I hope this week’s edition finds you well.
“We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans — because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings. That’s why we paint, that’s why we dare to love someone - because we have the impulse to explain who we are. Not just how tall we are, or thin… but who we are internally… perhaps even spiritually. There’s something, which impels us to show our inner-souls. The more courageous we are, the more we succeed in explaining what we know." Maya Angelou
Hmmm… wasn’t really sure when to write about said topic, but here we are.
As I’m sure you are aware there is an enormous amount of controversy and media around phonics. Some of the things I hear and see makes me want to shake my head.
It makes me think about a new framework that I’ve recently discovered. The BS Asymmetry Principle: the energy required to refuse nonsense is significantly higher than the energy required to create nonsense.
Remember this the next time you find yourself faced with a pointless argument …
Everyone has an opinion about education, and at times it feels like the framework above.
Nothing is simple in education. If it was, we would have all fixed everything long ago. We, the educators, are more invested than anyone to see improved outcomes for all of our students.
From my viewpoint every primary school has phonics instruction in place. It is just that there are degrees of skill and knowledge in how to do it effectively. Instead of claiming that phonics instruction will solve everything, or that the moon is made of cheese, why don’t we hear what the best schools do in regards to the teaching of phonics?
Clarinda PS is one of those very schools. The staff are fantastic, and among them is Erin Beissel who is the 2021 Victorian Education Excellence Awards reigning Teacher Of The Year.
There are an increasing number of schools that I recommend educators to go and visit. Clarinda has been hosting visits for me for a couple of years now (COVID permitting!). They have quality whole school approaches in the teaching of reading and writing, and are now building this into the numeracy space.
When it comes to phonics, Clarinda follows the research.
Despite what you might hear, the research is clear that phonics instructions should be systematic (not to be confused with synthetic!), and explicit. For some schools this can mean that all students receive the same instruction, and for some students, this can extend well beyond when it is needed. Too much of a focus on phonics can impact on a student’s ability to make meaning from texts.
What schools like Clarinda do is that they use a scope and sequence, combined with assessment, to differentiate what the whole class needs, what small groups need, and what individuals need. Once students have completed the assessment they no longer need phonics instruction. Phonics is an important, but only one part of their comprehensive literacy program.
The assessment and scope sequence Clarinda use, is from a resource by Heidi Anne Mesmer titled, ‘Letter Lessons and First Words’.
The book provides suggested curriculum, activities and timelines for each aspect of the scope and sequence. Clarinda use this as a starting point, and they have also created their own resources to complement this work.
If you’re interested in reading about phonics further I would recommend the following article where Mesmer has teamed up with Nell Duke - ‘Phonics Faux Pas: Avoiding Instructional Missteps in Teaching Letter-Sound Relationships’.
SPEAKING & LISTENING
Whenever I share my thinking via my writing, or when I’m presenting, I often make generalisations.
Case in point:
Speaking and listening, which is a vital part of learning, and our curriculum, is often neglected.
How many educators really understand the speaking and listening curriculum?
It is not about who sits quietly in class and behaves (or brings you an apple). It also shouldn’t be a one-off presentation to the class that measures ‘speaking’.
Speaking and listening needs to be ongoing, and should be the thread that weaves through everything we do in our teaching and learning. Not just in literacy, but in all areas of the curriculum.
By doing so we are preparing our students for the real world. When I became a coach I deeply learnt the skill of active listening. I’m amazed at how many conversations I’m involved in where someone dives in to share their own anecdote, no matter how obscure from what was originally being spoken about.
The world needs more active listening. Let’s ensure it is part of our classroom culture.
There is currently a big emphasis on wellbeing in many (if not all) jurisdictions. By engaging in active listening, we ensure that the other person feels seen, heard, and understood. I’m sure it also does wonders for their wellbeing.
Developing students as active listeners doesn’t just happen overnight. They need to have it modelled for them, be provided with opportunities to demonstrate, and to have scaffolds they can access to support them in acquiring the skills.
Some example sentence stems:
· “It sounds like you’re saying…"
· “Is this what you mean?"
· "Let me see if I’m understanding you…"
· When you are finished get confirmation, “Did I get it?"
Active listening is great in a learning environment, but also in any situation where you want the other person to feel heard and understood.
What does speaking and listening look like and sound like at your school?
In the last couple of newsletters, I’ve offered to run a free online Study Group.
I’m excited by the talented members who have declared their interest, and the list grows each week. We are looking to start at some stage in term 2. The choice of text/focus is still to be determined. Let me know if you would like to join.
Thanks for reading and see you next week,
P.S Feel free to provide me with any feedback regarding the newsletter, or anything for that matter via email. Also, let me know what topics you would be interested in reading more about.
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