Making a difference


education_clipart_blackboardABC television recently showed a 4 part series called Revolution School. Overriding messages from the documentary included the influence that teachers have on their students, and how programs tailored for a variety of needs and abilities are powerful factors in lifting the learning of the students.

Educational experts agree that teachers should continue with their own professional learning, and schools should provide a supportive environment to ensure the best learning opportunities for all of the students.

We have seen many teachers who have been effective with students, including those students with difficulties, because they have had professional knowledge and they have been in an environment where they could use that professional knowledge to make … decisions appropriate to their learners’ needs.
From The Place Of Phonics In Learning To Read And Write by Emmitt, Hornsby and Wilson. (2013)

At St Albans East Primary we are very fortunate to have a principal who fully supports the ongoing learning of all of her staff. The two Reading Recovery teachers continue to have ongoing learning opportunities throughout the year by meeting with our Reading Recovery Tutor and other Reading Recovery teachers to learn about the best ways to teach our students. We also visit each other at our schools to observe and discuss our teaching methods.

Reading Recovery is an expensive program for the school. It is a big commitment. It is a valued program because of the difference it makes to the students, both emotionally and academically.

homework bagAs mentioned at the recent interviews, please support you child at home by reinforcing the importance of completing the daily homework. Have your child read at least 1 book every day during the holidays.

Reading is about Meaning

reading and thinkingThere are some people who think reading is just about ‘sounding out’ words. You only need to look at words like the, said, are, that we expect our young children to read in their easiest books, to know that is not going to work.

Reading is about meaning.


Phonics [sounding out] is one information source in recognising words when reading ….  but phonics only works when students have strategies to use all sources of information available in text.
From The Place Of Phonics In Learning To Read And Write by Emmitt, Hornsby and Wilson. (2013)

Capable readers are always checking for meaning, and look to correct errors when meaning is lost. Checking and confirming of meaning are going on all the time. (Often too fast to notice.) However, when meaning is uncertain or lost, more attention is given to checking the other ‘cueing systems’ one against the other. This means we get further clues from knowing how words are likely to go together in our Standard English language (sentence structure / syntax), and by looking more closely at the letters within the unknown words (graphophonics). We also look at the surrounding words and sentences to pick up more clues to the meaning.

E.g. Look down the road. Here comes a …. The word is likely to be a noun. (The word could not be was or they.) It is likely to be something you would see on a road. If it began with tr it could be a truck or a tram, or even a train if it was crossing the road. Being able to look through the whole word would be useful. (tr-am) A picture would be an excellent clue.


I thought I would look for a different example so I opened one of my own books to a random page and my eyes went to the beginning of a paragraph near the end of the page.

I read- “The cherry bounce was taking the place of the fog…”

Despite reading the book a year or 2 ago, I had no idea what that particular sentence meant. Icherry reread the sentence. (Didn’t help.) I could ‘sound out’, or take apart, each of the words because I am a competent reader. (Didn’t help.) I knew the meaning of each of the words. I knew the meaning of fog, cherry, place and bounce. (Didn’t help.) I was wondering if ‘cherry bounce’ was a noun, or bounce could have been a verb. (Didn’t help.) So far none of these sources of information were very helpful. It was not until I read the rest of the page that I was able to bring more meaning to the sentence.

In the preceding paragraph of my book I read that Jamie had given Claire a cup of cherry bounce and it was an alcoholic drink that tasted similar to cough syrup. But what did it have to do with fog?

Then I looked at the top of the page. Claire spoke about a recent event that had left her feeling numb from the fog of grief’’.

So I could now bring more meaning to the original sentence. The affect of the alcohol in the drink was taking the place of the numbness Claire was feeling from her grief. Her mind was probably still foggy. She felt distanced from what was going on around her, (and she probably needed a good lie down).

fogReading is about meaning. I could sound out the words. I knew the meaning of the individual words. But it was not until I actively searched for more meaning that I was able to understand what I was reading. I had to read more of the story (search for more information) and combine it with my own knowledge (grief, feeling numb, affect of alcohol) to comprehend the sentence.

Our students need to know how to do much more than ‘sound out’ words in order to read.

26 letters but over 40 sounds

jumbled-letters5-2g46iqj.jpgI am always careful not to tell my students that a letter will only represent one sound, or that a sound will be exclusively represented by one letter.

I will ask- Tell me a sound that could go with that letter or those letters (when reading). Tell me a letter, or letters, that you could write for that sound (when writing).

While there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are approximately 43 – 44 sounds.

For example, say the following words to yourself and listen to the different sounds represented by the letter ‘a’ in cat, make, wash, grandpa, always and Thomas. The student can be even more confused when he sees words like walk, beach, boat, sausage, and Niamh, if he is only told that ‘a’ will always have the ‘a in apple sound’ or the ‘a in ape sound’. (If you are confused by the name Niamh you are not alone. It is pronounced Neeve.)

If my student writes bic for bike I praise her for choosing a letter that does sound like it could be that letter. I might say- You know another word that sounds like bike. Write like and then have a go at writing bike underneath it. I don’t talk about spelling ‘rules’ because there are just too many exceptions to ‘the rules’. I help the student to make confusedconnections to words she knows well to assist her with unknown words, and I point out that this does not always work either! I never pretend the English language is easy.

Report Writing Time

report writingThis is my favourite Report Writing picture. You may see many teachers looking like this at the moment!

Last week I re-administered the Observation Survey to all of my students in preparation for writing the mid-year reports. Fortunately the results did not cause the expression in the picture! Now I have to write all the many things I know about your child … and not make it too long…. and not use ‘teacher language’ that would be tricky to understand. You will receive the Reading Recovery report with the classroom teacher’s report.

The report will tell you what your child is already doing well and what still needs to be known and practised. Hopefully you will find it very helpful. Don’t forget that you do not need to wait for the formal interviews to see me if you have any concerns. It is easiest to find me in Room 12 before 8.50. (Lessons begin at 8.50.)