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.

Australian kids living in fantasy world

A land where yoghurt grows on trees and animals produce cotton socks — sounds like a great premise for a creative writing piece, doesn’t it?  Alarmingly, this isn’t fiction; according to many Australian kids, it’s fact.

A study, conducted by the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER), was reported recently in the article, Kids think yoghurt comes from plants, survey finds. Of the 300 students surveyed, the study found:

- three-quarters of Year 6 students thought cotton socks came from animals;

 - just under half of Year 6 students did not know that bread, cheese and bananas all came from farms;

- a quarter of Year 6 students thought yoghurt was a plant product;

- only about a quarter of Year 10 students knew that salmon and eels were farmed animals.

In response to these findings, president of the National Farmers Federation, Jock Laurie, expressed his concern: “It seems incredulous that children are not taught more about where these vital products come from, or what goes into growing them.”

While the statistics are certainly alarming, just who should be held accountable for them? As a psychologist and educator, I believe these lessons are the shared responsibility of both schools and parents.

First and foremost, parents must recognise the importance of engaging in round table discussion with their children during meal times. Not only are such conversations a great way to practice social skills, they are also invaluable opportunities for children to broaden their knowledge base.

Parents should also be regulating the amount of time their children spend on computers. The survey’s findings suggest that, despite all it promises, the Internet is isolating children from the world around them. At Edworks, we far too frequently see kids in grades 5 and 6 who have little concept of where Sydney is in relation to Melbourne, what states are where, and what our capital cities are. The attitude that kids can just ‘Google’ answers is a dangerous one to adopt, too. Young children need a broad general knowledge in order to make informed decisions. Such lack of awareness is cause for great concern when we consider that these children will soon be moving into adolescence and adulthood.

Finally, unless schools and parents are proactive in working to remedy this predicament, the sort of ignorance the ACER survey has identified in our children will have significant environmental affects down the track. Consider, with the world’s population growing at such a rapid rate, a generation of adults with little concern for the environment or our world food source.

So, parents, rather than simply asking your kids how school was, or what homework they have, set small challenges for them to get them engaged with their surroundings. And there’s no better time to impart your wisdom than when sharing a meal at the dinner table … you can even discuss the origins of your food!


TV — are your children at risk?

It seems for as long as television exists, we’ll be debating its effects on young and impressionable minds.

The Herald Sun article, Children at risk from too much TV, discusses a recent study by the Australian Research Alliance on Children and Youth (ARACY), which found parents are failing to responsibly control the viewing habits of their children.

While many parents are aware of the harmful effects TV can have on their kids, they don’t take appropriate measures in regulating the programs they watch, nor the hours they spend watching them. Rather, they see television and/or video games as babysitting devices.

Over the holidays I often found myself in restaurants and cafés surrounded by families. A disturbing trend I noticed was that almost every child had his/her head down at the table, transfixed by a ‘DS’ gaming console. Though all seated together, these family members were eating in isolation. Parents were not taking the opportunity to engage with their children outside of the family home. They also failed to recognise the opportunity to teach their children social skills that lay the foundations for the future.

More disturbing was when I was in a medical centre’s reception for several hours. In that time, I counted four children under the age of five years playing violent hand-held video games. The parents weren’t concerned because their children were engaged with media, which, while potentially damaging, rendered them silent.

It’s disappointing to learn that parents feel that such media, in particular TV shows that are violent, gendered, sexualised, and laden with advertising, are simply too ‘difficult to avoid’. Other key findings of the ARACY study included:

  • Today’s children are watching more unsupervised television than ever
  • Australian households contain an average of three televisions
  • 20% of children have a television in their bedrooms
  • Many children watch programs targeted exclusively at adult viewers
  • One in three Australian households has a TV on constantly
  • Children are engaged with television more than any other media, with kids under four watching 150 minutes a day

In response to the findings, ARACY chief executive, Lance Emerson, said: “It’s important to consider the program in relation to the development needs of the child, to set rules and expectations … and to take a positive role in discussing television content with children.”

Certainly, Mr Emerson makes some valid points. As both a psychologist and a father of five, I believe that whether we’re talking video games, TV, or any other form of media, parents must accept the fact that they are in the parenting business. That means establishing interpersonal and social skills in their children, and taking all necessary measures to ensure they are not exposed to inappropriate violence and/or sexual content. While this may often be ‘difficult’ in today’s society, parents must see this pursuit as a non-negotiable job requirement.

NAPLAN fails students

As recently reported in the Herald Sun article, ‘Victoria failing in NAPLAN test turnout’, there has been a dramatic drop in NAPLAN testing participation rates in the state over the past three years. Furthermore, the situation has prompted claims that absentees have been students with records of poor academic performance.

It seems, unfortunately, NAPLAN testing has been politicised to the point that schools are manipulating results to protect their own interests. While struggling students are tucked away at test time, their better performing peers are out achieving the results schools are proud to promote.

This practise flies in the face of everything NAPLAN testing originally set out to achieve. And, of course, it’s the children who suffer most.

While schools insist on presenting false facades, poorly performing pupils will continue to languish. Why? Because funding will not be granted to schools that, on the surface, don’t require it. The consequence –  those kids who need additional resources are neglected.

It’s an alarming state of affairs, not only for students currently in the system, but for those entering it, too. Parents seeking out the best institutions available to their children rely on NAPLAN scores for guidance. How can judgements be made with confidence, knowing results are skewed?

My advice for parents here is simple: NAPLAN testing is a single measure of progress and should not be used in isolation. Consider it in conjunction with a range of formal and informal measures. (For further tips on such measures to consider, check out the Edworks article, ‘Choosing the right school for your child’.)

Undoubtedly, the current NAPLAN testing arrangement needs rethinking; the potential for manipulation compromises the whole system. While it’s certainly not all schools that are at fault, unfortunately, a few bad apples spoil the bunch.


Exercise unlocks academic improvement

‘Healthy body, healthy mind.’ We’ve all heard the old cliché, but just how true is it? A recent study has identified some compelling evidence in its favour. As reported in The Age article, ‘Exercise linked to higher test scores’, a strong relationship has been found between primary school students who exercise regularly, and improved academic performance.

The study, conducted by Professor Richard Telford of the Australian National University’s medical school, has found that those schools with the top NAPLAN scores also boast the highest level of physical activity amongst students.

Furthermore, a second Telford study has found students taught physical education by specialist PE teachers scored higher NAPLAN results than those supervised by generalist classroom teachers.

These studies have been supported by a decade of neurological research in Germany and the US, which has found exercise, especially fitness activities that involve hand-eye co-ordination, can improve brain function.

Professor Telford claims his findings are “strong evidence for policymakers that specialist physical education in schools is not just important from the perspective of preventative medicine, but it is also associated with improving the academic development of children.”

As a psychologist and educator, I have long advocated the importance of children partaking in regular physical activity, not only within school hours, but also at home.

Parents should aim to establish healthy habits with their children from an early age. These need not be competitive, but inclusive. Some suggestions include:

  • bush walking
  • surfing
  • swimming
  • rowing
  • tennis (doubles)
  • jogging

Such activities are fantastic for fitness, and will allow your children to enjoy the far-reaching benefits exercise provides. What’s more, they offer an opportunity for you to get out and have fun as a family!