"We don't send readers home in kindergarten....until [the student] demonstrates a good phonemic awareness"
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 was under a media pass provided by the organisers.
Sarah then spoke about red flags for dyslexia by speaking about phonemic awareness. Research indicates that phonemic awareness is foundational to reading and writing and is one of the most important indicators for a student being learning to read and write, however, as many as 20% of readers may be struggling due to dyslexia.
Sarah then spoke about an aspect of her schools reading program that would do cause cries of disbelief in many schools; they do not send readers home with kindergarten students in Year One until they demonstrate a good phonemic awareness of the forty-six phonemes in the English language. This is in stark contrast to common practice where there is a new book every night sent home.
There has been an uproar in education and the media recently over the proposal to introduce phonics screening in Australia, however, Sarah spoke about some of the easy and quick to use options for screening that currently exist and are very useful as a diagnostic tool to allow early intervention for those that need it. SEAPART is a phonological awareness screening tool used for pre-school children, and which was written by the same authors as the SPATR. Additionally, there is the CTOPP, the Rosner Test (which is free), and PALS.
It struck me, as I listened to Sarah speak, that it seemed that a lot of what Sarah was espousing was aligned with the THRASS system of teaching spelling. Unfortunately I did not get an opportunity to chat with her and get her views on THRASS.
Returning to the phonics screening check that has been discussed in Australia, Sarah spoke about the UK's approach. The education department there mandated a synthetic phonics check nationally to ensure that all schools were teaching a structured synthetic phonics program. Only after that had been in place for a period of time was a phonics screening check mandated. In Australia, we seem, Sarah remarked, to be going about it backwards, mandating a national phonics screening check without having ensured that there is a structured synthetic phonics program in place. Do not mistake me to be saying that our schools are not teaching phonics, I have never been in an infants classroom that does not do explicit phonics teaching, however, the methods and programs used to do are widely varied and often include linguistically incorrect terminology and rules such as silent letters, bossy e, and the classic i before e except after c.
Sarah's talk was very interesting and I would have liked to have been able to hear her speak in more depth, however the time was up and I needed to shift to the next session.As an aside, Dyslexie font is a fantastic resource if you have a child struggling with dyslexia (or even if they are not). It was designed by a graphic artist who does have dyslexia and wanted to make it easier to read. I would definitely recommend looking at it.
If you have missed any of the previous articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series you can find them here.