Improving your child’s oral reading skills

In this article, we share some simple strategies designed to improve your child’s oral reading skills.

First, ask your child to read a few pages silently before reading them aloud to you. This will both:

  • allow him/her to become more familiar with the text;
  • help reduce performance anxiety.

At the end of each passage, it’s a good idea to have your child ask YOU questions  about the story, rather than the other way around. This will ensure that he/she is reading for meaning, not just decoding words.

Tip: Make sure you throw in a few incorrect answers. Your child will love correcting you and it’s also a great way to keep him/her on the ball.

When reading, if your child gets a word wrong but is close with his/her guess, don’t interrupt. For example, “Jack and Jill went up the mountain” is fine, as the meaning of the passage isn’t altered.

If your child doesn’t know a word, don’t get him/her to ‘sound it out’. This won’t be helpful long term as there are too many inconsistencies in phonics. Instead, put your finger over the word and read around it. Ask your child to tell you what word would best fit in the space. This encourages the use of contextual cues (analysing the meaning of the passage).

It is also a great idea to read along with your child. That is, you read out aloud, leading the way with fluency, tone etc. You will find that your child will read with you about half a second behind. This gives him/her a very good, practical model. You should aim to do this for about 10 minutes at a time. After some practice reading together, ask your child to reread the passage to you alone. The focus here is on fluent reading.

Remember: Kids respond very positively when they see themselves improving over a fairly short time frame. When you notice effort and improvement, offer a suitable (small) reward, e.g. a sticker.


Edworks Myth Busting – Spelling

Education harbours its fair share of myths. These are passed on from one generation of teachers to the next unquestioned.Edworks is here to bust a few myths you may well have heard!

Myth # 2:  Spelling lists = spelling success

In many classrooms across the globe, spelling lists are considered an effective means of teaching children how to spell. Yet in reality, while they can expand a child’s spelling vocabulary, they don’t offer a sound approach that can be applied in everyday writing.
If your child has been taught an ineffective spelling technique (e.g. ‘sounding out’ words), learning how to spell 10, 20 or even 100 words, will not make them a ‘good speller’. A good speller spells well not only in lists, but also in stories, essays, letters etc.

The ‘Look, Cover, Write, Check’ method is a much more effective approach and should be encouraged both in the classroom and at home. Another technique is to write down three variations of a word, (e.g. eyte, eight, aight) and ask your child to identify the one that looks right. These methods recognise the fact that spelling is not an aural skill, but a visual skill.

Remember: When correcting your child’s spelling, be positive! Acknowledge the letters they get right, not the ones they get wrong.

Developing your child’s listening skills

An often overlooked aspect of school success is effective listening skills. Often children can hear what is said, but don’t listen to what is said. As a consequence, much of what occurs in the class passes them by.

The game of ‘Simon Says’ is a terrific way to help your child improve his/her listening skills. It provides an endless opportunity for fun, while at the same time, it can be made more and more challenging.

“Simon Says: if Monday comes after Tuesday, clap three times. 
Simon Says: if the second tallest person in your house is not female, stand up. 
Simon Says: if two times six is more than ten plus one, touch your nose … If you are smarter than your teacher, put up four fingers.”

Once children are caught out a few times, they quickly learn to focus their attention upon the details.

Of course, reading stories can also provide opportunities for listening skills to be refined. Rather than having your child read along with you, have him/her listen to you read and encourage the asking of questions. It’s a bit of a twist to the usual situation where you are in control, and children tend to enjoy this.

Additionally, by not always giving the right answer, children have to not only focus on the passage, but on your response, and be able to justify why you were wrong and they were right. They tend to enjoy this too!

Positive Education

‘Positive Education’, a topical subject of late, is a term coined by renowned US psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman. While the approach upholds the teaching of traditional skills, it does so with an emphasis on fostering positive emotions and character traits in students.

Many who read the major papers will be familiar with the term; it’s generated much hype after Geelong Grammar revealed it advocates, and has implemented, the approach over the past few years. The article, ‘If they’re happy and they know it…’, from The Australian, is just one example.

The exposure is fantastic, too. There’s no doubt in my mind as to how effective Positive Education is. But while you’d be excused for thinking it’s an academic revolution, in reality, Edworks has driven the philosophy for the past 20 years.

As our members will attest, Edworks’ learning environment promotes positivity, encouragement and support. Within it, not only do we arm children with skills for the classroom, but for life, too. We implore students to take risks, rise above adversity, learn from mistakes and continually challenge themselves. This directly assists students to develop a more realistic and robust sense of themselves and prepare them for the unknown challenges that lay ahead.

Given the global uncertainty that we all currently face, parents should certainly see the benefits of fostering confidence in their children while preparing them for the adult world. A former Edworks’ student, now in his mid twenties, popped in to see me and remarked that the best skill he gained from his time with us was his ability to think critically and believe in himself. He commented that it was also one of the key aspects that his employer appreciated.

So, it’s no surprise to us that Positive Education has garnered support from prominent psychologists and educators across the globe. Over 20 years, we’ve seen the evidence to confirm its value.

And while South Australia is investigating the prospect of rolling out Positive Education across the whole state system, independent schools in Victoria continue to acknowledge its worth.

Principal of Altona College, Nathan Chisholm, explains the transformation he’s observed in both students and staff at his public school: “We have shifted the culture from one of welfare to one of wellbeing, and that’s a really important thing.”

One head better than two

A recent study conducted by Professor Asher Koriat, of Haifa University, Israel, has found that independent thinking is far more productive than group problem solving.

In posing a series of questions to 38 people both individually and in pairs, Professor Koriat found that when collaborating, subjects often responded with incorrect answers.

While general knowledge questions more frequently produced correct answers from pairs, it was problems of visual perspective, and questions where the least logical answers were correct, that stumped groups most consistently.

The study also investigated how confident subjects were with their individual answers. Results here suggested that those who were most confident were more often than not correct; the implication being that pairs could have worked better together if they were more honest about how confident they were.

Further, of the more challenging questions in group scenarios, Professor Koriat said: ‘In such cases it is the low-confidence individuals who are more likely to be correct, and reliance on the more confident members should lead the group astray.’

As an educator of more than 30 years, what the study highlights to me is the importance of independent thinking skills — something Edworks has understood since its inception, and essentially built its programs around.

In exam situations, kids don’t have the opportunity to team up with fellow students, or raise their hands for teacher assistance. Therefore, while we certainly offer support and guidance, our ultimate goal is to see students thinking and performing at a high standard independently.

The study also demonstrates the need for students to be assertive when performing group tasks. Again, Edworks recognises the importance of fostering confidence in students. Children should always feel they can be valuable contributors in group/team situations, be they in the classroom, sporting arena or at home.

While Edworks tutors focus on encouragement in the classroom, it is important for parents, too, to place a high priority on building self-esteem in their children at home. For some great tips on offering positive affirmations every day, see our article, ‘Think Positive’ It’s amazing how much difference a few encouraging words can make in a child’s development.

Can ‘poor’ schools offer rich education?

The richer the school, the better the education, right? Generally, yes. But don’t get too concerned if you can’t afford to send your child to a private college — there are plenty of ‘poor’ schools with loads to offer.

The article Status of school can affect results, recently published in The Australian, discusses a study by Murdoch University revealing that ‘the socio-economic status of a school can mitigate the effects of a student’s own background.’

It was found that students from poor economic backgrounds, who attended one of the richest schools, improved test scores by an average of 57 points in reading, maths and science. Similarly, the test results of the richest students attending one of the poorer schools dropped almost as drastically across the board.

Education researcher, Dr Laura Perry, who along with Andrew McConney analysed the study’s results, said it suggests the background of the school’s majority could affect the results of a single child.

“It was previously thought it would benefit lower socio-economic kids to go to a richer school, but that it didn’t matter as much for privileged kids because they’ll do well no matter where they go to school,” she said. “It’s not true. They’re just as sensitive to the composition of the school as any other kid, which was a depressing finding for us.”

Depressing, perhaps, but as a psychologist and teacher of more than 30 years, these findings come as no surprise. Rich schools, more often than not, offer positive learning environments, comprising high quality teachers and students who serve as role models to peers. Such environments promote development and foster improved academic results.

In poorer socio-economic schools, however, there is often little peer pressure to perform. There is also almost no incentive for schools to change, as they are not offered support or encouragement from governments or the communities. As with children, expectation and encouragement are great motivators. Consequently, students in these environments often suppress their abilities so as not to stand out from the crowd. Like kids in rich schools aiming high to match the performances of their peers, kids in poor schools will often allow their results to slip to ensure they don’t draw unwanted attention.

However, it isn’t solely socio-economic status that will determine the success of any one school. A school’s identity, and how it projects the importance of education, can impact significantly on student performance.

Early in my career I taught at schools where the main role of the teacher was simply to manage children; there was no value placed on actually educating them. Meanwhile, other schools in similar socio-economic environments were aspirational and encouraged students to look beyond their families’ standings and backgrounds, and strive for success.

More recently, as reported on Four Corners, poorer schools like Toronto High School in Sydney and Hume Central Secondary College in Melbourne, have been able to buck the trend. By employing highly skilled, passionate teachers, and creating positive learning environments, their academic results improve enormously.

Further, this turnaround subsequently benefits the rest of the community, as it breaks the cycle of failure. Kids can aspire to achieve irrespective of their home environment. It creates a whole new mind-set, and a fresh, positive outlook.

So, while a schools’ socio-economic status can provide an indication of academic performance, schools lacking in funds aren’t always poor. The key to success for all schools, as Edworks recognises, is offering positive education — an environment in which teachers engage students, and where students constantly challenge and motivate each other.

Planning Beyond NAPLAN

Since its inception in 2008, the NAPLAN testing scheme has received much public criticism. In reviewing the article, School test results not improving (The Age), it appears this criticism has been warranted.  When compounded by the issues discussed in the article, We risk losing education race, Julia Gillard warns  (The Australian), it becomes increasingly clear that a change in policy is required … and fast.

Edworks’ 2011 blog article, NAPLAN fails students, discusses the claim that schools are manipulating the national testing system in a bid to protect their own interests.

Another major criticism levelled at the scheme is that teachers often discard academically favourable curriculums to focus solely on yielding attractive exam results — ‘teaching to the test’, as it’s been termed.

The most damning assessment, however, comes from the NAPLAN national report for 2011, as quoted in The Age: ”Nationally there are no differences between the 2009 to 2011 and 2008 to 2010 cohorts in gains in reading or numeracy from year 3 to year 5 or from year 7 to year 9”. In short, NAPLAN testing has effected no academic improvement in students since its inception four years ago.

What makes this discovery all the more disturbing, is the fact that Australian students are being left behind by their Asian counterparts in both literacy and numeracy testing, as reported in The Australian.

In presenting OECD figures indicating that Australian education standards were falling relative to those of nations like Korea, Singapore and Japan, Julia Gillard suggested we are at risk of losing ‘the education race’ and becoming the ‘the runt of the litter’.

So what is the Australian Government planning to do in response? While Gillard has acknowledged the areas requiring most attention — low-income families and ‘kids at the top end’ — there is an obvious lack of direction from our leaders.

For more than a decade those in power have advocated a move towards becoming a ‘clever nation’, yet, little has been achieved. The strategies of literacy and numeracy tuition vouchers (where teachers at the core of the problem were offered opportunities to tutor kids outside of school) and computer handouts have not focused on qualitative measures of success.

One of the fundamental reasons Edworks’ students thrive is that we focus on skills, not scores. The Government must adopt a genuine revolution, which, like Edworks, focuses on the development and assessment of students’ skill-sets.

In devising this new approach, it’s vital we consult experts outside of the current system for considered advice, and draw inspiration from those countries with successful structures in place. A paradigm shift will simply not occur when those in control are inward looking.

Ultimately, if NAPLAN is persisted with, Australian students will continue to flounder while our counterparts flourish. It’s time the Government be held accountable for its failings and commit to wholesale change.


Tech experts say no to classroom computers

If anyone were to advocate the use of computers in the classroom, it’d be a Google employee, right? Well, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald recently, employees of some of the world’s biggest technology giants are opting for low-tech learning environments for their children.

In the article, ‘Computers ok? Not in Silicon Valley’, Alan Eagle, executive communications employee at Google, declares, “I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school.”

Eagle’s two children attend Waldorf schools, which subscribe to a teaching philosophy centred on physical activity and learning through creative, practical tasks; the US equivalent of Australia’s Steiner schools. Similarly, the chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom Waldorf school in Los Altos, California.

So what’s behind this resistance to technology in modern-day learning environments? Commonly, those who support the Waldorf approach believe computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans. Real engagement, they argue, comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans, not machines.

Paul Thomas, a former teacher and current associate professor of education at Furman University, sides with the Waldorf approach, suggesting, “Teaching is a human experience … Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

Of course, there are many experts who, in contrast, strongly endorse the use of computers in schools. Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association in the US, is one.

Flynn states, “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children.”

As a psychologist and educator of more than 30 years, I believe the fact that we have schools offering distinctly different educational approaches is ideal. What works for some students, won’t necessarily work for others.

In saying that, however, when starting Edworks 20 years ago, I implemented a no-computer policy. Studies then, and since, have indicated they offer no educational advantage for students.

On the contrary, computerised learning tends to promote ‘answer driven’ learning, which simplifies learning to the point where students only see the answer, rather than the learning process, as the objective. Conversely, Edworks’ personal programs, delivered by a tutor at the student’s desk, promote divergent thinking (more than one possible answer), which fosters abstract thinking and creative problem solving.

Additionally, computer-based programs tend to ignore the importance of concrete thinking, deductive reasoning and understanding concepts, and do little to promote the idea of independent learning.

So, while at Edworks we don’t quite allow kids to learn fractions by cutting up quesadillas and cake, we do recognise the distractions and limitations computers can have in a learning environment and opt for the tried and trusted alternative.