That Reading Thing: Lesson One
Humorous friendly, laid-back learning environments matter. High expectations and totally safe workspaces must be guaranteed.
An investment in education of £192 gets an individual access to That Reading Thing for around 7 weeks. My journey began on April 26th, 2023. Armed with several instructions and a few printed materials, I opened the guidebook sent by Tricia Millar. The course has been recommended by experienced colleagues, external assessment and a variety of reviews are available globally.
Each topic is split into sections. The first section is titled, “How do you teach a teenager to read?” This featured a background, some decoding and a briefing on struggling or confident readers approach unfamiliar words. The 24-minute-long online training video advised how to make phonics age appropriate. Tricia Millar (not from Orange is the New Black, different spelling of course!) mentions the work of Professor Diane McGuinness (University of Florida) and linguistic phonics, or speech to print phonics. Teenagers, as highlighted by Tricia Millar, who cannot read or struggle to read are often humiliated, embarrassed, and subject to social stigmas. That’s where That Reading Thing began. It fills a gap.
Struggling readers may have given up reading for meaning and may substitute similar-looking words for alternatives, e.g., vitamins in place of victims. Some may look for words within words and not actually be able to make any sense of morphology in the first place. There are skills we need. We must read left to right, as learned in English as a kid. Words can be thought of as whole objects by some learners. Knowing how to segment and blend is a learned skill. Those syllables and words don’t just appear in our heads at birth. Sounds and voices are key. Sounds can be spelt with 1-4 letters. Graphemes are like that. Those spellings of sounds are pesky. Accents are normal, too. Things that look the same but sound different happen, yet the likelihood of one sound of the other is more feasible. Break bread on a beach. The former word has a sound uncommon, to the middle word bread, which is still far less common than the sound ‘ea’ in the beach. Some sounds will also look differently. ‘Ee’ sounds can spelled as ‘ee’, ‘i’, ‘e’, ‘y’, ‘ea’, less so as ‘e…e’, ‘ey’, ‘ie’, ‘ei’, ‘eo’, and super rare in ‘ay’, ‘is’, ‘oe’ and ‘ae’. The phoenix’s foetus beats a pizza for its babies and their keys. Dialects can impact this, too. Remember, some rules have outliers like station to ration. Rules in reading are wasted effort. It is better to focus energy in other ways…
Here, I went for a coffee. Then, back to That Reading Thing, with Tricia Millar, and we glanced at the 6 key ingredients of That Reading Thing. Removing labels is key, smashing away the past. She prescribes, “You don’t have to know anything we haven’t learned together” for a good reason. The clean slate is often needed. What happened before, isn’t constructive to confidence and learning. By saying this to a student, you set high expectations and agree that “you do have to know what we have learned together”. We’re enabling the students to make progress and remove stigmas. A positive effect should see a student attend class, be punctual and feel secure in their learning environment.
Multi-sensory, “say the sounds” approaches give tools to the student whilst the teacher be clear with their sounds. Sting-free error correction needs to be applied. Turning negative responses to more encouraging and positive approaches. Show the error, say something (show and tell), and ask a question to prompt the student to respond using their own knowledge to correct or work out something is amiss. Teaching-free zones can be applied. There’s no need to explain everything. This isn’t a science-based approach to English. This is an enabling ploughing-on mission that allows pace-setting. Discussions come later. Answer questions quickly. Stay on track and use scripts, but not that of scripted teaching. Stay efficient and allow students to respond to the unfamiliar by using independent learning.
Another coffee was needed. I supplemented my coffee with a Tunnock’s caramel wafer. Other wafers are available but few are as satisfying as the 30 grams of wafer, layered in 4 parts of caramel, wrapped in milk chocolate. Much like this snack, words and literacy teaching comes with its own layers. As a teacher, we allow the student to ascend a mountain, and talk them over crevices and ledges as and when they get stuck. At the top of the mountain is their first novel. We coach building and spelling a short and long word. Visual clues, charts of sounds and puzzle cases follow. These help to read short or long words when a student is stuck, overhanging a precarious drop. Support comes in a harness, but little more. They need their hands, cams, nuts, draws, slings, carabiners, crampons and ropes. “Say the sounds, tell me what you hear.” Words that I have heard from these videos included: sprag, hodmandod, blunge and tintinnabulation. The takeaway point of the second video was simple: allow conversation to develop long word understanding.
In closing, my notes are not for profit, duplication or to undermine the course. They’re here for my own use and to encourage others to subscribe or buy the informative course at That Reading Thing.
Comprehensive: including something or other fully, or dealing with all or nearly all elements or aspects of something.
Decoding: the ability to apply our knowledge of letter-sound relationships, including knowledge of letter patterns, to then correctly pronounce written words. Words we don’t know when we read them are often words we don’t know when we hear them.
Enable: give (someone) the authority or means to do something; make it possible for. For example, enable someone to read /ɪˈneɪ.bəl/.
Grapheme: a letter, or group of letters, that acts as the smallest unit in a written language.
Latent knowledge: knowledge that only becomes clear when a person has an incentive to display it. Things that some students don’t already know that they already know.
Syllable: a unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants.
That Reading Thing: Lesson Two
“I don’t know is a fine answer.” – Tricia Millar, That Reading Thing
I knew education was powerful, but this was incredible. The course on That Reading Thing resumed after lunch. It was my personal choice. I was enjoying the experience and Wednesday’s timetable was forgiving. So, off I delved, deeper into the well-organised lesson content of assessment, building with charts and reading/spelling of short words… Here Tricia Millar reminds me that a Fairtrade bag arrived with foundation sound charts, a “try it” board, multisyllable spelling board and boards to note words that sound the same, but look different. The training manual and a Zippa Bag full of pens, a pointer pencil, some fine tipped dry wipe pens, sticky notes, and puzzle pieces.
“You don’t know what you don’t know.” – Socrates, Greek philosopher
Through the window, I could see shadowy figures taking their positions. Tools are required. Students should each have a project folder, lesson pieces from TRT2, and their minds. They also need to be placed and engaged. To start, an assessment will help titrate where to begin. During assessment, teachers will note how fast or slow they move with a student. The words to be read are noted on a yes, no, and best answer sheet, with space for notes. There are 3 pages in level 1. The online TRT2 website has multiple levels and pages, working in a sequence from a foundation to advanced level. Tricia Millar ploughs through examples, featuring child actors and scenarios. The video reinforced that many students will not know why they have been sent to literacy invention.
I was finally holding a new map. Explaining to new learners that you are learning about them and following your own guidance will be freeing to the student who joins your intervention. Always planning ahead and showing the steps will reassure the student of their future journey. The students should take ownership of the flow of a lesson. Their tools and charts are in their hands. Repetition and reminders about the sound, not the spelling, are useful. We must engage their ears. Circle options for those who need extra support.
“you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”- Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
There it was. Placed before me looking as expert as ever, video examples of lessons in action. Introduced. Explained. Unwrapped. Delivered with error correction. Minimal support. In some first lessons, throw in a few free answers if the student needs encouraging. There is no harm in support. Checking sounds likes b and d side by side could narrow out some interpretations of those letters. If a student chooses a letter like ‘l’ to sound ‘ll’ then simply ask that he, she or they find an alternative sound from the choices. Make sure they know that the two sound the same. No technical terms and no micro-teaching. Simples. Practice and action need to be forward in motion.
Saying sounds, telling you what the student hears, and allowing students to connect to words will empower them. Unearthing habits to aid visual learners to use their ears is crucial. What’s the first, second, third, blah, blah, blah sound that you hear in the word blah, blah, blah? Now spell it. Using words to double-check sounds is a good idea. Consonant clusters and blends need separating with some students. Signalling the individual letters and encouraging every sound to be drawn out will encourage the student. The student may spray, spring and splinter their way to the word, but puzzle pieces can be used. Spellings can avoid your cake being published on cakewrecks.com.
That Reading Thing: Lesson Three
Building with puzzle pieces, reading and spelling long words, and decodability and reading sentences would be the focus of today’s work. Decodability itself is a word that needs decoding, unpacking, and all the ability in the world to follow. The videos ground out, repeat and stress the need for confidence, skills, and habits to push on in their complex coding.
That Reading Thing: Lesson Four
Rhotacized schwa, anyone? None here. Just ‘sh’, ‘th’ and ‘ch’ accompanied by split vowels, foundations and extra support lesson briefings.
That Reading Thing: Lesson Five
Here be dragons, or… look the same, sound different, and sound the same, look different, as well as the rest of the advanced levels. Breaking up syllables with lines, the use of word visuals on tables and other tips were noted. Adding context to new words often helps. Kakorrhaphiophobia featured: fear of failure. See: κακορραφία (scheming, evil planning). From kakós, ’bad’ + rháptō, ‘to sew’ + –ía. Learning unusual graphemes is something to keep in mind for future learning. And, to avoid failure.
That Reading Thing will return…
…in the That Reading Thing: Lesson Six & Conclusion/Review, which shall get a more catchy title.