Friday, 28 March 2014

Teaching Children to be Kind

One of the greatest gifts we as adults can give to our kids and the kids in our family is to teach them about kindness. This is admirably explained by an autistic boy in USA, Zac Abril, who, with his class, collected and donated food and bedding for the local animal shelter. You can watch the story here: Zac's kind act

To take the focus off oneself and feel the joy of helping someone else is a very special feeling, and promotes sensitivity, goodwill and confidence in a child, helping them to feel part of the community. Kindness to animals teaches children responsibility and caring thoughtfulness. There just is no downside to it! A visit to the local animal shelter is a wonderful outing for a child. To see just how many animals are dumped and the fantastic way shelter workers look after them is a great life lesson they will never forget. And you never know, they might just fall in love with one and want to take it home and care for it...

As Zac says,
'Don't be afraid to help. Help doesn't hurt.'

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Getting Inside the Mind of the Learner - Poor Spellers

Why are some kids bad at spelling?
Parents have a hunch that their child isn't doing well at school. They may speak to the teacher and have their fears confirmed, they may not be heard at all. But their instincts are nearly always correct.These children come to me for help.

So, my first task when assessing whether a student is in fact 'failing' is to try and determine what kind of learner they are. I ask myself questions. Is this child a visual learner? Do they picture things in their head and remember them later? Do they have good comprehension skills with verbal language, (the teacher giving instructions, for example) and from what they read (stories, non-fiction, textbooks).

Poor Spellers
What I usually find is that children with poor spelling are not good visualisers. They can't picture the word inside their head, making it difficult to recall later in a spelling test or when they wish to use the word in their own writing. This can be extremely frustrating for the child.
There are two methods we use to learn to spell. One is memorising the whole word (the way the word looks as a pattern of symbols). We call these words 'sight words'. The other method is called 'sounding-out'. It requires Phonemic Awareness, (sometimes known as phonics), knowing the sounds of our language as represented by letters and combinations of letters.
Children who are poor visualisers rely heavily upon sounding-out because they can't remember what sight words look like, even though they might use them all the time. Often they may not even realise they have misspelt the word at all.

So, how can we help poor visualisers?
It's important to 'switch on' the part of the brain that is responsible for visualising. Even poor visualisers can improve. Nancy Bell's seminal work, Visualising and Verbalising for Language Comprehension and Thinking shows that children's language and literacy skills can radically improve if the visualising skills are developed. You can read about it here: What is it?
One simple thing you can do, whether you are a parent or teacher, is to use the weekly spelling list as a tool. In my 24 years of teaching this has never failed to improve spelling!
Here are the steps:
  1. Cut up pieces of card (recycle!) into small cards, about 7cm X 5cm.
  2. Write the words from the spelling list on a card each.
  3. Write these instructions on a separate card - 1. say the word out loud. 2. spell the word out loud, looking at it. 3. spell out loud eyes closed. 4. Say the word again.
  4. The method - Before they begin spelling the word out loud, draw their attention to any unique features the word has which might help them remember what it looks like, for instance, if it has double letters, or if the same letter is at the beginning and end of the word, or if it has a smaller word inside it. Talk about how many syllables it has, ie: talk has 1 syllable, chicken has 2 syllables, furniture has 3. (clap your hands to show this)
  5. Watch the child as they go through the steps with each word. Make sure they are following the instructions carefully and listening to the sound of their own voice. They may also break up the letters into groups of two or three to create a sort of rhythm, ie: ch-ick-en. 
  6. The child can peek, if they can't remember, but they must spell the word without looking before they can move on to the next word.By repeating the word at the end, the child's brain is linking the series and pattern of sounds they just said with the whole again.
  7. Practice every day.
 After a week or perhaps three you will begin to see an improvement. Most students get a much better score in their spelling test the very next week, just by following this simple exercise. It's a huge boost to their confidence! Remember - Be sure to write the new list on cards each week. Praise the child's efforts and enjoy, with them, the fun of learning.