Today Dyslexia SA president (and advocate rock star!), Dr. Sandra Marshall, met with with Federal Education Minister, The Hon. Simon Birmin...

Making Red Ripples - Dyslexia SA and Minister Simon Birmingham

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Today Dyslexia SA president (and advocate rock star!), Dr. Sandra Marshall, met with with Federal Education Minister, The Hon. Simon Birmingham to discuss Dyslexia Awareness in Australian Schools.

As part of the meeting she presented him with a professionally printed copy of all the Red Letters from the Make it a Red Letter campaign




Dr. Marshall said that Minister Birmingham was thrilled to receive his book of Red Letters and couldn't wait to sit down to read through them all. He is extremely supportive of raising understanding of dyslexia and wants to thank you all for you amazing letters. Well done!


The Make it a Red Letter Day campaign is making lots of positive #redripples in the community. If you have a #redripple story to share please email it to us at myredletter@gmail.com 

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Siobhan's Red Letter

19:30:00 Code Read Dyslexia Network 0 Comments


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The Make it a Red Letter Day Campaign received many heartfelt letters, from very brave children and adults. Australian Author, dyslexic...

Making Red Ripples - Empowering Emily

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The Make it a Red Letter Day Campaign received many heartfelt letters, from very brave children and adults.

Australian Author, dyslexic and former Senior Australian of the year Jackie French happily took on the challenge of judging the many children’s letters for the other prize categories.




Jackie’s favourite letter was by 13 year old Emily Harris and contained this drawing which Jackie believes explains her own dyslexia perfectly saying;

"The drawing of what it's like to have dyslexia so perfectly describes what I have lived - everyone else has neat straight lines but I have a scribble. But that scribble can lead to my making connections that others can't. The drawing shows that everyone may look the same on the outside but one of them thinks differently. And I am proud that I do, too".





Emily Recently told her local newspaper the North Shore Times that “If you meet someone who has dyslexia, try understanding them and try to listen to what they have to say,”



Emily's School Principal (pictured above and who was the recipient of her Red Letter) was "incredibly impressed, particularly by her insightfulness and her honesty about the nature of what she was experiencing. It was a very well written letter. It was a reflection of Emily’s commitment and her poise"

And since receiving the Red Letter the school has worked to make teachers aware of what Emily and other dyslexic students experience.


Emily's Mum Katie says that the school was beyond responsive to Emily's concerns. “I didn’t expect such an amazing response,” she said, describing the teachers’ extra attention in assisting Emily. “This has just been a really wonderful experience. People don’t acknowledge it because they look fine, but there’s this hidden struggle that you find."




Emily says "I'm really happy that I found out that I’m not actually stupid, but just that my brain works differently, and the reason that the Red Letter competition was such a good idea is that people can say what it’s like to have dyslexia, and how hard they try, so people can realise and acknowledge it”.
And upon learning that her letter was Jackie's favourite of the campaign Emily said “I was so surprised and amazed and happy!”

To read Emily’s heartfelt Red Letter in Full please follow the link http://www.myredletter.com.au/2016/10/090-emilys-red-letter.html

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During September and October 2016, the Make it a Red Letter Day campaign was launched in Australia to encourage children and adults to pen ...

Making Red Ripples - Lewis' Adventure

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During September and October 2016, the Make it a Red Letter Day campaign was launched in Australia to encourage children and adults to pen a Red Letter about dyslexia  to help raise awareness and influence change. People were encouraged to write a Red Letter about dyslexia to a Politician, School Principal, Teacher, the Media or a person they felt may have an influence in creating change for dyslexia. These letters were to be heartfelt and tell the receiver about the struggles that are faced every day by dyslexic learners, asking for change at a school, state and national level.

One of the champions of the campaign has been David Pescud of Sailors with disABILITIES, who offered a prize of a sailing adventure for a Red Letter that tells the story of ‘Triumph over Adversity’.



To begin with here are some excerpts of David’s own Red Letter;

“I should start by introducing myself, my name is David Pescud and at aged eighteen I was diagnosed with dyslexia. At the time I did not know what it was and I certainly was not going to ask anybody.  This was 1965 and it was a different world.

I am writing this so that people might understand through my story, what it is like to be different. What it is like to be ridiculed by ones school teachers, peers and pretty well everybody. Not occasionally, but every day and when they are not ridiculing you, you are doing it to yourself. In my day at school the method of teaching literacy to a dyslexic was to cane you. Of course, we do not do that anymore. We have found much more subtle ways of making someone feel inadequate and different.

If we consider what do we know works for us as human beings, the short answer is that positive experience over negative experience will generally make a more rounded well-adjusted human being. Well if it is so obvious why do we continue to send our children to schools that are incapable of dealing with a whole host of differences?  Because at the end of the day that’s what dyslexia is, it’s a difference not a disability.

I think schools should prepare us for our future to go into the world as young adults, with tools that are appropriate to our needs whatever they may be. The first thing we need is confidence, optimism and an ability to think I can. There are too many unnecessarily damaged souls in our society. At Sailors with disABILITIES we deal with these problems on a daily basis. We see bright young enthusiastic faces that do not believe in themselves. They did once, before they attended school but they don’t now.”

To read David’s Red Letter in full please go to http://www.myredletter.com.au/2016/10/david-pescuds-red-letter.html

At the end of the campaign one letter in particular stood out as a story of ‘Triumph over Adversity’. The letter was from Lewis Squadrito aged 16, and was written to both the Department of Education and the Catholic Education Commission in Australia.

I am dyslexic. I am currently in Year 11 at a Catholic School in New South Wales. My entire schooling has been an absolute nightmare. In my primary school years I couldn’t read. If you can’t read, you cannot participate fully in any subject. I always felt different from my peers. I was the butt of a lot of teasing and bullied frequently. My teachers did not know what was going on with me. They did not understand me at all. I became invisible in the classroom. If I was quiet, hopefully no one would notice me. If they didn’t notice me they wouldn’t ask me any questions. I endured the Reading Recovery Program which does not work for dyslexic learners. I was taken out of class constantly and made to work on programs which did not work for me. I developed severe anxiety around going to school. I was a broken child.

It was my mum who pursued answers and even when I was identified as dyslexic, the teachers were not convinced dyslexia was even real. It’s hard to hear that it doesn’t exist when you are living with it every day. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t spell, I couldn’t write and I was in year 6.

It was my mum who taught me how to read, how to spell and how to write not school. She educated herself on how to best help me.
High school has not been any better. The difference is, I will now stand up and advocate for myself but this has taken years to be able to do. I still have difficulty accessing the curriculum and demonstrating my knowledge. I am entitled to provisions, but do I always get them........NO! During assessment time the school needs to constantly be reminded to give me my provisions. Sometimes they forget, sometimes when they do remember, I am given the wrong exam question etc.

A couple of my teachers have been supportive and understanding, but then a new year rolls around and the same set of problems occur. Most of the teachers I have had have had no idea of what dyslexia is or how to teach me. A sub-teacher strikes fear into the heart of any dyslexic learner. Information about kids with learning differences such as dyslexia are not passed on, so again, leaving me exposed and open to bullying from both students and teachers. Dyslexia is invisible so it is easily forgotten. The fear of being called out to answer a question or worse still, to read aloud in class, is a real everyday fear.

My family are my biggest supporters. My mum has been my fiercest advocate. She has had to fight for my rights and my provisions. She is the one who finds audio books for me so I can access the curriculum. She has been bullied herself by teachers but will not stop fighting for me. I have worked harder than most kids. I have basically gone to school and been home schooled all at the same time. I have done extra programs for years with my mums help to be able to read, spell and write. I am smart. I know that now, but for years I did not. I did not understand why my peers could do easily the things I found to be the hardest. You are made to feel stupid, worthless and so much shame. I am now finishing Year 11 and about to begin Year 12. I still suffer anxiety around my learning.

I will get my HSC, but not because of the school system but rather in spite of it. I cannot wait to finish school and find my place in the world where I will be treated with respect. If it wasn’t for my mum, I still may not be able to read and write. I say shame on the education system. This has to change, dyslexic kids deserve so much better. Thank you for reading my letter. 

Yours sincerely, Lewis Squadrito Age 16





Once Lewis’ letter was chosen as the Recipient of the Triumph over Adversity Prize, wheels were put in motion for he and his family to meet with David Pescud and enjoy the Sailors with disABILITIES experience on Sydney Harbour. 

Lewis’ family which consists of Lewis, his sister Emily and parents Vicki and Scott met David Pescud and his wife Deb at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia at Darling Point, they enjoyed a late lunch and long chat where Lewis and David spoke about their challenges with dyslexia how they could make a difference for others experiencing the same difficulties.


The family boarded the yacht at 5pm and cruised out on Sydney Harbour to take part in a Twilight Racing Event. With a crew of 10 plus Lewis’ family on board they raced! David and the crew put Lewis to work, using the capstan winch to tension the boom on the main sail. David let Lewis skipper the yacht and taught him how to block the competing boats. Lewis skippered the yacht across the finish line in third place.


David and his crew made the family feel very welcome, David kept them entertained with stories and Lewis’ family said they were genuine, caring and compassionate people. Lewis’ Mum Vicki says that ‘this was extremely empowering for Lewis, he has had a tough time and this was so good for him, and he has found a new mentor in David.’



The Make it a Red Letter Day Organising Committee, would like to thank David, Deb and all at SWD! And a special thank you to the Squadrito family for allowing us to share this story.

Victoria, Maree, Carolyn, Heidi, Belinda, Jen, Sarah, Anita & Julie
Make it a Red Letter Day Committee 2016.



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One hundred and four times we have wept with you and we have felt your pain and struggles as you navigate the Australian education syste...

Red Letter Competition Finalists

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One hundred and four times we have wept with you and we have felt your pain and struggles as you navigate the Australian education system.  One hundred and four times we have also laughed through our tears at your optimism, creativity and dyslexic power to triumph over immense challenges.  Each of your letters, these precious red letters, have changed the world and have begun change in our country.  

Politicians have read the red letters, teachers have read them, journalists have read them and so have your brother and sister dyslexic learners.  You have inspired us all with your powerful words and dyslexic superpowers and these letters will go on to speak to policy makers all over our country and beyond.  

We; the organising committee, Jackie French, Harper Collins and Audible want to thank you all for writing.  We want you to know that each one of your red letters has won our hearts.  Although there can only be some major winners, you have all won because your red letters have gone out into our world and are now beginning to effect change.  Thank you for bearing your dyslexia on your shoulder and for being brave enough to speak out and to tell your stories.  For this reason we are so pleased to let you know that our wonderful sponsors have awarded every one of your red letters a prize.  Harper Collins and Jackie French have awarded you a specially chosen book from Jackie's collection and Audible have awarded you all three audiobooks to enjoy forever.


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Dear Senator Birmingham, My 9 year old daughter has a genetic auditory processing difference, otherwise known as Dyslexia. She is bright, ...

Shane's Red Letter

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Dear Senator Birmingham,

My 9 year old daughter has a genetic auditory processing difference, otherwise known as Dyslexia. She is bright, creative and a natural leader. She has a high IQ, but has difficulty with reading text. She started to show signs of anxiety, which has now manifested itself in physical pain. We do not have a family history of anxiety or depression. She has a full-time, dedicated stay-at-home mum and attends a Montessori community school that provides a safe, inclusive and respectful learning environment. The reason that my daughter suffers anxiety is a direct result of her processing difference and her inability to keep up with her peers at school in the areas of reading and writing.

My daughter’s teacher recommended a course that a peer in her class participated in for anxiety management, and suggested that it had helped him enormously. When I looked into enrolling my daughter in the course, I discovered that it was created for Autism Spectrum (ASD) children. 

My question to you is, we know that when ASD children are supported appropriately, it helps them to reach their full potential and minimises mental illness associated with feeling isolated and different. Why is it that Dyslexic children receive NOTHING? These children that are also affected by a GENETIC learning difference can be left undiagnosed (due to a lack of screening or affordability), and completely unsupported. Children that are left to fail in the classroom will go on to develop low self esteem and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. This is not good for anyone, the individual or society.

Senator Birmingham, please tell me why there is currently no support for Dyslexic children in Australia's education system.

Kind regards,
Shane

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My name is Alana and I’m 13 years old, almost 14 in a few days. At the moment I’m at School in year 7, next year I will be going to high sch...

Alana's Red Letter

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My name is Alana and I’m 13 years old, almost 14 in a few days. At the moment I’m at School in year 7, next year I will be going to high school and I can’t begin to tell you how nervous I am for it. Today I will be telling you my story and how I have to live with Dyslexia each and every day.  

I remember the first time I was told I have Dyslexia. I had test after test after test I hated it so much. I would come late to school because I had a test that morning and my friends would ask me where I was and I never knew what to tell them, they wouldn’t understand, I didn’t even understand or why it was happening half the time. Being in a small room all by myself with a piece of paper and a pencil. As soon as the timer started I would turn over the piece of paper and start, well I would try to. Looking at the questions was giving me a head ache I couldn’t even read it or understand what the question was asking me. I would get so frustrated because I didn’t understand. I would read it over and over again but that never helped. I felt as if it was in a different language. I was just hoping time would pass and It would be over.

It was so quite I could hear the clock ticking, I could hear the front office lady typing away on her computer and then the phone would ring and I could hear her talking on the phone, I could see my mum talking to the psychology who I couldn’t even remember her name if I wanted to ask for help. I would get so distracted. I remember just looking outside the window wishing I was outside because it was such a beautiful day. I would ask myself over and over again why me, why do I have to find everything so hard, why can’t I just be normal. When the time was up it felt like I didn’t even have five minutes to do it, I didn’t even finish the first question probably. 

My mum and dad said that school work will be hard and that I’m always going to have to give 100% in everything I do. They said that you have to work things out the way that helps you the most, for example I’m in year seven and I still us my fingers when counting and I still use my finger when I’m reading a book so I don’t lose track of where I’m. In Primary school I us to get bullied. The people in my class called me stupid and then would just laugh at me. I never really understood why. They would say “I can’t believe you can’t even spell (friends) probably, you should be in reception with all the little kids there smarter then you” I started to believe them, I couldn’t even spell my last name right. I stop trying as hard and I was always so miserable I hated every second, minute and hour of school.

It was just like I’m a white flower with a thousand other red flowers, I didn’t fit in, I was just told that I was too stupid to learn and I will always be behind. I hated in class when the teacher would make you stand up in front of the whole class and make you say your times tables or spell a word. I was always the last person out of class because I never got the answer right. 

When we had relief teachers it was terrible because they don’t understand like all the other teachers I was treated like a normal, I’m not normal I need help can’t they see that. We would ready something as a class and she would get me to read out loud and I said “I don’t want to”, but she made me. For someone with dyslexia reading out loud is like there night mare coming to life. I was so embarrassed it felt like I was reading even slower. I was so nervous I couldn’t even focus on the sentences I was supposed to read. I was just about to speak but she got me to sit down and asked one of the smarter kids in my class to read it I never felt so stupid in my life. I remember asking to go to the bathroom, I would just wait in there hoping the school bell would ring so that I would just miss some of a lesson, that’s how much I hated it. 

I’m not a big fan of Maths or English only because I don’t understand. Well I’m not a fan of school work, assignment and homework to be honest with you. When people ask me what my favourite subject are, well I would say recuses and lunch if that counts but it would probably have to be P.E and Art/music. Over the years I have found new hobbies because of sports and I love going outside and getting really competitive in sport. Art/music is like another world for me I just understand it. I get to express my feeling in a painting and I’m the only one that understands what I have done. I am extremely creative. I have learnt new skills in art. Music, I could listen to music all day long if I could. I feel as if the lyrics are talking to me and it just really relaxes me. 

That white flower among the thousand red ones is me. I’m not stupid, dumb, lazy, a loser or useless. I’m me, the 13-year-old girl with dyslexia. That student that gives 100% in everything she does and try’s her hardest to prove anyone how talented she is. If you understand what I’m talking about and you know how hard it is to live with dyslexia well, I want you to stand up for what you know is right and never ever let anyone bring you down. You’re not the only one in this big world, it’s hard I know there’s challenges and some time you just feel like giving up but you were given dyslexia because we are only one’s that can fight and deal with it each and every day.” Why be normal when you can be special.”

I would like to thank me teacher’s for everything you have done for me I know high school is going to be a big challenge for me but I know I can do it. I will never give up. Through my years at school it has been a great and memorable time through the ups and downs. You guys have made a huge impact in my life and you have supported me through everything. Keep doing what you’re doing because I’m ready for high school and I can’t wait to start and new journey and reach my dreams no matter how big or small they are. 

From Alana

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Holgate School's Red Letter

22:33:00 Code Read Dyslexia Network 0 Comments




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Good evening Terry and Andy, I just jumped out of bed to write this email to you, in fact this red letter. You see I have been pondering f...

Natasha's Red Letter to Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

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Good evening Terry and Andy,

I just jumped out of bed to write this email to you, in fact this red letter. You see I have been pondering for some time all the things I go through as well as my children being dyslexic. I had plans to send my red letter to pollies maybe, but my children inspired me and I have chosen you.

Please understand I have trouble spelling and with grammar at times. Red Letters are encouraged to be written without spell/grammar checks so the recipients can see what its like for us reading everyday. I haven’t strictly followed this guideline, generally correcting the four or five errors in every sentence i write as i go.

I don't know if you know what dyslexia is or what its like, especially in our Queensland schools for dyslexic children. Dyslexia can affect so much, nit just reading, and it is for life. If you have trouble reading, or are slow you have trouble in EVERY subject as everything is written, science, maths, history, art and so on. You see 1 in 10 people, of all backgrounds, are dyslexic. But teachers don't know. In fact, so far we’ve had over 20 main classroom teachers, and not one has had or since had any training or professional development in dyslexia. We have had only 2 of these teachers having a positive impact on my children. I have four children, 3 diagnosed dyslexic, one yet to even start school and  each with their own learning challenges making school all that much harder.

You see the reason I am inspired to send this to you is this – two of my children are reading your books at the moment (this actually translates to I am reading them with their help). My daughter, in year 5, read all the Treehouse books, some by herself (BIG deal for me/us/her!!) and now we are reading your version of Macbeth. I do not like Macbeth, and had to work really hard to motivate myself to read it with her. But I have started, she loves it, loves reading different parts with me, a little like acting (she likes drama!)

So thankyou for writing your books, all the different types you do and the little silly bits you put in that make it fun. I love it when we find something my children want to read, they love being read to, always have (in fact I still read to my teen). But anything that inspires them to try and read by themselves is even better.

Please keep them coming,
Natasha

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I see you  five-years-old   kindergarten big smile, lunch box, back-pack too large counting to 20 seems impossible all is still right w...

NSW Mum's Red Letter

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I see you 
five-years-old  
kindergarten
big smile, lunch box, back-pack too large
counting to 20 seems impossible
all is still right with the world…

I see you
six-years-old  
year one
tries to read
not clicking?
why can’t he remember page to page?
‘Never mind, he’ll catch up’
everything still seems okay…

I see you
seven-years-old 
year two
who still persists
I am told
‘He 
can’t 
read.
It’s okay... More reading at home.’
Is there still time?

I see you
eight-years-old 
year three
‘refusing’ to write
testing, reading programs, no answers, eye checks, tutoring, hearing check, IQ assessment… no answer
could it be dyslexia? 
‘NO! 
just not bright’ 
things are starting to crack…

I see you
nine-years-old 
year four
disliking school
hiding, crying, under the desk 
work never finished - if started
Teacher life line: ‘dyslexic signs’
but where to now?
self-esteem is plummeting

I see you
ten-years-old 
year five
struggling everyday
speech therapy 
An answer then?
‘No, definitely not dyslexia’
something is at least working

I see you
eleven-years-old 
year six
almost whole again
amazing teacher
adjustments, understanding, encouragement 
best year 

I see you 
twelve-years-old 
year seven
excited
are you prepared, please be prepared
more testing
I see you 
weary, anxious, down, done
phone call, meeting, email… nothing
I tell them
diagnosis: dyslexia, dysgraphia, anxiety
phone calls, emails… nothing
I tell them 
diagnosis: dyslexia, dysgraphia, anxiety, underlying depression
phone calls, emails, meeting… nothing
I tell them 
diagnosis: dyslexia, dysgraphia, anxiety, underlying depression, 
self-harm…

now can they see?
now have they heard?
now will they learn? 
now will they listen?

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Hon. Susan Close MP, State Education Minister Hon. Jay Weatherill MP, Premier Hon. Simon Birmingham MP, Federal Education Minister My Na...

Bill's Red Letter

00:05:00 Code Read Dyslexia Network 1 Comments

Hon. Susan Close MP, State Education Minister
Hon. Jay Weatherill MP, Premier
Hon. Simon Birmingham MP, Federal Education Minister

My Name is Bill Hansberry. I, and many others make a living working with children who are being let down by a school system that is failing at the one important task that the voting population would expect it could achieve – teaching all children how to read.

I only started to believe that 1 in 5 kids struggling to read was actually a problem when I left school teaching and began working in my own business as a specialist dyslexia teacher. Before that, like many of my colleagues, I just accepted that it as normal that about one in five children will always struggle to read. I accepted it as normal that there would be no help for these kids who thought and spoke like other kids, but for some reason, read very slowly and inaccurately and spelled awfully and fell further and further behind, seeing their educational opportunities diminish as they went. It wasn’t just me who thought his was normal. As a specialist in behaviour management within the state government system, I, like my colleagues, ignored the obvious link between poor literacy attainment and poor behaviour (defiance, work refusal, disruptive behaviour, aggressive behaviour, bullying, assaulting peers, assaulting teachers, leaving school grounds, drug taking at school etc.). We just focused on behaviour and ignored the very obvious links between reading failure and behaviour at school.

Eight years earlier, I remember being interviewed for a year seven teacher position at a prestigious private college. The interview was going well and then one of the panel asked “Bill, can you explain your understanding of how children learn to read?” I had nothing. My mouth went dry, my face went red and after a few moments that felt like an eternity I said “I don’t know”. I hadn’t forgotten, I just didn’t know. My four-year Bachelor of Teaching and Bachelor of Education studies at the University of South Australia had left me completely unable to answer this question. I got the position despite the fact I knew nothing about how brains knew to read. The damage I did because of my ignorance is hard to think about, even now.

The year is now 2016. South Australia is bottom of the country in NapLan reading attainment. Spin the data whichever way you like but we are doing very badly. Mr Weatherill, despite what you say, our Education system is not state of the art or cutting edge. We are ignoring the most vulnerable learners in our system and leaving them to fail. The facts are inescapable. Australia has slipped to 27th in the PIRLS international rankings for year 4 readers (2011). Numbers of critical behaviour incidents in SA schools are rising sharply. Our teachers feel less safe than they have ever felt in their places of work. DECD still allows schools to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on non-evidence based reading programs. Undergraduate teachers still spend less than 5% of their time focused on learning to teach children to read and dyslexia remains an unfunded learning disability in schools. Can you decode this situation? Are you able to comprehend what is going on here?

In a country like Australia, it should be expected that educated people who work in schools know what it takes to teach a young person to read and what to do when they don’t learn like the others. They should know what the research says about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to programs that remediate struggling readers. They should put science before the ideology and evidence before anecdote. School leaders should spend more time and money on investigating evidence based teaching and remediation programs than they do on their Stephanie Alexander Garden or their Walker Learning Program.

When a parent meets with a Principal with an identification of dyslexia that explains why their child has not kept up, the Principal should be able to say “We have an evidence based program that we know will make a big difference for your child. We use an evidence based synthetic phonics program right across the school. We use Response to Intervention to monitor the effectiveness of our three tiered system for teaching reading and spelling and we assess all of our students’ reading progress each year. Our classroom readers are phonics based and we have a trained specialist multisensory teacher heading up our learning support program.”

Right now, they hear many Principals say “there’s no funding for dyslexia, we can’t afford to provide the resources your child’s learning disability requires”. Despite not being able to do anything to help Dyslexic learners, many schools will however happily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on dubious edutrends that have no evidence base.

This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs and affects not only dyslexic students, but impacts on all students who become instructional casualties at the hands of education systems who for some reason refuse to listen to what the research into the teaching of reading is saying. We don’t need evolution; we need revolution. There is no time to waste, the human cost is too great.

It’s time for the leaders to lead – your teachers and students are waiting.

Thank you for reading.

Bill Hansberry
Director
Hansberry Educational Consulting

1 comments:

Lucy's Red Letter

23:34:00 Code Read Dyslexia Network 1 Comments






1 comments:

I have been thinking for a long time about writing about my perspective and experience to people in positions of influence but I have been w...

Kate's Red Letter

23:25:00 Code Read Dyslexia Network 1 Comments

I have been thinking for a long time about writing about my perspective and experience to people in positions of influence but I have been wondering how I, as an individual, can effect change in an entrenched system. Thankfully, there are many dedicated and passionate parents and professionals working in the field of education who also desperately want to see change. 

This is my story.

My experience with dyslexia is both personal and professional.

I started my career as a speech language pathologist 28 years ago. With no training in written language at university, my career path took me to places where I was privileged to work with some visionary leaders in the field of speech language pathology, such as Suze Leitao and Leanne Allen.

The joys of parenthood soon arrived, followed 5 years later by the start of my daughter’s school journey. My first taste of the public school system with my daughter was not a positive one. By the end of her first year at school, my once confident and vivacious child was losing confidence and complaining of feeling sick every day. She struggled to learn to ‘read’, aka learn the dreaded sight words (in reality a list of English words with quite often seemingly no logic or sense to her).

At this time, I knew very little about the science of reading and how to help her. So relied on the school system to support her and me.

In desperation, we moved her to a Rudolf Steiner School in Year 2 where she eventually regained her confidence, learnt to read and developed her talents in the creative arts. She has flourished since leaving school and, in fact, just received her Bachelor of Music in a ceremony yesterday.

She is not, despite her struggles with reading and spelling, dyslexic.

My second child had no difficulties with learning to read or spell. He also attended the Steiner School which follows a European time frame of early education. The first year of school, Kindergarten in NSW, was about play, oral language, creativity and imagination. Formal teaching of the alphabet does not occur until the child is at least 6 years of age. Readers are not introduced until term 2 of Year 2 when children are 7 turning 8. He never laid his eyes on a ‘sight word’ sheet. Despite this, he picked up the first ‘Lord of the Rings’ book at the end of Year 1 when he had just turned 7 and commenced to read it perfectly. Needless to say, I took it away from him due to the subject matter.

Throughout this time, in my work with young children with speech and language delays starting their school journey, I began to see their struggles with learning to read. 

My self-education began in earnest….I attended courses, researched online and read and read and read.

But it wasn’t until my youngest child, Darcy, came along that I really experienced first-hand the pain of having a child with a significant learning disability. My gorgeous baby boy developed epilepsy at the age of 3. His development suffered and language in particular. Prior to starting school, a language assessment revealed his language to be so delayed that he was eligible for a place in a Language Support class that now no longer exist in NSW schools. We did not take this position (following an observation session in the class, my son stated loudly in front of everyone ‘This is boring, Mum’).

Fortunately, he has grown out of the epilepsy but it has left its mark.

We also have dyslexia in the family. My husband always had trouble with writing and spelling. I had to edit all his assignments throughout university. I have informally diagnosed him with dyslexia and dysgraphia as an adult. The ‘help’ that he received for his learning difficulties in primary school was to be sent to 7 different schools.

From the time that Darcy was diagnosed with epilepsy, I worked hard with him building his oral language skills, in particular vocabulary and phonemic awareness. This moved on to include literacy from Year 2. Luckily we were on the Steiner path with education as it would have been an utter disaster if Darcy had attended a regular public school and been expected to learn through a whole language approach to reading at the age of 5. 

I once calculated that throughout year 2 and 3, we worked together 3-4 hours a week outside school hours to build his literacy skills. My self-education journey had very clearly pointed the way to a systematic, explicit phonics approach.

Although the Steiner teachers have been brilliant in many ways, I am in no doubt that he would not be able to read and write to the level that he can now without my experience and knowledge gained over many years and the time that I had to dedicate to him over all these years. 

Darcy has had 2 assessments by educational psychologist over the past few years. Both showed him to have significant difficulties with verbal comprehension, working memory (severe) and processing speed (severe) and average to above average perceptual skills. 

Darcy is now in Year 5. He did Naplan this year and his reading is right at the national average and his numeracy is slightly below. This is quite remarkable given his significant underlying cognitive difficulties and shows what is possible with the right intervention and intensity of intervention.

However, from a professional point of view, this makes me very concerned. Much of my time with the clients I see is spent in teaching their parents how to teach their own child to learn to read and spell. Without this what is the outcome. I imagine that can be seen in areas, unlike the area that I am in, where parents cannot afford to pay for private intervention. Areas with intergenerational unemployment and poverty.

The impact on children of struggling to learn to read and not achieving success at school can be devastating….poor self-esteem, disengagement, bullying, anxiety, depression…the list goes on. Research from a recent workshop showed that 30% of the prison population have language and literacy difficulties. Conversely, 30% of entrepreneurs in the US identify as dyslexic. Obviously, there are many factors that contribute to the path an individual takes in life but early lack of success at school is significant.

I often wonder about the wisdom of expecting 4, 5 and 6 year olds to master the incredibly difficult task of learning to read in 2 to 3 years and being despairing at their inability to learn it by 8 or 9 or worse, being written off by some teachers from as young as 6 or 7.

The alphabet is one of the most brilliant inventions of the human mind. It is truly staggering that just 26 symbols, consisting of various combinations of straight and curved lines and circles, can be used to encode over 1 million words. This system took many of the most brilliant minds of their eras over 2000 years to perfect. And yet we expect our children to master it in 2-3 years.

Whilst there are children who are dyslexic, there are many more, like my daughter, who are not but who struggle nonetheless. I, and many others, put this down to the method that is being taught in schools. An abundance of research has shown that ALL children benefit from systematic, explicit phonics instruction. This includes research using the miracle of modern technology in the form of fMRI which allows us to actually see what effect our instruction has had on the brain.

Well, what can be done…..

Universities must change the way they are educating teachers and existing teachers must be retrained. Withdrawing funding from Reading Recovery, as the NSW Government has recently done, is an essential and long overdue step in this process. The next is to ban it. 

Some other aspects of instruction that need to be eliminated are:
1. ‘look-cover-write-check’ – the single most useless strategy to teach children to spell ever thought of
2. Non phonics based early readers
3. Golden words at the start of kindy when many children don’t even know letter-sounds – how can you hope to read ’you’ when you don’t even know what sound ‘y’ makes.
4. Stop referring to words with unusual or irregular spelling as ‘’sight’’ words – every word needs to become a sight word, whether it is ‘’cat’’ or ‘’yacht’’.
5. Educate teachers about non-evidenced based assessment and intervention, eg behavioural optometry, Brain Gym

To the instigators of the Red Letter campaign and Light It Red for Dyslexia, my heartfelt thanks for your contribution. I can see a groundswell starting to take shape. With persistence and the support of politicians, such as Adrian Piccoli, we can make a change. We must …for the sake of our children.

Kate

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To the Hon Simon Birmingham, Hon Susan Close, Jay Weatherill Premier of South Australia and School Principal “She’s a lovely girl, I hope ...

Jacinta's Red Letter

22:42:00 Code Read Dyslexia Network 0 Comments

To the Hon Simon Birmingham, Hon Susan Close, Jay Weatherill Premier of South Australia and School Principal

“She’s a lovely girl, I hope she marries a millionaire” Year 1 teacher.   

My name is Jacinta and I have four gorgeous children each with their unique personalities ……My ten-year-old daughter Ruby who is in year 4 has dyslexia.  She was tested by DECS in the fourth term of Reception because she couldn’t sound the alphabet therefore she couldn’t sound out words. She had very poor working memory and would read the word “I” in one sentence but wouldn’t be able to recognise it in the next.  A DECS psychologist came and assessed her and without using the term “Dyslexia” said that she needed explicit teaching with a phonics based program etc etc.  Ruby did get help but she didn’t improve and that was the only time I saw the DECS psychologist even though I was told she would reassess Ruby every term!   

In year one Ruby had a teacher who either couldn’t be bothered reading her DECS report or couldn’t be bothered implementing any of it.  I often asked her what else we could do and she threw her hands up in the air and said “Nothing” and then told me “She’s a lovely girl. I hope she marries a millionaire”!!!!!  REALLY …. REALLY…. how can a teacher say that about any student let alone one that had a learning disability. I was furious and so disappointed. I didn’t know what else to do.

Needless to say, Ruby was a long way behind all of her peers by the time she started Year 2.   She was lucky that in this year she had a proactive teacher who was passionate about her students learning, but by this stage there were already changes in Ruby’s personality and her behaviour at home.  At school Ruby was the perfect student, she was very conscientious and attentive and never gave up, but at home she was more and more angry and frustrated to the point that nearly every night she would have a melt down over the smallest thing. It was frightening: she would be pulling her hair, hitting her head with her hands, scratching, hitting and biting her siblings. Ruby would be in tears and so would I, I didn’t understand it and neither did she.   

To cut a long story short, after talking to a friend who works with dyslexic children, he did some tests to see if Ruby had the warning signs of dyslexia. Low and behold, she did, so we went to have a formal assessment with an educational psychologist at Fullarton House.  This cost alone was $800 and from what I hear that is on the cheap end of the scale. My husband and I have four young children and believe me, the $800 cost was very significant for us, but we would do anything to help our children.  

It turned out that Ruby is dyslexic. The relief of this diagnosis for myself and for Ruby were immense. Finally we could try to understand this dyslexia and get the appropriate help. Ruby felt relief in many ways because she now knew that she wasn’t dumb, it was just her brain that works in a different way. 

So my next thoughts were hopeful – at least now with a diagnosis we’ll get the right help from the school. Ummmm – NO! Unfortunately state schools are not funded for dyslexic children … That’s crazy!  These kids have a neurological disorder and are considered to have a disability according to the Disability Act, but schools do not receive funding!!!  How can this be?  

We are lucky in a way that our school did and still does try to help Ruby, but they didn’t and still don’t have a program specifically designed to help dyslexic learning, so she is still being taught the way her brain doesn’t work.  This year Ruby has a fantastic teacher who understands dyslexia. This is purely because he has a brother with dyslexia and he’s seen first-hand the devastating consequences it can have when not properly addressed. We also now have an amazing tutor for Ruby who is teaching her the way her brain needs to be taught and we pay every week for this.  

In actual fact isn’t it a no brainer that all schools and teachers should be educated in this (Dyslexia) and other learning disabilities? Shouldn’t programs and teaching be implemented that are evidence based and success based for all students including the 1 in 5 with dyslexic type difficulties?  

Now, due to lack of appropriate help, support and teaching, my Ruby’s self-esteem is in tatters, she has huge anxiety and she sees a psychologist to give her tools to help her combat the negative thoughts and feelings she has about herself. This is not OK!!  Children with dyslexia are being let down by the system that promises to educate them and the process of change is happening too slowly for the children that are currently in the school system.    

Ruby is very talented at sports, visual arts, drawing and singing but even now she doesn’t believe she’s good at these things! All we can do it keep building her up in the hope that one day (hopefully very soon) she can see how totally amazing she is. 

Ruby is a fighter and dyslexia has made her so very resilient but there are times when my heart breaks for her…how resilient do these children have to be?  She will succeed in her life but not because of the education system, she’ll succeed because she has two parents that love her very much and will make sure she gets the best possible help. Unfortunately there are many children out there who do not have this level of support, where will they end up?? 

My hope is that my letter and others will bring to your attention the need for a change in programs and teaching in our schools.  My hope is that teachers will be given access and training in the areas of learning disabilities and that others will not go through what Ruby and our family have had to endure.

Kinds Regards,  
Jacinta  

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