Monday, July 9, 2018

Play in the new entrant classroom

Play in education is not a new concept by any means. My very first job in education (back in 1996) was at a centre aptly named "Play and Learn Early Education", the philosophy of this early childhood service was inspired by Playcentre which began in 1941. From the very beginning of my journey through teaching, I have been immersed in play as a way of being, engaging and learning.  In fact, Te Whariki (Ministry of Education, 1996) demanded that early childhood educators honour this as a valid way of learning in our centres. 
"Children experience an environment where their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised" - Te Whariki (1996)
Recently, we have seen a surge of primary school educators embracing 'play' in their classrooms. The Learning through Play Facebook group has over 7000 educators committed to implementing play in their schools. There's a good reason for this too, as seen in the quote below:
"When children spend more time in structured activities, they get worse at working toward goals, making decisions, and regulating their behaviour, according to a study" - excerpt from Ellen Wexle article here.

So what does this mean for me in my practice? 

The ongoing pressures of assessments, achievement in reading, writing, and math can be overwhelming in primary schools. My gut knows that 'play' is so important for children. However, trying to balance everything out in a day can be so tricky! When I truly let go of the structure and let the children 'play' with no agenda in mind - great things happen!

This article "Why every kindergarten and first-grade school day should begin with inquiry and imaginative play" by Olivia Wahl confirmed my hunch about play.
We must have a mindset shift in this country. A shift from seeing schools as buildings that children attend to understand reading, writing, math, and social sciences to schools as part of our communities where children develop understandings of the world around them and social-emotional skills that will help them thrive and communicate their ideas with others. I truly believe if there is not ample time allotted for our children to begin every day exploring, playing, and building social awareness, we are failing them.
Term 3 will bring an opportunity to reassess my planning and classroom curriculum and look at what will make a difference to children's life-long learning.

Making Phonics Stick! - Professional Learning Webinar

Friday, June 29, 2018

New Streets: South Auckland, Two Cities

Full link here:

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Spiral of Inquiry - Learning about Phonemic Awareness - Part 2

Phoneme awareness is the single biggest indicator of success in reading - Maria S. Murray, Ph.D.
This video is helpful for learning the difference between phonemic and awareness and phonological awareness. If you have a spare hour (who does?) this is well worth watching.

Here are some of the key slides from the presentation:

So what does this mean for me and my practice?
Using the Developmental sequence of Phonological skills I would like to look at each of my learners to see how and where they fit into this continuum and intentionally using this information in my phonological/phonemic awareness planning.

Spiral of Inquiry - Learning about Phonemic Awareness - Part 1

New learning
How and where will we learn more about what we do? Teacher learning must be connected to identified learner needs. External expertise is important here and the school must make clear to externals what makes a difference to learners. We all need to know why new ways of doing things are better than what we did before.
"The large majority of poor readers at the upper grades never got phonics or phonemic awareness instruction. Intervention programs that put a strong emphasis on these basic underlying skills in the beginning are more effective than programs that just emphasise vocabulary and comprehension" - Louisa Moats.

Ive been reading a range of articles and books to inform my thinking about Phonemic awareness, you can read my previous reflections here, here and here.

These recent articles have supported, inspired and challenged my learning and thinking. I have included key quotes that have resonated with me for your information.

We are barely functioning, literally by Rob Mitchell

It was Joel Young's first literacy group as a facilitator. He won't forget it in a hurry."There was this young guy, early to mid-20s," he recalls. "He had a few tatts on him across his knuckles, a few other bits and pieces; he'd seen the inside of a jail cell at one point, maybe had some gang affiliations."..."He got up and talked about how . . . he'd been able to read a story to his daughter for the first time ever."

Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert - Anne Castles, Kathleen Rastle, and Kate Nation.

These reviews [United States (e.g., the National Reading Panel, 2000), the United Kingdom (e.g., the Rose Review; Rose, 2006), and Australia (e.g., the Department of Education, Science and Training, or DEST; Rowe, 2005)] have revealed a strong scientific consensus around the importance of phonics instruction in the initial stages of learning to read.

Lost for words: Why the best literacy approaches are not reaching the classroom - Misty Adoniou
Every teacher should know that the purpose of language is to communicate; that it changes according to whom you are talking, why you are talking and what you are talking about. Therefore all our teaching about language must be done in context and in the course of achieving real purposes.
the usual suspects: verbs, phrases, clauses, sentences and I throw in a couple that are less well
known: reference, ellipsis and theme. But it is the tenth that
is the most important. E
teacher should know that the purpose of language is to
communicate; that it changes
cording to who
Phonics study hopes to end reading wars once and for all by Antoinette Collins
A new scientific study that aims to end the so-called reading wars has found that phonics is an essential foundation in the early stages of learning to read, but it is only part of the approach.
How to Avoid Reading Failure: Teach Phonemic Awareness.
In New Zealand, statistics indicate that up to one in four children have difficulties with reading. Ministry of Education figures show that 20 percent of 6-year-old children receive Reading Recovery tuition, though it is only accessible to 70 percent of schools.
There is an increasing consensus among researchers around the world that schools must include from the first days of schooling a strong phonological approach in the teaching of reading. There is converging evidence from many studies that children who experience difficulties in learning to read do not understand how to recode words phonologically, that is, they do not know how to blend the sounds of letters together to realise the spoken forms of written words. 
Children with poor alphabet recognition and low phonemic awareness at school entry are likely to have difficulties in learning to read. Alphabet recognition at school entry is a very good predictor of reading success in the first year of school, but phonemic awareness is a better predictor of success after that (Nicholson, 2003).
What research tells us about reading instruction by Rebecca Treiman

Whether the subject is math, science, or reading, teachers must provide direct instruction, guidance, and feedback. They cannot rely on students to come up with the right generalisations and procedures on their own.
Phonics: Its place in the literacy story

Reading is not just about decoding the text or sounding out words. It is a complex process of constructing meaning(s) from a text. While decoding is one of a set of skills children can use when they meet an unknown word, the research demonstrates that solely relying on heavy phonics‐based approaches to teaching reading can often result in children achieving good results on tests that merely ask them to pronounce lists of words.

Phonics and phonemic awareness is therefore most important for writing and spelling processes rather than when learning to read. As Pearson (2004, p.225) demonstrates:
...writing is the medium through which both phonemic awareness and phonics knowledge develop – the former because students have to segment the speech stream of spoken words to focus on a phoneme and the latter because there is substantial transfer value from the focus on soundsymbol information in spelling to symbolsound knowledge in reading.
So what does this mean for me and my practice?
Perhaps this quote shared by Robert Ewing and Marguerite Maher in Phonics: its place in the literacy story sums it up best. They write:
Research has shown that employing a repertoire of strategies and approaches that use and develop all three cueing systems and are shaped to meet the learning needs and strategies of individual children is the most effective approach to the teaching of reading.
The new entrant classroom (while hugely rewarding) is challenging at the best of times particularly as a new learner can start on any given day of the week. My next steps will be to ensure I have a bank of phonemic and phonological learning engagements at the ready and that I commit to differentiating this for my learners.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Otara Continuity of Learning (OCoL) - Our first hui

Today marked our first Otara Continuity of Learning hui at Wymondley Road School. Last term I invited all schools and early childhood services in Ōtara to join an Ōtara Continuity of Learning group, where we would discuss key issues and challenges and participate in collaborative PD around transitioning children and their families to primary school.

I have used the following quote to inspire and motivate us in our work "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has" - Margaret Mead.

Of the 55+ learning services in Otara, we had 9 different services represented. We discussed our own personal journeys into teaching and I invited the group to discuss what they would like to "start, stop, continue" with regard to Continuity of Learning (otherwise known as Transition to School). We then reflected on our personal passion in  our work and an area we would like to explore more in our teaching. 

I am incredibly excited about the potential of this group and the depth of expertise and experience we have in our little corner of the world. I have already learned so much from my colleagues and look forward to seeing how we might strengthen transition in our community. 

Monday, May 14, 2018


by Patricia Grace

The grandmother plaited her granddaughter’s hair and then said, ‘Get your lunch. Put it in your bag. Get your apple. You come straight back after school, straight home here. Listen to the teacher, she said. ‘Do what she say.’

Her grandfather was out on the step. He walked down the path with her and out on to the footpath. He said to a new neighbour, ‘Our granddaughter goes to school. She lives with us now.’

‘She’s fine,’ the neighbour said. ‘She’s terrific with her two plaits in her hair.’

‘And clever,’ the grandfather said. ‘Writes every day in her book.’

‘She’s fine,’ the neighbour said.

The grandfather waited with his granddaughter by the crossing and then he said, ‘Go to school. Listen to the teacher. Do what she say.’

When the granddaughter came home from school her grandfather was hoeing around the cabbages. Her grandmother was picking beans. They stopped their work.

‘You bring your book home?’ the grandmother asked.


‘You write your story?’


‘What’s your story?’

‘About the butterflies.’

‘Get your book, then. Read your story.’

The granddaughter took her book from her schoolbag and opened it.

‘I killed all the butterflies,’ she read. ‘This is me and this is all the butterflies.’

‘And your teacher like your story, did she?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What your teacher say?’

‘She said butterflies are beautiful creatures. They hatch out and fly in the sun. The butterflies visit all the pretty flowers, she said. They lay their eggs and then they die. You don’t kill butterflies, that’s what she said.’

The grandmother and grandfather were quiet for a long time, and their granddaughter, holding the book, stood quite still in the warm garden.

‘Because you see,’ the grandfather said, ‘your teacher, she buy all her cabbages from the supermarket and that’s why.’