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Useful And Fantastic: Reading Help

Val Yule offers practical help to those who are having difficulties in learning to read.

The aim: “That everyone should have the right to free access to literacy, at any time, in any way that may help them, regardless of distance or disadvantages or ability to pay.

Around 20% of learners have always had difficulty learning to read, regardless of teaching method and efforts to give every student auditory, visual, or kinaesthetic modes that suit them. Failing students are diagnosed as dyslexic, suffering from attention-deficit, or lacking in verbal abilities, intelligence or motivation.

The technological revolution has provided teachers with multiple aids, DVDs and videos on specific aspects of literacy, and programs like THRASS and PHONICA take students through each step of English phonics.

But some students are confused by interactivity and many activities in literacy. They can’t tell where they are going, or dislike learning by clerical work or writing.

Many children and adults with literacy difficulties face common problems:

• Unrecognised gaps and confusions, even at the most basic levels, such as ‘There are only 26 letters! I thought there were thousands!’ They don’t know what they don’t know, and so cannot ask a teacher for what they need. Two of my colleagues even claim they had students who were trying to read the white spaces, not the black, and perhaps even that is believable.

• What they learn during one lesson, they forget by the next.

• They expect to be pushed, and once they have no tutor, they roll back again.

• They so lack self-confidence and are afraid of failure and public shame that they don’t like being told what to do by another person, or avoid courses for fear of looking silly.

• They don’t like anyone to think they don’t know the ‘kid’s stuff’, and will assert more than they really understand.

• When they face difficulties in the task, they assume they must be stupid, not realizing that the task itself is not always straightforward.

• They are confused by games and many activities – learning to play the games rather than what the games are supposed to teach. They do better with the security of a clear structure.

Try some different approaches.

Students with limited verbal memories prefer ‘one way to learn many things’ to ‘Many ways to learn one thing’ that confuse them. They fail to link discrete lessons. That is why Sesame Street does not suits many disadvantaged children. They benefit from a half-hour cartoon DVD giving an overview of spelling and reading they can take home to watch at home in their own time, in their own way. They watch the same thing repeatedly until it is understood.

Learners can find out themselves where their gaps and confusions are, then ask the teacher for help.

A DVD can give an overview of ‘what it helps to know’ in 30 minutes of computer graphics. It helps learners who do not attend all the time in class, or forget, or miss classes. Bright non-learners like this cognitive approach, linking all processes, to see ahead, and understand it, and all students can benefit from ‘advance organizers’ and find something they did not know.

A DVD can demonstrate how to, how to look at a word, how to blend sounds. It can pull together learning in charts, the most common words put in a sing-song, Latin and Greek word-parts, and Old English, French, Greek, and Latin origins of words.

Some students who do not learn well in a class setting have a chance to learn by themselves.

Experience of self-help prevents failing learners expecting a remedial teacher to push them all the time.

I made versions on DVD and online, with limited technical expertise. Others may achieve better. Whole schools can make a video. Differences from conventional approaches surprise some teachers, but can help students who fail conventionally. http://www.ozreadandspell.com.au can be freely copied by teachers and students.

It shows learners how to apply synthetic and analytic phonics, whole language and whole word strategies, through comic graphics. The easiest way to learn phonemic awareness is by singing slowly – to hear the sounds in the words that you sing. The upper case and lower case letters are set in charts, - to show that there are only 24 letters, not thousands. Each letter is shown with the sound it usually makes and a picture in which the image looks like the shape of the letter. Consonants and vowels are shown, with the vowels in comic charts of exaggerations of their sounds – police, clowns, bullies, drunks, toffs, make the sounds memorable. A song shows the different ways to learn to read. A sing-song shows the most common words – know the sing-song, and you can read almost half of any thing. How to learn spelling, the languages which have made our spelling such a mix-up. . . and all within 30 minutes.
Take what you want to learn.

Every school library should have such a video. It will help not only those who do not learn by conventional ways, but teachers, beginners, and older students will learn from it something they did not know before.

The only warning is that it is for individual use only. Each learner can watch it through, then watch what they need to watch, again and again, as they wish. A class will soon be bored because everyone in it has different needs, and a one-off run through is not suitable for a group. Far better that a class or a whole school make their own video.

Every local library and adult literacy course should have such a video. Adults can take it home, and tell the children, “Look what I’ve got for you,’ and so look at it themselves too. They can leave it on, while the children play, and look up when they feel like it. Incidental learning helps pave the way for a fuller knowledge.


Some useful ideas and programs which can be copied:

http://www.ozreadandspell.com.au - a half-hour video overview of the English spelling system. This site has also much other useful information, including about DVDs, CDs and an earlier simpler video, which some may prefer.

http://home.vicnet.net.au/ozideas/literacy.htm. This page gives links to many other sources, such as a series of 22 lessons, ways to make print more interesting, and texts such as Shakespeare for Starters, and Creative Non-Fiction, with a book of Social Inventing as a starter.

http://home.vicnet.net.au/ozideas/16sp.htm - Test your spelling with 16 common words

1996. Take-home video for adult literacy. International Review of Education.(UNESCO) 42.1-3.187-203. Available as a pdf from http://home.vicnet.net.au/ozideas/literacy.htm.

‘Sharing Knowledge with Learners - Self-Help in learning to read’
A Broadcast on Australian Radio National Ockham’s Razor 29 February 2004. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s1054029.htm

http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/84969 - the United Kingdom Phonics curriculum


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