to learn.


We need to ask who’s in the various literacy clubs? All members, regardless of age or attainment, are expected to be: active, strategic, flexible, mindful, reflective, purposeful, courageous, engaged, responsible and responsive. Aren’t we all emergent readers when we encounter new texts and media that push the boundaries of genre, form, format, and mode: on and offline? (with thanks to Angela Maiers)

Nevertheless, acquiring phonic skills is essential for fluent reading. Just because I bang on about the centrality of making meaning for fluent, independent reading does not mean that I don’t believe phonics to be vitally important. Essential but not sufficient.

The debate about the various models of teaching reading centres upon the readiness or otherwise of learners to become thoughtful readers. Do the challenges of difficult tasks and problems lead to improved comprehension, or does understanding only emerge when a child is so familiar with the individual components of words that processing skills are automated and leave spare capacity for conscious thought?

The better you are at something, the less of your brain is actively involved … The neurons of the brain re-organise through facilitating new connections into efficient neural networks. .. If you want a child to be a good reader, a good speller and a creative writer, then your first goal is to create efficient and automatic subroutines in the necessary sensorimotor skills that should not require overt attention, such as encoding and decoding. An efficient reader looks at text and does not see letters, nor does he see words; he experiences meaning directly … you can’t get to meaning unless everything else is efficient and automatic. (McGuinness 1998)

Reading is an interactive and reciprocal process requiring sophisticated integration of many skills and factors. The ability to handle the complex logic of the alphabetic code is crucial but we must not ignore higher order language skills such as semantic understanding, rich vocabulary, inference, prediction, concept and schema building and application of prior on and experience.

The data driven model of reading instruction (Bottom Up) does not need to be characterised as a stark contrast to the concept driven model, (Top Down). Both are vital.

The emphasis on symbolic learning when sounds are isolated and then blended together can cause the first casualties to falter. Poor phonological awareness – discriminating between rhymes and syllables – is a major factor in reading failure. Young learners, and many of those with dyslexia, experience a flow of speech – shifting sets of overlapping sounds in chunks, not like individual beads strung on a necklace.

This difficulty distinguishing between sounds, words and whole sentences can lead to classic mis-understandings such as the drawing of green slime and a bit of string to illustrate a section of the Lord’s Prayer: The explanation? ‘Lead us not into temptation’. (You may need to read this aloud).

Sometimes the assumption is made that word meaning follows.

Sometimes this assumption is erroneous.

So when working with learners with dyslexia – at least in the primary years – we must assist them to read and write by exposing them to multi-sensory, cumulative programmes of phonological awareness and phonics while simultaneously enabling understanding by teaching them to circumvent the barriers of print. Over time the balance of these 2 approaches will change.

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