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I'm back! Here's the latest on my research

8th May 2022

I’m back and how am I doing, I hear you ask.

Great thanks. We have just started term number two for 2022 and it is hit the ground running. One thing I love about country teaching is the children wear bare feet, more than town children anyway and I don’t know why. The children are getting ready for cross country (love this too) and seeing them zoom around the back field with no shoes on and big smiles on their faces is just fabulous. Hardly any complaints either and we try to run on a daily basis.

We also have speech lessons on a daily basis for the children to learn the correct techniques for enunciating sounds and to build their confidence to stand in front of a room and speak clearly. My teaching inquiry “how a child’s oral language ability affects their ability to spell and learn to read” is getting very clear results. It has a very large impact. For example; the child that says F for the TH sound will 100% of the time write F instead of TH. One example the other day ‘fort’ was written for ‘thought’. Further down the line we will be tackling the vowel sounds in there too.

When they come to read words with that sound in it, they will hesitate and look for help. This breaks the rhythm of the sentence they are reading and the child is more likely not understand what they are reading, which makes learning all the more difficult. I am collecting the written examples of this for my research and sadly, the pile is getting bigger by the day.

Currently, there is quite a lot of debate about the effectiveness of whole language learning and with this, there are a few mis-conceptions. One being, children being told to ‘guess a word’ if they don’t know one when they are reading. ‘Guess the word’ has no place in whole language learning, nor has it ever been. If children don’t know a word when they are reading they are asked to say the initial sound (using visual cue), what would fit into the sentence or story (meaning cue) and what would we say that would make sense (syntax cue). This method gives children more than one strategy to work out new words. Phonological learning has its place in whole language learning, it’s just not its entire focus. Whole language learning was what I was taught to teach literacy back in the early nineties and it was successful. You just need to look at the PIRLS study to see the results (https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/series/2539). It’s been in the last few years that the literacy level in NZ children have slipped and it seems whole language learning is taking the hit for that, which I think is inaccurate. There are many factors at play here in NZ as to why our children’s literacy levels are dropping, and how it is taught is perhaps taking the easiest target to lay the blame.

In my professional opinion the number one reason it is slipping is because children are not being spoken to enough. Time with a primary caregiver from birth for 1:1 care and attention is fundamental for our children to succeed. I understand life is tough out there, everyone has to work long hours to make ends meet but it is our children who are bearing the brunt of this. If we grown-ups could take some time out of busy day to put the technology down and have a conversation will most certainly help our tamariki. Another study of interest around this is the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Family Dinners Project. (http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/the-family-dinner-project) One surprising result from this study which was about teaching families the value of mealtime interactions was the impact it had on children’s brain development. In a good way. They found children’s brains developed quicker, more neurons firing, when they were being spoken to on a daily basis. It really is quite fascinating.

Another mis-conception is around child centered learning. Those who think child centered learning is about letting the child choose what they want to learn is also incorrect. Child centered learning is finding out where the child is at (assessing) and what the next steps in their learning will be (planning). Rather than saying, all 6 year olds need to learn the 10 times table. It is assessing where all the 6 year olds are at in their multiplication and division strategies and knowledge and planning what to teach them from there.  

So that’s where I’m at in my study. Only about ten thousand more words to go.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to get in touch. Email is best – miriam@sayitclearly.co.nz

Take care out there, Miriam.

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