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By Sylvia Hannah, Reading Consultant

Should Summer Be A Catch-Up Time for Your Child?

I’ve often spoken with parents who have been informed that their child is behind his/her peers academically.  They wonder if they can catch their child up so that he/she will be able to easily handle the next grade in the fall.

I think that my usual response likely seems discouraging.

I tell parents that this is probably not a very realistic goal for their child’s summer. If their child is making less-than-expected academic gains when he/she is attending school full-time, I don’t think it is reasonable for parents to expect their child to make greater-than-expected gains during his/her summer vacation.

  • That puts a lot of pressure on their child.
  • That adds stress to parents’ lives.
  • No one needs undue pressure and stress during the summer.

Expect that you and your child’s school will plan an appropriate academic program in the fall.  I also hope that you and your child’s school have already worked out satisfactory academic placement for your child.  (See my article on “Split Grades”.)

Summer Be an Enriching Time for Your Child

If your child is struggling academically, of course you want to help.  And you can help, but not necessarily by trying to duplicate the school experience over the summer. You, as a parent, have so many more hours with your child during each week than a classroom teacher ever has.  You can choose wonderful, enriching options for your child, ones that build relationships, experiences, background knowledge and confidence.

Here are some ways to support your child:

  1. Engage A Tutor

If you can manage, you might choose a summer tutoring experience. When I ran a private educational clinic, many parents chose this option for the summer. Some parents called it “summer school camp”! Regularly scheduled teaching/learning sessions helps your child maintain his/her knowledge and interest in learning.

Summer work is particularly helpful if it focuses on your child’s underlying learning difficulties, rather than on merely going through workbooks and worksheets. At my educational clinic, for instance, we developed phonological awareness with students who had difficulty learning to read and spell accurately. We also developed comprehension and writing, using imagery and organized sketches.

Parents often find that using another person to help teach their child takes the pressure off the family. The one-to-one relationship between tutor and child sets up an emotional bond where the child feels confident and secure, and there is no comparison with classroom peers.

  • Join Your Local Library

Community libraries are very helpful to families during the summer.  They organize weekly group story time activities. If your community doesn’t have a library nearby, you could set up a weekly neighbourhood story time. 

Perhaps several families could join in. Each family could select a story-of-the-week.

  1. The first day, the children could go to one house to listen to a new story, e.g. “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”.
  2. During the first part of the week, children could make hand puppets and re-tell the story with their parents.  Children could also make dioramas of the setting.
  3. During the last part of the week, children could meet to act out the story.
  4. Each night, parents could tell (or read) the story at bedtime.  Insert your child’s name in the story and add new adventures, to engage your child.

A travelling library van could come to your community.  They might offer weekly book activities, as well.

  • Read to Your Child Each Day

You might wonder why I even mention this, because it seems obvious. Parents are always encouraged to read to their children. This establishes a closeness between parent and child. It also exposes your child to language which is more like school language, more literate and less conversational.

The wonderful routine that you’ve set up during the school year might disappear during vacation time.  Try not to let this happen!  Remember that most everyone loves to listen to stories, no matter how old they are!

  • Travel

Travel in and around your community or farther flung adventures allow the opportunity to talk with your child. Travel exposes your child to new vocabulary and experiences, creating essential background knowledge.  You can keep a travel journal that both you and your child write and/or draw in. Taking photos of the experiences and creating a photo journal is also a way to document your adventures.

  • Enroll Your Child in Summer Activities

Most community parks provide free summer day activities where your child can have organized fun. Your child will continue to learn how to play with peers, and will engage in group songs, crafts, sports, etc. Other activities, like day camps, sports camps, music camps, art camps, swimming, etc., will likely charge fees.  Check out something that will excite your child.

I can remember the busy summers I had with my two girls, as we explored a range of events each summer. Over the years, they had numerous opportunities to find out what they really liked doing, and this ultimately guided them in selecting high school options and making career choices.

  • Talk!  Talk!!  Talk!!!

A number of years ago, I met an educational researcher, Gordon Wells, who wrote a book called “Collaborative Meaning Making”.  In it, he describes how parents can best help their children understand the world.  They can do this by acknowledging what their children are interested in, and by extending their children’s knowledge a little bit, each time a conversation takes place.

This sounds obvious, perhaps.

I found that knowing the power I had, as a mother, to influence and expand my children’s thinking, continuously affected what I said to my children, and how I said it. We were engaged in collaborative meaning making during every second of every day when I was with them.

Notice what your child is interested in, e.g. cars, beetles, dress-up clothes.  Each time your child says something about what they know and like, add a bit more information to help them understand, for example, how cars move forward, what kinds of wings beetles have, what dress-up clothes you need for each character you want to be. This is important because:

  • You will be allowing your child to be important.
  • You will be developing their thinking.
  • You will be increasing their vocabulary.
  • You will be enhancing their knowledge.

All of these things will make them more confident learners.


The suggestions made are intended to make summer an enjoyable time for your child and for you.  What you do with your child can be fun, and a learning experience for you both. Everything you do WITH your child, and FOR your child, can help him/her to be successful as a learner. 

Ultimately, this will lead to academic confidence when he/she returns to school in the fall.

To learn more about early identification and intervention of literacy challenges in children, visit

Right to Read tag line

How Decodable Books Support Struggling Readers

By Michele Pentyliuk, Registered Psychologist

Decodable books are ideal for children learning to read or those who struggle to read because they include:

  • words with phonics patterns that have been taught.
  • high frequency words that have been taught. 

This allows children to practice reading with spelling patterns and high frequency words they have practiced. Sounding out the word is the only strategy for reading unfamiliar words.

This focus on word reading and letter-sound knowledge develops a habit of reading accurately.

When reading Leveled Literacy books, which are used in most classrooms, children use picture and context clues to “read” words they can’t decode or haven’t memorized. This can lead to a reliance on guessing, rather than reading words.

The goal of reading is comprehension, but until reading fluency is achieved, comprehension is taught through oral reading to students, engaging them in discussion. This is where leveled literacy readers and other literature are beneficial.

To learn more about early identification and intervention of literacy challenges in children, visit

Should My Child Go into a Split Grade?

By Sylvia Hannah, Reading Specialist

A look of panic always comes across parents’ faces when it’s suggested that their child will likely be in a split grade the following year. There are many things to consider, particularly if your child is struggling to acquire basic skills, has difficulty managing the workload, or is easily overwhelmed in a busy classroom. Here’s some things to consider:

  1. Range of Capability

There is always a range of achievement in every classroom.

• In a grade one class I taught, one child was reading at a grade five level and one child didn’t know his last name. In my grade five class, one child read at a grade two level and another at a university level. I have assessed high school students who are reading at elementary school levels.

• So, all grade level classrooms are really split grades! I don’t think that having a child in a split grade will tax a teacher, unduly, because of the range of capability of the students.

  1. Kinds of Split Classes

Schools, usually, have split grade classrooms because they have too many students, or not enough, to fill a classroom with one grade level. They put thought into how they will select children for their split classrooms.

• Sometimes, they’ll pick the independent higher achievers from the lower grade to combine with a smaller group of more needy children in the higher grade.

• Sometimes, they select a smaller number of lower achieving children in the lower grade to combine with a larger number of independent, high achieving students in the higher grade.

• Or, other combinations. By thinking about the combinations, schools are attempting to make the learning groups more workable for the teacher and more manageable for the students.

  1. Grade Level Curriculums

Most parents are worried about whether their child will learn the curriculum in their particular grade.

• Learning is a continuous process. A teacher can “cover” the curriculum, but the more important consideration is whether students have learned what they need to know.

• A child never knows only grade two curriculum, or grade four curriculum, etc. Grade levels are arbitrary. For example, you might say that by the end of grade one, a child should know how to add and subtract up to twenty. By June of grade one, some students know more than this, and some less. The teacher might have “covered” this information but there is always a great range of achievement amongst the children in a grade one classroom.

• In the areas of social studies and science, teachers have a range of topics to choose from. Some are labelled as “grade three” topics, some “grade four”. A teacher could choose a grade five science topic for a grade four-five split classroom, but expect different output from the students, depending on their grade.

• Curriculum always overlaps, but grade levels are arbitrary and lock-step.

• Children’s learning is continuous, sometimes moving faster than day-by-day, month-by-month curriculum presentation, sometimes more slowly.

• I want parents to not worry about whether their children will miss some curriculum if they’re in a split grade classroom. What is more critical is how their child is progressing, as a reader, writer, and mathematical learner.

• Being in a split grade classroom, in itself, will not likely impede their child’s progress.

  1. Teacher Organization

All teachers need to be organized. They need to know:
-what they’re going to teach
-how they’re going to teach it
-have their students learned
-how each student is progressing
-what they need to do to support each learner.

• All of this takes thought and work. I do believe that teachers of split grade classrooms need to be even better organized because there are more things to be done in a multi-age, multi-grade classroom.

• Parents need to know if their multi-grade teacher is highly organized.

  1. Student Organization

All students in classrooms need to learn how to work independently, and there’s always some degree of noise and movement.

• Students have to complete work on their own because a classroom teacher has many students to serve.

• In split grade classrooms, the teacher will expect students to learn how to “ignore” instruction that’s being given to students in the other grade. By ignore, I mean, to keep working on their own while the teacher is busy with children in the other grade.

• In a single grade classroom, this independence is required, as well, but it may be a more obvious requirement in a split grade classroom, and parents will need to consider this expectation carefully.

  1. Level of Split Grade (Early Elementary)

I think that the most difficult grade to teach is grade one. There are several reasons why:

• First, there are now curricular, grade level expectations/requirements placed on the teacher and on the students. The lock-step system has begun.

• Second, this is the grade where children are “supposed” to learn to read. And they’re supposed to learn to read at a certain rate.

• The pressure is on teachers, parents and students.

Sometimes, schools combine a kindergarten and grade one classroom, or a grade one classroom with grade two. This can, and does, work. But, as a reading specialist, I’ve always had some concern about those children who are experiencing difficulty with learning to read, and spell, and write. If your school is suggesting either of the above split grades for your child, ask the following:

o How many students will be in the classroom?
o How many students are at each grade level?
o Does the teacher have any classroom aide support?
o Does the teacher have school resource room support?
o What if my child appears to be learning to read at a slower rate?
o Does the teacher know how to teach children who are learning differently?
o Does the teacher have time to teach children who are learning differently?
o How will my child’s progress be monitored?
o When will my child’s progress be assessed?
o Will I be kept informed?
o Will we have regular progress reports and conferences?

In summary, split grade classrooms require a good deal of teacher skill and organization, and while they may benefit some learners, they may present challenges to others. A split grade classroom, one that is organized to meet the varying needs of children in more than one grade, may be more flexible and could provide your child with learning opportunities directed to his or her unique needs.

Sylvia Hannah is a Reading Specialist, and one of the founding members of the Right to Read Program.

To learn more about early identification and intervention of literacy challenges in children, visit

Coping strategies during the pandemic

                                      Psychological Coping During a Pandemic

Psychologists are experts in stress & anxiety management & we encourage all Albertans to take a deep breath & follow these simple steps to ease your mind, promote your psychological health, & channel your “energy” into more adaptive & beneficial reactions:

 • Maintain Perspective. The virus isn’t under our control but many things are — focus on those.

 • Be Prepared. Follow the advice of Alberta Health, be prepared, & be realistic.

• Informed, not Overloaded. Stay updated only through trustworthy sources & only daily.

 • Create a new Normal. Maintain or develop structure & routines to create a sense of security.

• Relax. Practice anxiety management — mindfulness, mediation, prayer, relaxation, etc.

 • Physical Activity helps reduce anxiety & encourages a sense of well-being & control.

 • Uncover the Positives. Use this time to reconnect with yourself, friends, & family in new ways.

• Learn Something New. Read, practice music, dance, & art engage our creative selves.

 • Lend a Hand. Help out others in your life & remind them that we will get through this together

The idea is to focus on that which you can control & change. We must all practice social distancing, & perhaps self-isolation, but we get to decide how we spend that time & what we choose to dwell on.

Still struggling? Professional help is available. Psychologists are still practicing today – many now via telepsychology.

Subtle signs of depression By Carolyn Barker

Typically, we are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually equipped enough to face the challenges of day to day living. When the challenge recedes, we can bounce back and enjoy the good times. Occasionally, however, we can become overwhelmed by the number of challenges we have to face or the nature of the challenges, making it hard to bounce back and making joy elusive. This could be a sign of depression. To read more about the subtle signs of depression, see

New Learning Tools Make it Easier to Learn the Rules of the Road!

Driver education should help turn novice drivers into expert drivers. In the past, inflexible, one-size-fits-all curricula created unintentional barriers to learning. Learners for whom English is a Second Language or individuals with disabilities were particularly vulnerable. Even learners who were identified as “average” may not have had their learning needs met due to poor curricular design.

Fortunately, increased awareness of the range of learning styles as well as new technologies have changed the face of driver education. Preparing for the learner’s test by reviewing the handbook and hoping for the best is no longer the only way to go. Learning tools have emerged that make the process more effective and engaging. Dexa Stoutjesdyk and Michele Pentyliuk, both Registered Psychologists with North Land Family Counselling Group, combined their efforts to create the Learner’s Licence Prep Kit and the Learner’s Licence Prep Kit App. The Prep Kit cards and app are based on the Driver’s Handbook which has been condensed into manageable “bites” of information.

The Prep Kit cards and app are interactive learning tools that improve understanding and retention by simplifying concepts and providing a format that allows for self-test. One of the most important principles of learning is to differentiate information that is known from information that needs more practice – there is little point studying what you already have mastered. Both the Prep Kit cards and the app are formatted in a way to allow this kind of practice. Both formats also provide clear graphics, definitions and concise information. Many multiple choice tests are available on-line and in the app stores. These tools are a great way to test your knowledge once information has been practiced. They are not ideal for initial learning, however. Multiple choice formats rely on recognition of facts rather than recall. When driving, we want our new drivers to be able to recall essential information on demand.

Michele and Dexa are pleased to announce that the app is now available in the Apple App store. In addition to the above mentioned features, the app includes links to informative videos. The Android version is also in the works, so watch for it.

To learn more about the Prep Kit cards and the app, visit or watch this snappy little video.

100% of the proceeds of the sales of Alberta’s Learner’s Licence Prep Kits go the Learning Disability Association of Alberta’s Right to Read project. A portion of all app sales in Alberta also go towards funding this project.

Download the app here!


The Dyslexia Myth

Put up your hand if think that people with dyslexia have difficulties with letter and word reversals. From where I am sitting, it looks to me like most of you have your hand raised. I can’t really see you of course, but my experience tells me that the majority of people, even teachers, believe that the defining feature of dyslexia is reversals. Sadly, even some individuals diagnosed with this disorder believe that this is the case. I met a man who proclaimed that he was dyslexic because he often mixed up numbers when taking down phone numbers over the telephone. Mixing up numbers or backwards reading is not dyslexia. Dyslexia means “difficulty with words”. This difficulty is not characterized by reversing letters or words, but by difficulty with sounds. I have found that when I explain this to people, I am met by a great deal of scepticism and even some hostility. That is why I was so happy to find a lovely, succinct, entertaining and accurate article dispelling this well-entrenched myth.

50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, and Beyerstein (2010) is a treasure trove of myth-busting anecdotes including “The Defining Feature of Dyslexia is Reversing Letters”. This is my personal favourite given the work I do, and I think that every elementary teacher and parent of a child who is struggling with reading should read this three-page explanation of how this myth started and what science now tells us about the nature of the disorder. The authors, all professors of psychology, collaborated on this information packed book that not only dispels many commonly held myths but explains why it is that so many myths and misconceptions have been perpetuated despite the presence of oodles of research to prove them incorrect.

I had long wondered how the whole reversal myth began. Lilienfeld and colleagues explained that Samuel Orton, an American neurologist, coined the term strephosymbolia (meaning “twisted symbol”) to refer to the tendency to reverse letters. He initially believed that this was the underlying cause of reading difficulties and that many children could read more easily if they held their writing up to a mirror. As the authors point out, however, letter reversals are a part of normal development for many children and are not unique to children with reading disabilities. My own three children all reversed letters until they were eight or nine years of age and experienced no reading difficulties. Despite little evidence to suggest that reading disabilities are related to visual problems, this belief is firmly entrenched in our culture.

Most researchers now agree that dyslexic readers have difficulty with phonological processing, or the awareness of and ability to manipulate the sound structure of spoken words. The English language is comprised of 44 phonemes, or sound units. These sound units are blended together to form words. Many individuals who experience problems learning to read have significant difficulty segmenting and differentiating individual speech sounds in spoken words, blending speech sounds to form a spoken word, and using phonological codes. Without going into copious detail, Lilienfeld et. al. provide a lovely explanation of what researchers now understand about the nature of reading difficulties. They also explain that many poor readers continue to exhibit letter reversals as well as other more important characteristics of younger children who are learning to read and write.

A more comprehensive explanation of dyslexia, one that not only answers, “What is dyslexia?” but also “What causes it?” and “What can be done about it?”is found in Tunmer and Greany’s Defining Dyslexia (2010). While the focus of the article is on the first question, all three are inextricably intertwined. And that is precisely why I believe that all professionals involved in the education of our children need to understand what dyslexia is. To understand what dyslexia is, to understand what causes one of the leading reasons for reading disabilities, provides the foundation for understanding what intervention strategies will be effective. It has been common practice and belief that children learn to read when exposed to instruction based on a whole language approach, or what Tunmer and Greaney refer to as the “multiple cues” approach. The authors explain, however, that poor readers rely too much on sentence context clues to help them compensate for their difficulties with alphabetic or phonemic principles. More emphasis on using meaning cues does little to improve reading (Tunmer & Greaney, 2010).

It has been well established that effective early identification and intervention can prevent dyslexia or at least minimize its impact. For those children who do not intuitively develop an understanding of the connections between speech and print, explicit instruction in crucial. And the earlier the better. Numerous research studies have investigated early predictors of reading achievement and have found that alphabetic knowledge and phonological awareness are good predictors of early reading ability. Tumner and Greaney are bold enough to say that while approximately 10% of the population experiences significant difficulty learning to read, many of these children are not learning disabled, but teaching disabled (2010). They also contend that when children who are identified at-risk are provided with effective phonologically based intervention, they developed the skills and profiles of proficient readers (p. 237). In fact, the authors offer that a child should not be labelled dyslexic if they have not been “exposed to high quality evidence-based literacy instruction and intervention” (Tumner & Greaney, p. 239).

It is unfortunate that much of the research regarding the nature of reading disabilities has not filtered down to the classroom level. I think that most teachers would be surprised to learn what dyslexia is and what it is not. So if you are looking for some light summer reading that will provide you with wonderful fodder for summer barbeques, pick up 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. If you only have a few minutes, watch this nifty little Youtube video produced by TedEd. For heavier and more in-depth reading regarding the nature of reading disabilities, Defining Dyslexia can be found in the Journal of Learning Disabilities May/June 2010 edition.

Post by Michele Pentyliuk


  • Lilienfeld, S, Lynn, S, Rusico, J, & Beyerstein, B. (2010). 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. Hong Kong: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Tunmer, W. & Greaney, K.(2010). Defining dyslexia. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 43(3), 229-2