Supporting parents to support their children’s learning
It is well documented that an increasing emphasis on synthetic phonics in schools will cause problems for children learning to read (Davis 2013). Reading is not only a process of identifying and blending the sounds of letters to make a word, it is about, gathering the meaning imparted by the text and learning to enjoy reading. Experienced primary school teachers have a number of teaching strategies which enable them to teach a wide range of learners to read. However, the former Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has been determined that all children in England, whatever their regional accent, or learning style, should learn to read by using synthetic phonics. As yet there have been no indications that the current Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, will change this policy.
Teachers recognise that a single, synthetic phonics approach to reading may benefit learners whose learning strengths match this teaching method; children with good auditory processing and good listening skills; children with a sequential, step by step, ‘bottom up’ approach to learning. Other children may be slower to learn by a method which does not directly match their learning style, but they may learn to adapt. Children who have strong visual skills and a holistic learning style, well suited to a ‘big picture’, ‘top down’ approach to learning will struggle and may fail to learn if this method is the only one offered. Will children, who fall into the latter category, be labelled as a child with a specific learning difficulty, possibly dyslexia, rather than one with a specific learning difference? If they are then offered additional support, will it be more of the same, as if they were a slow learner or will other learning methods be offered? It is widely recognised (British Dyslexia Association) that 10% of the population is dyslexic. Will reliance on Synthetic Phonics to teach reading cause this figure to be reviewed upwards or downwards?
While working at a FE college in the Midlands, the author of this article developed an accredited programme entitled Family Dyslexia, which ran at a local FE college, 3 times a year for over 12 years. The course was aimed at parents with children aged 7 to 10. The children did not require a diagnostic assessment to attend but many had been experiencing a pattern of strengths and weaknesses associated with dyslexia. During that time, almost 400 families attended the course, many recruited by recommendation.
When parents were asked what they gained from the Family Dyslexia course, they listed a range of benefits:
• Knowledge of their child’s learning style and strategies which enabled them to help their child to improve memory, reading, spelling, writing and mathematical skills.
• A greater knowledge of assistive technology and how it may help with tasks their child found difficult
• Many felt that this knowledge enabled them to communicate more effectively with their child’s school and teacher.
• A better understanding of different ways of learning improved relationships both with their child and the school.
• A greater sense of optimism about their child’s educational future.
• Their child was meeting other children who had similar educational experiences.
• Meeting other parents whose children had similar educational experiences.
As a result of the course, parents formed local BDA (British Dyslexia Association) groups, worked as volunteers in the classroom and on the Family Dyslexia course; some trained to be classroom assistants.
More recently, the author has been approached to provide 1:1 out of school coaching for children. This presents a dilemma. Children, who are finding it difficult to gain some skills in school, often work harder than their peers during the school day. Is one hour’s weekly support by a specialist teacher offered to a tired child the ideal solution?
Recognising the benefits of family learning, the author has developed a model built on the past success of the Family Dyslexia course.
• Initial meeting with the parent to identify the child’s learning strengths and weaknesses.
• Analysis of child’s work, provided by the parent, to gain further information.
• Discussion with parent, to help them understand why their child may be experiencing difficulties in specific areas.
• An individual programme is devised that will complement school work and allow the child to use their learning strengths to overcome previous difficulties.
• The child, parent and tutor begin with an individual spelling programme. This allows:
o The child to have fun while learning to spell
o the tutor to quickly confirm learning styles
o The child to have immediate success
o The parent to learn how to help their child at home, in short ten minute sessions, when the child is most receptive.
• E mail is used to communicate with the parent, to check on the success of the strategy and support them to help their child. If necessary, strategies can be adapted or changed to meet individual needs.
• Further meetings are arranged to introduce strategies to help with other topics, which may include:
o Finding the most appropriate method for putting words on paper
o Writing – analysing the subject, planning, writing and editing
o Reading and comprehension – approach to complement school approach and link to child’s learning strengths
o Developing an enjoyment of reading
o Mathematics – finding alternative ways of working
o Exploration of assistive technology, which may help with specific tasks
• Regular support is available for parents as they develop the skills to help their child.
• The tutor is quite happy to meet with representatives from the child’s school to discuss any methods used.
Parents from Family Dyslexia reported that being included in their child’s learning journey, improved their relationship with their child and their child’s school and reduced tensions in the household.
As a result of this feedback, the author firmly believes that this model is empowering for the family and offers a route to long term success as a learning family.
Jocelyn Gronow MA ADDS SpLD (Patoss) FIfL QTLS
Davis, A. (2013) ‘To read or not to read: decoding Synthetic Phonics’ Journal of Philosophy of Education No.20, pp 1-38.
British Dyslexia Association. not dated. An Overview of Dyslexia. bdadyslexia.org.uk (accessed 07 07 2014)
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