Help Me Help My Child to Read!

3 Essential Things to Know When Teaching Your Child to Read

Reading is an essential early skill that underpins so much future learning. But what can you do if reading really isn’t as easy as ‘a b c’ for your child? How can you help get them back on track with reading, preparing them for the years of education to come?

Learning ABC

We interviewed Kathy Nolan, a reading recovery and learning support teacher to find out exactly what you can do to support the little one in your life with learning to read.

Q: What’s the biggest barrier for children learning to read?

A: Their own belief in themselves. I find its not until they start realising ‘oh I can do that’ that they start getting anywhere. It’s a struggle until then! The hardest and most important part of teaching children to read is making them believe that they can do it.

Q: Ok, so how exactly do we make them believe they can do it?

A: Three things!

1. Start with a roadmap

If you are going on a long journey you must look at a map first. Reading is the same, tell them where the story will go, and what will happen. Take time to sound out tricky words and practise new or difficult phrases. After all that you can start trying to read the book.

Because the child knows what the story is about ahead of time they can comprehend what it is happening, and when reading they do some visual comprehension of the letters as well as guesswork to figure things out.

Q: So, guesswork is ok?

A: Yes, its encouraged! We want them to guess because this is building vital inferential skills. They can use the pictures or storyline to interpret what is going on. It makes them active, rather than passive learners because they are searching for the answer themselves.

‘It also helps link the visual information of the shape of the words to pictures and knowledge the child already has.’

Never Stop Learning

Learning is all about making mental connections and linking new information to things you already know. As you learn your brain literally builds new pathways between pieces of knowledge so making those connections between ideas is so important! To read more click here.

2. Start with what they know

You must always start with what they already know, no matter what level they are at.

At the most basic level a child may only know their own name, but you can work with that!

Have fun creating a short book with them; photograph them skipping, jumping, running, playing, and print out some pages with the words “John is running, John is skipping” in large print.

It is very simple, but some kids need that first stepping stone to get the confidence to try slightly harder things. This is part of building that belief that they CAN read. Give them material that is accessible, which also brings me to…

3. Never let them struggle

If the child really can’t work out a word – help them straight away. If you let them struggle all the time that tells them that they can’t do it, which we want to avoid!

You also don’t want to just give them the answer, then they aren’t doing any mental work at all. Instead give hints and prompts – getting progressively easier – until they get it. The challenge is figuring out exactly why they are struggling, what they know already, and what hints will get them to the right answer while making them do a lot of the thinking work themselves.

Hints like; “rhymes with star” or “what was the blue thing we drew earlier? That’s right a car!” have the added benefit of creating those oh-so-important connections between bits of knowledge. The more connections, the more neural pathways are built, and the more likely the child will remember the idea and how to read that word later.

Eventually with patience children will start to realise “I can read!” Once they have that confidence their learning will accelerate and soon they will be keen reader.

Never Stop Learning

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Children are world class mimickers. Point at the words as you read them one by one when reading to very young children; eventually you want to encourage them to mimic this behaviour when they start trying to read.

Exposure is everything. Expose kids to many objects, words, shapes, images, ideas, and environments. Speak to them often and speak in front of them complexly. The more language and ideas they are exposed to, the more they will absorb and the more connections between ideas can be made.

Written by Anne Gwilliam 

Treating Maths Anxiety: Un-learning Beliefs and Building Self-efficacy

Mathematics anxiety is the apprehension and crippling fear of doing maths, whether it be in a maths classroom or taking a test. Like many anxieties, the central problematic behaviour is avoidance. Anxiety itself is an adaptive trait to protect us from possible harms. Our past experiences teach us about dangers, and we do everything in our power to avoid them.

Treating Math Anxiety

Anxiety helps us perceive future threats and avoid them, an adaptive trait often misapplied in our modern world.

We often feel anxious about things that can’t actually harm us, and the avoidance that occurs because of the anxiety can, ironically, often lead to the bad outcome we originally feared.

In the case of maths anxiety, the fear of failure, or public embarrassment due to getting a question wrong, is self-fulfilled by the avoidance of maths learning situations. Students avoid maths by ‘turning off’ in class, ignoring their teacher, avoiding homework, or even truanting. The natural outcome of avoiding learning maths is to weaken their ability and miss out on learning new content, furthering their original problem and reinforcing their own beliefs in their lack of mathematical ability. The anxiety associated with maths increases. Maths anxiety is a crippling, cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy

So, what can you we about it? If you, your child or your students are suffering from maths anxiety, how can we break that cycle of negative self-belief, which leads to poor performance, in turn reinforcing the negative self-beliefs and associated anxiety?

Stop it at the start

Stop from the startOf course, in an ideal world we would aim to prevent children from developing maths anxiety in the first place. For this to occur, maths education from an early age should be fun, applicable to real life, and full of encouragement of successes – avoiding negative criticism. Often the ‘absolute wrongness’ of a big red cross on a maths question feels so serious and permanent. Children should be encouraged that it’s ok to make mistakes and that they should focus on what they got right. Getting a question wrong in maths doesn’t mean you can’t do it, just that you haven’t mastered that specific skill YET.

This line of thinking stems from ‘growth mindset’ education. Read more.

Un-learn permanency beliefs

Central to maths anxiety is a permanency belief; that is, a belief that your ability to do mathematics is innate, it is part of who you are and a permanent quality you possess. And its no wonder some students can feel that way; as a society we often push this belief. How often have you heard; “I’m just not a maths person”, “It’s in my genes”, “My brain just doesn’t work in a maths way”? This is the very thinking that leads to beliefs in permanency of ability.

If you believe maths ability is genetic, innate, or a part of who you are, then of course you will believe that no amount of hard work will change your ability.

Change your language, and the way you think about maths. Encourage your children to do the same. Break free from the belief that your ability is innate, or a permanent part of you.

Unlearn

Instead of, “I’m just not a maths person”, how about, “I have struggled with maths in the past”. If you hear your child say “I just don’t have the brain for maths” encourage them to say, “I don’t know how to do certain maths problems yet”. If we allow for the possibility that mathematical skill can be acquired with hard work and good instruction, we allow for learning to occur. Which brings us to;

Provide access to success

Mathematical ability is a learnt skill that can be acquired. Often what is missing is a learning environment where children can experience success and feel self-efficacious. Self-efficacy is the belief in your own ability in a certain area, and building this belief through success is central to breaking down maths anxiety and building maths ability.

All maths skills are learnt through a series of progressive steps, students can progress through their mathematical education if those steps are presented in order, with enough time and revision to allow the student to master each skill.

This is an effect well researched in psychology. Children (and adults for that matter) can learn if they are given access to content that adequately challenges them without overwhelming them, allowing them to experience success. This experience builds self-efficacy and the belief that you can do maths. This is the great challenge of teaching maths, especially in a class of 30 where every student is learning at a different rate and in different styles. Teachers need to provide content carefully titrated to a student’s ability to allow them to experience success rather than constant failure.

This is where a tutor can be of great benefit. Working one on one with a student, a tutor can carefully assess their ability and provide content that is appropriate and achievable. Once the child starts to experience success, they will build self-efficacy, and this can launch them forward into future successes.

 You can replace the negative self-belief cycle with a positive one.

  • Adopt a growth mindset, it is possible to learn!
  • Change your language around ability – maths ability is not innate.
  • Provide opportunities for success.

Written by Anne Gwilliam

How Learning a Second Language Benefits Students’ Development and Education

Increasingly, Australian schools are taking positive steps towards making language lessons a compulsory part of the syllabus. Many primary and high school students now learn Italian, French or Japanese, among other languages. But languages classes aren’t just a ‘fun alternative’ to get students trying something new. They’re a very real way of benefitting growth and learning skills.

As discussed in many research publications and news reports, learning another language assists students with multitasking, processing information in more complex ways and, of course, in expanding their social and cultural understanding. More information about the benefits of bilingualism to physiology can be found here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html

Since the beginning of the year, Western Australia introduced language classes for all Year 3 students throughout the state.

“Exactly what language is up to individual schools to determine, but the School Curriculum and Standards Authority has developed syllabuses for the six most popular choices — Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, French, German and Italian.

Second LanguageIf schools decide to go it alone and teach a different language — such as Arabic, Hebrew, Korean, or an Aboriginal language — they will be able to use an alternative curriculum approved by the authority.” (Language classes compulsory for Year 3 students in all WA schools from 2018, November 2017, ABC).

Such classes are also integral to helping students negotiate an increasingly multicultural Australia, and giving them a competitive edge for future careers as employers increasingly value bilingual skills in their new employees.

Do you know someone wanting to learn a second language?

We’ve compiled a checklist to help them decide which language to choose.

Cultural significance

Over 70% of Australians today have family born overseas. You might think about learning a language that strengthens your relationship and knowledge with your cultural background, if you can’t already read and write in your family’s ethnic language. Alternatively, you might want to branch out and experience a new or exotic culture, such as the language spoken in a country you might want to travel to.

Usefulness in School or a Workplace

Professional environments increasingly require additional language skills for productivity. Conduct some research – if you’re a student, you might want to learn a language which you will excel in during HSC exams. If you’re in a workplace, your business might have ties with another country, so learning a certain language will benefit your communication.

Enjoyment

Make sure you enjoy the language you’re learning! Learning a language should not be a rushed or stressful process. Go at your own pace. Useful apps and both print and electronic resources can assist you. Many can be borrowed from your local library, and other free resources are listed here: https://www.thebalance.com/the-7-best-free-language-learning-apps-1357060 and here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/fodors/7-outstanding-language-le_b_6431448.html. Above all, have fun!

If you’re already bilingual, you may consider learning yet another language! This can be a fun hobby that is genuinely beneficial to your quality of life. Of course, language tutors are also great resources, who can guide you through the process supportively, sharing ­

Pleasures of Reading: Benefits

Children’s inherent appetite for books should be encouraged through activities that build a passion for reading. This can be achieved through active participation in literature that whet’s their imagination and interests. Whilst technology, for a time, reigned in favour against the tactile “book in the hand” there is a current resurgence for the presence of a book with pages to turn. We can perhaps envisage and hope for a complete return to the earlier pursuit of children being curled up in their favourite place whilst reading for pleasure.

Reading for pleasure

Image credit: Pixabay

Taking children beyond the classroom, to read for pleasure at home, will provide them with tools that ensure their writing and comprehension skills soar. This naturally occurs as they are confronted with a wider use of vocabulary whilst reading and they concurrently learn to read in a way that teaches them the basic conventions of writing and the structure of language. As a result their ability to be “literacy smart” becomes evident. Their writing appears more complex, they are able to write with more detail, they use descriptive tools to enhance their texts with more fluidity and are less prone to the age old problem of “writers block”.

Children who make reading a habitual part of their journey in life employ higher order thinking skills. Their tendency to become critical thinkers, learners who comprehend at an inferential level and students who can make connections from their readings with other contexts are more inclined to find purpose in reading for pleasure. They become engaged readers and learners who look for deeper meanings in what they read and are more often creative writers and problem solvers. As an outcome, they emerge more confident in their ability to tackle complex tasks that require these skills across all areas of their school work and personal learning journeys.

Reading for pleasure is  feeding their imaginations

In addition, reading for pleasure is really all about feeding their imaginations. Books take children on a journey of discovery that is often far beyond their own realisation at the time. The connection with place, people and context enriches their cognitive development by enticing a multi sensory experience as they engage their imaginations by forming images in their minds and turn words into conversations they can hear as they lose themselves in the text.

At the basic level, we all remember the aroma of a new book, the feeling of turning the page, the way words speak to us and that feeling at the end of the book that begs us for more as we look for the next book to read from the shelf.

Books are one of the key cornerstones to a child’s language development and more. Their ability to create language through their own writing and the way in which reading for leisure offers lifelong skills beyond the act of reading should not be overlooked.

A Differentiated Curriculum: Same Same…but Different?

Why tutoring can give students equal opportunities to learn

A differentiated curriculum is a learning program that, ideally, meets the academic needs and interests of every student. This means that all the teaching approaches outlined in the curriculum are flexible, so that the content being taught is digestible and refreshingly challenging for each individual child. In a class of twenty or thirty students, who will undoubtedly possess slightly different needs, interests and skills from each other, an effective differentiated program is a challenge for teachers to implement. Nonetheless, experienced teachers, including educators at the new NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA, formerly BOSTES), know that such an individualised curriculum is necessary if all students are to meet their full potential. Susan Winebrenner, an experienced education consultant of the Education Consulting Services in the US, has put forward a compelling argument for differentiated learning, “Equality means giving everyone equal opportunities to learn, not teaching everyone in exactly the same way.

Differentiated CurriculumNESA agrees, and differentiated programming of lessons is integrated within the current K-10 Syllabus Framework. The ability of proficient teachers to individualise and create greater flexibility in lesson plans is also a clear requirement of the NSW Proficient Teacher Evidence Guide (BOSTES, published June 2014), in which the first standard discussed is a knowledge of students and their diverse learning processes. For example, some students may be visual learners who prefer teacher demonstrations, and some students may be more autonomous when given a written list of instructions.

Unfortunately, efforts towards establishing curriculum differentiation in schools often falls short. Within NESA guidelines, such programming is a guide, rather than a requirement whose success can be evaluated by students and their families. In reality, curriculum differentiation may go little further than a few sentences in a school’s teaching/learning policy handbook, or informal extension programs where gifted students meet once or twice a term to work on self-guided projects. Not all schools offer the supported learning or acceleration programs that many students need. And what about HSC students in Year 11 and 12, whose teachers already have their hands full with weekly marking and feedback, and a strict limit on the length of time they can spend on one learning outcome?

Despite schools’ best intentions, classroom sizes and a lack of support materials can mean some students (whether they require additional learning help, would like to fill a few gaps in their knowledge, or are gifted students needing a challenge in class) simply do not receive an equal opportunity to learn.

So how can tutoring provide the flexible learning opportunities often lacking in many classrooms?

NESA recommends these following methods for differentiating students’ learning programs (Differentiated Programming, NSW Education Standards Authority, NSW Government, 2014):

  • tiered and levelled activities
  • interest centres
  • problem-solving and challenge-based learning opportunities
  • open-ended questioning
  • collaborative and individual learning
  • student choice
  • teacher/student dialogue around learning activities

Tutors, such as those on our team at Nepean Tutoring, are highly experienced in providing individualised, focused learning opportunities. In a tutoring setting, students have the opportunity to learn one-on-one, or in a small group. Programs are tailored to their own specific needs and are free from the distractions and competing requirements of other students in a large classroom. Furthermore, our tutors can fill those gaps in knowledge, support students to learn classroom content at their own pace, and find an approach that allows each student to be challenged and grow from their learning experience, without feeling overwhelmed. This facilitates student/tutor discussion and encourages learners to generate their own ideas and questions about content, an important learning process that leads lead to further investigation – that is, further learning. At all times, our tutors ensure students’ needs and interests are at the centre of learning opportunities.

While classroom learning often assumes that students are the same, the individual nature of tutoring recognises that this is a myth. Difference should be valued, and used as a means to help students grow.