An article by Nur Ashikin Kamaruddin, Senior Educational Therapist
DAS Main Literacy Programme, SES English Exams Skills & DAS Awareness Speaker

Despite the multiple awareness talks that I have been involved in for schools or corporate companies, presenting at a conference for the first time was nerve-wrecking. The difference lies in the audience being from a more varied demographic and that I was part of a bigger line-up of speakers which involved many international names and renowned local authors in the 9th edition of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC).

Organised by Singapore Book Council, AFCC celebrates the theme ‘Imagine-Asia’ this year, with Singapore as the country of focus. The conference was a congregation of writers, illustrators, content creators, publishers, educators and parents. The programmes held at the National Library over the September holidays (6th to 8th September) included panel discussions, workshops, masterclasses, pitching sessions, storytelling events, film screenings, exhibitions and many more activities. I presented an awareness talk about Understanding Dyslexia as well as shared reading strategies Educational Therapists used in our own MLP classrooms that have proven to be beneficial to our dyslexic learners. Having to convey that much information in less than an hour was indeed a feat.

As I reflected on the sharing session, I found it to be a pleasant experience as I was able to help the audience uncover facts about dyslexia that they were previously not aware of and debunk common myths and negative connotations associated with this specific learning difficulty. For most of the participants, it was their first time hearing the term ‘dyslexia’, much less knowing its signs and symptoms or how to go about helping these individuals. From not knowing what dyslexia constitutes or its causes, the audience left my session with a better understanding as they learnt strategies that would help a dyslexic learner. They were even made aware of eight ways to make the long A sound, something that left many enlightened and have basic knowledge of syllabication – a strategy that can be utilised during reading comprehension.

As I ended my session, it reaffirmed me of my purpose as an Educational Therapist and at the same time, I am reminded of my role as an Awareness Speaker, in which I hope to educate those in Singapore who are still unaware about dyslexia.

At the conference, I had the opportunity to attend a few other sharing sessions as well. One of the talks that intrigued me was ‘Enhancing the Home Literacy Environment through Dialogic Reading’ by Dr Beth Ann O’Brien, Ms Ng Siew Chin, Ms Nur Artika Arshad from National Institute of Education (NIE).

During sessions of shared reading between adults and their children, the adults would often read while the children merely listen. Dialogic Book reading allows the adult and child to switch roles, thus enabling the child to be the storytellers with a bit of assistance from the accompanying adult. It also allows more growth in phonological awareness or letter knowledge compared to a shared/joint book reading and interactive shared book reading. The adult becomes the listener, the questioner, the audience for the child during dialogic reading. This thus enhances the child’s experience with books and the active involvement allows the child to learn more.

Techniques in conducting a dialogic reading with children follow the 4 steps approach – Prompt, Evaluate, Expand and Repeat (PEER).  Prompts are meant to help in expressions, thoughts and description. The speakers highlighted ways to prompt the reader that include the completion, recall, open-ended, Wh- as well as distancing strategies.

  • Completion – The adult leaves blanks at the end of the sentence for the child to complete (Helps with language structure)
  • Recall –  Questions are asked about the story plot (Helps in understanding sequences of events and plot)
  • Open-ended – Requesting for a description of pictures (Expressive fluency as well as attention to details)
  • Wh- prompts using the 5W1H to initiate questions (Aid in vocabulary building

Distancing – One relates the pictures or words in the storybook to personal experiences (Help in expressive fluency, conversation abilities and narrative skills)

Below is an example of utilising the ‘Wh’ – question prompt during dialogic reading. Adults are encouraged to follow the PEER strategy while going through every single page of the book with the child.

The PEER strategy is similar to what educators in DAS have been implementing thus far albeit with a different term coined to our practices.

To promote the active involvement of our readers in our classrooms, Educational Therapists do engage in pre-reading comprehension strategies to activate prior knowledge of the topic or simply to inculcate interest in the reader. It could sometimes come in the form of ‘Wh’- prompts similar to that in the aforementioned PEER strategy.

This questioning technique using prompts can be further expanded through brainstorming or engaging in discussions of a particular theme using visual cues like a picture or a video with the class. As the Educational Therapist take on the role of the questioner and audience, it encourages the student to be more active in participating in reading and by extension, reading comprehension activities as well.

Soliciting a child’s feedback and helping them to expand their ideas would make a reading session more interactive and fruitful. The best thing is, the concept of dialogic reading can be applied to students of all levels. It is definitely something that Educational therapists would want to continuously explore in their classrooms.

All in all, my maiden conference was an enlightening experience and one that is worth remembering. Here’s to more opportunities to further spread awareness about dyslexia to the general public.

This article was published in FACETS Vol 3 2018

To read this article in PDF click here