Phonics and Spelling

I had the privilege of listening to Dr Misty Adoniou (Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and Teaching, English as a Second Language, University of Canberra) address the role of analytical and synthetic phonics in learning to read and write. She was an inspirational speaker who reminded us that ‘sounding out’ words is such a small part of reading. (Refer to a previous post Reading Is About Meaning.)

Dr Misty Adoniou wrote the following articles. They explain much of the information that she shared during her presentation.

Why some kids can’t spell and why spelling tests won’t help          

How to help children with spelling

How do we learn to read? 

New phonics test will do nothing to improve Australian children’s literacy

NAPLAN results show it isn’t the basics that are missing in Australian education

Please note that these articles do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or opinions of SAEPS.

I came across a great newspaper article about Reading Recovery. For some reason (that I have never understood) RR gets some unfavorable press so it’s refreshing to read such a positive article-


I’m busy finishing off the last of the reports at the moment. It’s satisfying to reflect on the progress that’s been made so far. May it continue…..

1 / 2 excursion

Last Monday and Tuesday the Year 1 /2 classes visited  Werribee Mansion to look at how people lived in the ‘olden days’. I went along on Tuesday and my students have been writing about their experiences during the week.


Here are some of their compositions about the ‘highlights’ of the excursion:


I saw a chalkboard and puppets and an old dress and old man clothes. 

I saw chickens and they were laying eggs. I saw olden days horse things.

You were allowed to sit on the horse. It was standing still.

I was smelling the pink and purple roses.



My favourite part is the long stairs. I liked climbing the stairs up to the other rooms.

In the kids’ room there was a yellow doll house and a big bed.

The ducks were swimming on the big lake. The island didn’t have any animals on it.


The funniest thing was the white pot that you go to the toilet in. 

Author video

Some authors share their thoughts on why it is important to read to children…

Here's why it's important to read to your children from birth

Hear why it's important to read to your children from birth and register your young book lovers for the Victorian Premiers' Reading Challenge now!

Posted by Victorian Premiers' Reading Challenge on Sunday, 6 May 2018

You may need to go to to hear it.

Retell to check meaning

We are used to asking our students to predict what might come next in a story (based on what has happened so far).
For example:
Teacher-What do you think will happen on the next page?
StudentI think Bingo is going to eat the card too.
As the student turns the page she looks at the picture to confirm her prediction, and she easily reads words such as ‘card’ because she expects to see it.

A few students benefit from being asked to retell what already happened at the end of every 1 or 2 pages. The teacher might choose to do this to check that the student is understanding what is read. (Before waiting until the end of the book.)

Some students can read all of the words correctly but they cannot answer questions because they can’t follow the story, or they might partly understand what was read but not enough to tell someone else about it. Other students might need extra opportunities to improve how they speak, (i.e.oral language).

“Mother Chimp will be hungry”, he said. “I will take some fruit down to her.” Little Chimp got some fruit. He climbed down the tree with it.

Teacher– Tell me what just happened. (This is asking the student to recall what was just read, and to choose words / sentences to pass on the information in a way that makes sense.)
Student ALittle Chimp is eating the fruit. (Student A based this incorrect information on the picture of the chimp with the fruit in it’s mouth, not the information in the print.) Little Chimp did eat some fruit but this was earlier in the book.
Teacher– Little Chimp does have the fruit in his mouth. Go back to here (beginning of page) to read why he is going to give it to Mother Chimp. (The teacher is providing more meaning, and is directing the student to the exact location to find some specific information.)
Student AShe’s hungry.
Teacher– Why do you think Little Chimp carried the fruit in his mouth?
Student A– ‘Cos he’s climbing down and hanging on to the branches.
Teacher– Why do you think Mother Chimp didn’t get some fruit herself?
Student AShe had to look after the baby chimp.

After the meaning was re-established, the teacher invited the student to turn the page. Student A was asked to describe what was happening in the next picture before she attempted to read it.


Another example:
Teacher– Tell me what just happened.
Student BMother Chimp get none….food.
Teacher– You’re right. Mother Chimp didn’t get any fruit herself. Who gave her some? (The teacher is confirming the information, modelling sentence structure, and encouraging him to add more detail.)
Student BLittle Chimp.
Teacher– Tell me how Little Chimp got the fruit. (pointing)
Student BLittle Chimp climbed the tree.
Teacher– That’s right. Little Chimp climbed up the tree and then he….. (accompanying gestures)
Student B– …climbed down the tree.
Teacher–  And he carried the fruit in …..
Student B– …in his mouth.

The teacher has to be sensitive to how much intervention / questioning is helpful , or disruptive to maintaining meaning (and interest) for individual students. Gradually the student becomes more independent and can gather up and maintain meaning whilst reading.

The power of reading

As I write this post, many of us are settling in to watch the ‘fairytale wedding’ in Windsor.

A distant relative once gave me a book of fairytales when I was old enough to read it by myself. I don’t know if she read the book before she gave it to me because the stories frightened me to bits! These were not the airy fairy Disney versions that are on our bookshelves and screens now. These were the original gruesome versions. Thankfully I was not put off reading for life.

I love reading, and therefore I am quite surprised when I come across someone who doesn’t share my enjoyment of spending time with a good book. My mother passed on her passion for books when I was young. She would sometimes be in fits of laughter as she read stories to me. I didn’t always understand the humour, but nevertheless I enjoyed our shared ‘special time’ together. My father faithfully took his children to the library every few weeks and the stack of books that I borrowed grew bigger in tandem with the number of books that I could carry.

11 year old April Qu shares her passion for reading in the following Ted Talk video. She reminds us-  To read is to experience a world of imagination, adventure and discovery.

The Power of Reading | April Qu | TEDxYouth@Suzhou

TEDx Talks Published on 7 Mar 2016
The joy of shared reading experiences with your children may be remembered and treasured for many years to come. Happy reading…..

Emotional wellbeing

The presenter from Berry Street (recent Curriculum Day) reminded us that attending to the emotional side of learning is important to all learners, especially to those students who struggle in some way.

You may have watched the SBS Insight program (How do you turn a school around?) during this past week. It highlighted the positive practices introduced to a disadvantaged Sydney high school that greatly affected the students’ learning and self-confidence.

Research has proven that what children learn (or not) is heavily influenced by emotions. How we are feeling at a particular time affects how our brain receives and understands new information.

Emotions overrule your ability to think. For example, if you have had a bad experience when navigating to somewhere you have never been before, it will probably affect your attitude when driving to another location. One wrong turn could cause a downward spiral of panic that may stop you from thinking rationally. (Been there, done that!)

What teachers, parents and caregivers do and say impacts childrens’ learning and belief in themselves. One of the most damaging things parents and teachers can do is to react impatiently or harshly when children make mistakes. (We all make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them. If we don’t take risks, we limit our opportunities.)

Children who struggle to learn tend to be the most sensitive, and react negatively or positively to parents’ and teachers’ nonverbal cues e.g. a frown or banging the book on the table (negative response) compared to a smile or a ‘high five’ (positive response). An adult may be saying ‘nice things’ but can still be conveying displeasure through expressions and gestures.

A child’s ability to think and problem-solve is heavily dependent on positive experiences with others. A caring and supportive environment (including the teacher / carer) is essential for the development of the complex thinking processes required to read and write. Positive emotions lead to ‘stronger memory’ and lead to ‘easier to learn’.

Students motivate themselves to try new things when they feel good about themselves. In Reading Recovery we are always looking for strengths that can be nurtured. We help / intervene to keep the experiences positive when the student is problem-solving. We create opportunities for the child to become successful.

Teachers who benefit students the most build trust with them, show a genuine interest, listen carefully, give purposeful feedback, provide support, and set high expectations. By doing this we tend to the emotional wellbeing of our students so that they are ready to learn.

Much of the information for this post is taken from a Reading Recovery professional development day I attended years ago lead by Carol Lyons. She is the author of an excellent book called Teaching Struggling Readers: How to Use Brain-Based Research to Maximize Learning (2003)


I have been browsing (not wasting time!) and came across some great articles related to Self Monitoring, Comprehension, and Reciprocity.

I have added the links to the For Teachers page.


Looking for some fresh (or forgotten) ideas to use at home? Here are a couple of updated sites:

Ways to Help at Home from

Some suggestions for reading, and the cut up sentence, as well as word games.


Reading and Writing With Your Child from the Reading Recovery Council of North America

More ideas and links to games and articles.


Further tips can be found on the Useful Links page. (It can be frustrating when you find links that do not work any more. It would take way too long to keep checking them all!)

During the Curriculum Day on Friday we had our 1st session in the Berry Street Education Model series. There was an emphasis on the importance of students feeling safe and supported in a learning environment containing a predictable routine. Sounds exactly like Reading Recovery!

It is always uplifting to hear about some success stories. Also revisit Celebrating Reading for some feel-good viewing!

Magnetic letters

If you come into Room 12 you will notice that there are many magnetic letters covering the metal surfaces within our room. They all have a purpose.

Each student has different needs each day, and it it makes the lesson go more smoothly if there are multiple teaching areas that can be quickly chosen to suit those needs.

An array of letters is used for quick identification. The student becomes faster at recognising letters as he / she says each line from left to right. Letters are chosen because they are well known to the student and gradually new letters are introduced.



Random letters can be sorted in different ways,  e.g. by colour, by shape, or by size. The purpose is for the student to be aware of differences and similarities between letters, and to quickly search for specific detail.


A student is sorting these letters into 2 groups. 1 group will be lower case letters and the 2nd group will be capital letters.




Sometimes letters are matched to picture cards to reinforce some common sounds, e.g. b-bee, q-queen.





These letters have been chosen for a student to make some specific words. He is learning to use a known word to make or solve a similar word.





He was asked to make a known word- dad- from the selected letters. This was very easy for him. He was then asked to make ‘sad’ which he did. I asked could he make any other words like dad using the letters. He made ‘mad’ and ‘bad’ with a little prompting.


A greater challenge was to make ‘glad’ which required searching for 2 letters to represent the ‘gl’ sound.




The student may be asked to use sound boxes to learn to listen for the individual sounds within words. The word is said aloud as each letter is pushed up into a box, e.g. g-o-t.

Vowels (aeiou) can be quite challenging. This student is ready to listen for the sound and choose the appropriate vowel to go from ‘ran’ to ‘run’.


Another task is to add an ending to a known word, e.g. look, looks, looking, looked.

‘ay’ words were a focus here, e.g. stay, way, lay, play, played

Known words are also broken into parts, e.g. play-ed and with-out. This will help to solve words as he / she is reading (and writing). Students are shown to always search for the biggest known chunks.


These are just some examples of the many tasks that are experienced each day in the Reading Recovery room. Each student will usually only spend a few minutes on 1 or 2 of the tasks within the daily lesson.