You can’t teach what you don’t know

NeurotransmitterWelcome 🙂

Let’s learn a few things about the Logic of English

Did you know…?

  • English words DO NOT end in i, u, v or j

That’s why ‘boy’ is spelt b-oy and not as the sound suggests b-oi

  • C softens to an ‘s’ sound after e, i and y, otherwise we say ‘k’

think about it in terms of the word ‘circus’

  • a, e, o, u usually say their names at the end of syllables 

think paper, pa  – per

we use double letters to shorten sounds in syllables, for example, sound out pepper, pep – per, otherwise we would pronounce it ‘peper’ pe – per

  • one of the most misspelt words is ‘miscellaneous’

now let’s think about it as we apply the rules above;

mis  cel  la  ne  ous

mis (all good) cel (why is it an ‘s’ sound? because of the ‘e’) la (a says its name at the end of a syllable) ne (e also says its name at the end of a syllable) ous (ou is a phonogram, both letters together make this sound). Does that make more sense now?

Cool, right?

Want to know more?

Watch this Logic of English video

Do we teach this to our students? Could we? Would it make a difference to our understanding and development of reading and writing and would it improve spelling? Let me know what you think, click below and leave a reply.

Thanks for reading 🙂

“Very informative, presented so well. Enjoyable”

“Teaching a room full of learners the same thing in the same way over the same time span with the same supports and expecting good results from all students has never happened and never will.” Tomlinson


Last week I facilitated a couple of workshops on working with non funded students. They were well attended, interactive workshops with a mix of teacher and education support staff  who were very eager to share their expertise and experiences with colleagues and other staff from different schools and sectors. One school even sent their whole education support unit!


The morning sessions began with a quick discussion of the roles of teachers and education support staff and then covered specific learning disabilities with which students may present in schools. Many students who have experienced these learning difficulties are not funded but the impact it has on their learning and ability to work effectively in mainstream classes is similar to those who are funded. These difficulties can lead to withdrawal, behavioural issues, anti social behaviour and low self esteem. Our role as educators is to help these students overcome or compensate for their learning difficulties, funded or not. Below is a representation of Dr. Sheldon’s Horowitz‘s idea of the basic psychological process used in understanding and using language. His explanatory videos are great, easy to follow and well explained.

Specific Learning Disabilities


I then presented some strategies and ideas that can be used in the classroom to assist the students with learning difficulties in accessing the curriculum. I believe that if we take the time to assess what the students know and then plan a variety of activities that take into account learning preferences, abilities and readiness of students, our classes would be more engaging not just for those with difficulties but also the mainstream cohort as well as those students who display particularly well developed strengths in specific areas.

Differentiation and modification

The day continued with a focus on differentiation and modification. What is the difference? It is surprising, based on my own experience in schools, that many teachers and education support staff have a limited understanding of these two methods. I often come across so called ‘modified’ tasks where the teacher has simply removed the last few questions on the test or asked that the student completes every second question. This folks is not modification. I have found however, that teachers implicitly do differentiate their curriculum but may not be aware of the many more ways this could be done so all students are engaged in deep learning.

The ‘guru’ of differentiation is Carol Tomlinson. Her premise is that there are essentially 3 P’s in differentiation i.e. Presentation, Process and Product.


  • How are you going to teach it?
  • What do you want the students to know and do?


  • How will the learning be done?


  • How will the students demonstrate learning?

When modifying work for students, teachers and education support staff must take into account the abilities, readiness and learning preferences of the child. Before modifying work for any student, especially those who are not funded, the school should seek permission from the parent. In some cases the parent will not give permission, and while this is disappointing, teachers must abide by this decision although they can make extra efforts to ensure the child has access to a differentiated curriculum. This is one where by the delivery of content is varied, and accommodations such as more time, different settings, choice in presentation and response are offered.

handsSimply, the difference between differentiation and modification comes down to the expectation of work to be assessed. In differentiation there is no change to the assessment criteria or rubric but a modified task requires us to make changes to the assessment criteria. In all cases, modifications are instructional or test adaptations that allow the student to demonstrate what he knows or can do, but they also reduce the target skill in some way. So if a student is provided with a modification, generally it will lower the performance expectations. It often reduces the learning expectations or affects the content in such a way that what is being taught or tested is fundamentally changed.

When planning for either differentiated or modified tasks, there are three questions we must ask ourselves:

  1. What do I want students to know?
  2. What do I want students to understand?
  3. What do I want students to do?

Collaborative task

The afternoon was dedicated to activities that allowed the participants to use their own assessment tasks, or mine, to make accommodations or modify based on student profiles that I provided. We then came together and discussed our learning.

boy2-1ne7o1bStudent Profiles

The day ended with an example of what I think a student profile should contain so that informed decisions about the student’s individual learning can be made.


While two out of 53 participants thought the workshop was too focused on education support staff and one thought it more valuable for early career teachers, overall, the feedback was very positive (see below) and many participants took away ideas and strategies that I hope they have begun implementing in their classes. For me it’s always about the students, so anything extra we can do to improve their learning experience is very worthwhile and very rewarding for us as educators.

“Jo touched on many ideas that I can share and implement at my school.” Anita

“Wonderful & engaging presentation” Anon

“The course was quite informative, found out about a few strategies which can be easily applied at our workplace.” Claudine

“Very informative, presented so well. Enjoyable” Anne

“Very relaxed and informative conference.” Anon

“Presentation was very comprehensive and information was very beneficial to my teaching.” Anon

“Excellent speaker. Fantastic, useful info/strategies to put into classroom practice.” Debra

“A great presenter with lots of ideas, hints, etc.” Alexandra

Many thanks are extended to all who participated last week in Geelong and at the Mulgrave venue!

If you’d like to learn more, why not register for the workshop delivered through Critical Agendas. I’ll be running similar workshops in Geelong on May 29 and Bulleen on June 6.

Drop me a line, or comment below. I’d very much like to know what measures you take to support non-funded special needs students at your school.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Preps, for heaven’s sake – I failed preps!

I was just thinking…

When I was at school in the seventies and eighties, teachers had a pretty good standing in the community. We didn’t tend to make a big fuss about how they could’t teach, or how they didn’t always ‘perform’ for us. We pretty much had similar bullying issues as now but we didn’t have to deal with social media as the kids do now. The whole world didn’t get to have a say, it was just between us. I personally had some pretty awful experiences at school, nothing like the stuff that happens now I admit but to a pre teen at the time it was pretty big. Thankfully I also had some pretty great ones.

salami sandwichI can laugh now, at the many times I tried to hide the salami sandwiches from my friends but was always found out because they could smell them. “Yuk! What’s that?” they’d ask, “It stinks!” Nowadays they’d gladly swap their vegemite sandwiches for one! Or how about the times I wore a dress over jeans and was laughed at – now it can be quite fashionable, and yes my hem was above the knees! Then there are the memories of being called four eyes because I wore glasses due to a lazy eye – which, by the way, was operated on when I was 5. In that same year I travelled back with my parents to Italy for three months. The surgery actually took place after we returned, thanks to my perceptive paternal grandfather who noticed my eye move while staying on the farm. After all that, I presented at school again only to find that my long absence and my failure to understand or speak very little English meant a repeat of preps! Preps for heaven’s sake, I failed preps!

My next memory of school troubles me to this day and is one of the main reasons I work in education. 

a_girl_with_glasses_by_christdyspidey-d65wedjIn Grade 1, after repeating preps, I was often kept back after school because I didn’t know my reader. The teacher would have me sit in a corner and ‘read’. She never really assisted me and I never really understood how to go about teaching myself to read English – you see I knew how to read simple Italian words but that’s phonetic so more easily done than English! That in hindsight, meant I wasn’t as dumb as I was made to feel in school. Every night I would be sent home to ‘learn’ my English reader. That was of no use really as both my parents were Italian! My mother knew some English at the time but I  don’t think she understood that she needed to ‘teach’ me how to read in English. I have vivid images of one particular reader about a tiger in the jungle and most probably I could have explained the reader orally using the visuals BUT that didn’t count. I simply couldn’t read English and the teacher had no idea how to engage a student who presented as ESL. I tried.

Thank goodness for Grade Two; enter Mrs. Longmuir. Now, she understood. I soon developed, through sheer hard work and many more failures and disappointments, skills in reading and writing and worked my way through till I finished 4th in my Grade 6 year level! I’ve got a book with a certificate and $10 to prove it! Well, I spent the money in 1976 but I still have the book on world stamps! Now don’t let the topic bother you. It is in fact a beautiful book, bright orange cover, with the reproduction of a gorgeous art nouveau style female figure similar to the image below. (They were obviously aware of my drawing abilities.) I really adored this book and I remember drawing images from it at the time.


Secondary school had its highs and lows; the lows I won’t dwell on but it’s during this time, in Year 9 in fact, when I decided I wanted to become an art teacher. I wanted to be just like Zacher! One thing led to another and I found myself teaching art in a wonderful little girls’ school in Fairfield, NSW. I loved Rosary High. The school closed in 1990 and was re-established as Mary MacKillop College in Wakeley the next year. Sadly, I left at the end of 1989 (my family needed me back) and returned to my hometown of Melbourne where I continued to teach in Catholic schools. And, here I am after 27 years of teaching, still loving it and still wanting more. I thoroughly enjoy working with staff in schools, delivering professional development sessions face to face and on line and I really enjoy working with individual students, exploring different strategies to help them establish successful study skills. I have also relished the opportunity of being able to complete a minor research thesis in 2013 but I do miss teaching secondary students. Hopefully opportunities will come where I can spend some time in different classrooms, while still consulting and completing some more research.

Ideally I would love for everyone to experience success but not without knowing and accepting that failure, whilst debilitating, is a great way to learn. Michael Jordan said it well; “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I cannot accept not trying.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts or perhaps some of what you experience(d) at school; feel free to comment below.

Our brains are amazing!

They can read…

According to research at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a boysarentlearning2wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by istlef but the wrod as a wlohe.

They can seen lots of different images…


 Do you see both an old woman and a young lady?