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Springboard for Children: life-changing literacy

If we believe the headlines in the Daily Mail and the press releases from OFSTED it is the fault of under performing schools and incompetent teachers that 20% of children do not achieve the expected level in literacy at the end of primary school. Of course, the problem is far more complex; children fail to become competent readers and writers for a variety of reasons but there are two major contributing factors that need to be considered: lack of confidence and poor self-image.

Teaching children one to-one at Springboard has made me realise the importance of confidence. It’s common for children to say to us when they start “I’m no good at reading” “I’m only on Pink” (The first level of graded reading books)and ”I can’t read that”.  They see reading as something difficult, painful, frustrating and above all something that others can do better. Sadly this is coming from five and six year olds. Imagine a child who is still struggling at the end of primary school: six years of feeling this bad often leads to disruptive behaviour or quiet withdrawal. We must intervene early before children become so despondent that they stop trying and lose all interest in learning.

We have had great success working with young children this year. Lewis* was just six when he started Springboard tuition in September. He was eager to please but very self-critical and fearful of getting anything wrong. He would even apologise to his tutor when he read or spelled a word incorrectly.  By December Lewis was blossoming; he had not only improved his phonics knowledge but had realised that with the support of his tutor, making mistakes was part of learning and not something to be afraid of. Lewis has now finished Springboard as his reading age has leapt from less than 4.5 to 6.10 a gain of two and a half years in two terms.

Lewis’ classmate, Carina* started Springboard in January.  Her teacher saw the impact of Springboard tuition and felt that she had similar confidence difficulties that were a barrier to her progress. Whilst Lewis would write nothing in class, Carina had a different tactic: she would simply copy the child sitting next to her. Both these children were very well-behaved and eager to learn in class but they were not progressing as expected due to a lack of confidence and fear of failure.

Josh* was approaching his sixth birthday when he started Springboard. Unlike Lewis and Carina he was very difficult to teach at first; he expressed his lack of confidence in a much more physical and emotional way. He would slide under the table, slap his head and wail “I can’t read, I don’t know that it’s too hard“.  His face used to crumple when he saw me at the classroom door. But, during the course of that first half term, he realised that reading was not that hard and that he could actually do it quite easily. He has a fantastic visual memory and is very observant, noticing spelling patterns and asking questions. I gave him lots of praise and encouragement which made his face light up with pleasure. He now reads confidently only occasionally stopping to close his eyes and say “Don’t help me I’m thinking in my brain!”  He no longer needs Springboard tuition as in just five months his reading age has improved from less than 4 years 5 months to 6 years 10 months which is five months above his actual age.

Lewis and Josh both made rapid progress in two terms because they had good memories and could make connections, see patterns and take on new learning easily. They just needed the boost of one-to-one tuition for a short time to bolster their confidence and fill in the gaps in their knowledge and skills. Had Springboard not been available their low confidence may have continued to be a barrier to their progress. Many children who attend Springboard need individual tuition for longer as they have specific learning difficulties, memory problems, speech and language delay, short concentration spans or challenging behaviour. The problem is that as these children grow older they become more and more discouraged and embarrassed when they compare themselves with their classmates. The impact of this on their confidence can be devastating. For these children Springboard is a haven where they are working at their own level and can experience success.

I was also interested to read this thread recently. http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/guest_posts/2044925-Guest-debate-Is-the-term-dyslexia-actually-useful

 

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We are often asked how we involve parents and carers in our work; for us it’s a very important part of helping children to gain confidence both in how they approach reading and writing and to school life in general. Like the children we teach, all parents are different so it’s important not to jump to any conclusions about a child’s background based on their school performance.

All the parents we meet want the best for their children and can be anxious when told that their child is receiving one-to-one tuition from a charity that works with children who are finding it difficult to keep up in class. We often need to reassure parents that in school nowadays many children are taken out of class for tuition or to work in small groups as schools are keen to prevent children falling behind their classmates. As we work with the younger children at our school (ages 5-7) we point out that it is better to tutor the child early in their school life to prevent them becoming negative about learning.

Last year we worked with Jasmine*, a bouncy, chatty six year old who had difficulty concentrating in class and when working with her Springboard tutor. At one of our regular parents’ meetings her mum asked for our help as she wanted to know how to give her more support at home with reading. Jasmine’s mum went to school in an African country so her experience was very different: parents never met teachers, they received a report once a year showing a child’s marks and rank in the class. Children did not bring home reading books or homework of any kind during primary school.

We invited Jasmine’s mum in to watch a Springboard session. (Her  baby sister came too and was very well behaved!) After the session mum said that she had learned some useful things about how to listen to her daughter read. She didn’t realise that when Jasmine got stuck on a word she should wait and ask her to try to say the letter sounds then work out the word by putting them together. She had been immediately telling her the word and asking her to repeat it several times. She said that in her country children are not taught letter sounds just the names and children learn to read by memorising whole words. We gave her a phonics sheet to take home with the letter sounds and picture prompts so that she could help Jasmine.

Another thing that Jasmine’s mum noticed was how much praise we give the children. We pointed out that praise needs to be specific i.e. it is better to tell the child what they have done well rather than just a general “good girl” For example we say “Well done for using your phonics to work out that word” or “It was good when you noticed the word you said didn’t make sense and fixed it yourself ”

Jasmine’s mum said she was surprised that her tutor read a page and then Jasmine read a page. We said that this method helps in several ways when a child is reluctant to read; the adult is giving the child a good model of how to read with fluency and expression and the child is not put off  by the length of the book and finds it much less stressful.

Jasmine still finds it difficult to concentrate but her reading level is continuing to improve and she now has a much more positive attitude to reading and loves stories; particularly ones about princesses, ballerinas, fairies and anything pink!

*name changed

October: Losing his teeth

As the New Year begins I’ve decided to make some awards to last year’s Springboard stars.

Keenest Student Award: This goes to *Lewis aged 6 who has been a delight for his tutor this term. He was selected for support as his reading and writing skills did not match his good spoken language. At the beginning of term his teacher reported that he would not write anything without one-to-one adult support. His tutor soon discovered that this was because he was afraid of spelling words incorrectly and did not have the letter-sound knowledge to have a go at writing. Lewis has a fantastically positive approach to learning, always listening carefully and trying his best. Our structured phonics programme combined with plenty of targeted praise and encouragement meant that after just a few months the teacher was thrilled to show us how much he was now writing unaided in his class work.

Most Improved reader: This goes to James*  who, when he started with us in January had a reading age of 4 years 5 months. A summer-born child who had difficulty concentrating in class at the beginning of Year 1 he didn’t seem too bothered about learning to read and write himself though he loved stories and had an excellent vocabulary.  James soon came to like his tutor so much that he wanted to please her so he started to concentrate more in Springboard sessions which helped him to improve his letter-sound knowledge and his visual memory for high frequency words. We knew that he had made good progress but were astounded to find that when tested at the end of term his reading age had leapt to 7 years 11 months- an excellent achievement for a child who is not 7 until next July!

Comedian of the Year – In October’s blog I introduced Shaun*  who made the “Why are all the Springboard teachers old?” comment. This is just one of his many one- liners.  He once told us that our room “could do with a makeover”.  He could also win an award for the amount of distractions he comes up with before he gets down to any work “can I just ask….” “I just want to get….” “I just need a …..”      “I just want to tell you about…”  Despite his attention difficulties Shaun has improved by five levels in the reading scheme this term and is now writing more than one sentence without complaint.

Most Improved this term – No contest for this award , it has to go to Josh*. At the beginning of term he was really struggling: he didn’t really want to do anything. He was so fearful and lacking in confidence that he just could not try. He used to squirm under the table, get up and walk around the room, wail that he was too tired and throw his head into his hands on the table. He held his pencil in the middle and couldn’t form more than 11 letters correctly. Josh is now a completely different child.  He has revealed an excellent memory which has given him the confidence to make a great start with reading. He has gone from being unable to read anything to level 6 of the reading scheme. He now concentrates for the whole session and asks to read more when before he was asking when he could go back to class.

These photos show how Josh has improved not only his handwriting but also his spelling. He has learnt to understand that each sound in a word must be represented by a letter or combination of letters. The only word he asked for help with was turkey asking the very sensible question “Is it an e or y at the end ?” I said both and he wrote them in the correct order. He was so proud of this writing asking me to tell his teacher and his dad – so I’m telling you all as well!

October: losing his teeth

 

January: holiday news

January: holiday news

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Springboard Super-Fan of the year – Cameron* who I described in September’s blog  wins this award.  Every time I see him around the school he asks when it’s his turn to come and his dad says he asks every morning if it’s a Springboard day. His face lights up and he leaps to his feet when I appear at his classroom door.

That’s the great thing about working for Springboard-everyone is so pleased to see us: not just the children but also the teachers who really appreciate the work we do.

That’s it for now. Happy New Year to Everyone.

*All children’s names have been changed

Picture showing children's hands together forming b and d with a bed drawn in between them to emphasise the sounds.

This month’s blog features resources. One of the stimulating things about tutoring children one to one is that we have time to address individual problems and try to find solutions. Aaron * who I mentioned in September’s blog has made great progress with his letter/sound knowledge but he has a block when it comes to bs and ds. He can now form both letters correctly, we have done lots of writing in sand, pressing wooden letters into play dough and other multi-sensory activities. The problem lies with remembering which is which.  I have been researching techniques to help children with this very common difficulty. A Google search came up with lots of practical ideas which I have been using regularly. Here is one of my favourites thanks to Laura at cometogetherkids.com

 

I reinforce this by getting Aaron to make the b and d with his hands raising each one in turn saying /b/ or /d/ all the way to and from the Springboard room.

Thanks to harttoharttotschool.blogspot.com for this idea. Aaron enjoysPicture showing a dice with b and d on it and paper for a child to record their scores. the competition between the two letters in this activity. A dice is covered with b and d stickers. The child throws the dice then writes the matching letter on the grid. I added red dots to reinforce where to start writing each letter i.e. at the top for the b and the middle for the d.

I visited dyslexiacentre.co.uk for more information. It is vital to use all the senses to reinforce the letter shapes.  The child should make the gross motor movement for each letter with big sweeping movements using the whole arm and shoulder. This should also be done with the eyes closed. I have found that once a child can write a word or a letter with their eyes closed it has lodged itself firmly in their memory. Aaron is still not consistently recognising or writing b/d correctly despite twice-weekly practise so I am continuing to look for a method which will work with him.

I have just discovered a new idea at www.ontrackreading.com which focuses on getting the child to associate the shape that the mouth makes with the shape of the letter on the page. A mirror is used to show the child that when he makes the /b/ sound his lips make a straight line like the line that comes first in the letter b. The mouth makes a circle shape to make the /d/ sound like the circle that comes first in the letter d. I will try this with Aaron and also Cameron* who though now in Year 2 is still occasionally confusing b/d when reading.

While doing my shopping in Asda last weekend I found a resource to make letter and word writing practise and assessment more fun- Crayola Colour Explosion. Children write on blank black sheets then the writing slowly appears. This is good for reinforcing motor memory as the letter does not immediately appear when the child presses on the sheet.  I cut the black sheets into strips to help with sizing and also to conserve the paper. My students loved the magical element of this and didn’t want to stop writing!Picture showing child writing a lins of b's which are appearing multi-coloured on a black strip.

That’s all for this month. In the next few weeks we will be doing our end of term assessments so I’m looking forward to the next blog when I will be sharing the good news about how much our students have progressed since September.

*children’s names have been changed

I love the autumn. New school year, new energy, new stationery and this year- new blog !

I’m a Centre Manager for the literacy charity Springboard for Children and this is my dream job. I’ve been working in education for many years in a variety of teaching and management roles but this really is the most rewarding job I’ve ever done. It is a privilege and a joy to spend half an hour, twice a week with a child and really get to grips with why they are finding learning to read and write more difficult than their classmates. This is a luxury that class teachers don’t have and why Springboard tuition is so vital in preventing underachievement.

The aim of this monthly blog will be to give readers an insight into the work we do: the daily triumphs and set-backs, the dedication of our team members, the support from our school staff and most of all the experiences of the children.

This time of year we are busy assessing new students.  So how do we choose the pupils who make up the fifteen that we support each week?  The priority at my school is early intervention so we target Year 1 and 2 children (5, 6 and 7 year olds). We need to work with children before low self esteem really takes hold and hampers progress.

At the beginning of term, we meet with the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) who uses the school’s assessment data to highlight which children are causing concern. This time there were about double the number we had places for so we decided to assess all these children’s letter/sound knowledge. We had seven children continuing from last year so we had only eight places to fill. We chose children who had delayed speech and language combined with low scores for letter/sound knowledge. We also prioritised children who had good oral language but not the expected progress in phonics, reading and writing.

The first few weeks with our new students are a vital time. We soon get to know each child’s gaps in knowledge and strengths to build on. Gradually their personalities emerge. At first they can be really shy and reluctant to make mistakes like Aaron* with the beautiful smile and the constant refrain “I don’t know”.  Josh* wriggles in his seat, fiddles with everything on the table and asks “have I finished now?” every few minutes. These five year olds need short tasks with plenty of encouragement and opportunities for success.  We can’t take anything for granted: Josh doesn’t always remember that words and sentences must be tackled from left to right. Amy* doesn’t understand the words first and last when asked questions about what happened in a story. Last year I worked with a child who didn’t know the difference between a letter and a number at the beginning of the year.

Our returning children remind us of how much progress can be made in a school year. Cameron* had a reading age of less than 4 years 6 months when he started Springboard aged 6 last September, by June he had improved to 6 years 3 months. He used to be very stressed by reading; becoming tearful easily if he was faced with a new task which he decided was too difficult. Cameron still needs work on reading and spelling to help him catch up with his classmates but his new-found confidence and enthusiasm will make all the difference in his progress towards this goal. His dad said today

“I can’t say enough about what Springboard has done for my son. I can see him at home using his phonics when he is doing his homework, when we are on the bus looking at signs, everywhere we go he is reading now. I’m so proud of him”

That’s what Springboard is all about and a good note to end on. Look out for the next blog and in the meantime please comment or ask questions below. To find out more about Springboard for Children follow the links.

*All children’s names have been changed.

Thanks for sharing our work Lauren.

Stolen Stories

Caleb and I snuggled up onto his bed, under his power rangers duvet, and began reading Beast Quest. Both of us quickly fell into the world of dragons, wizards and adventure. It took a while, but eventually, Caleb decided he was happy to read every other page. There were a few big words in there, but we spelt them out together, and I explained the meanings to him. Our mum walked by the door and told us off for reading without her – she didn’t want to miss any of the story.

Of course, this was before my mum and I were obliged to keep reading the Beast Quest books even though the plot of each is essentially the same.

What is your story with reading? Did your parents get you started? Or did you just do it at school? Do you use your reading skills now?

I’m going to…

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