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I was told to "immerse the child in print".

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

[This is the second story in what will hopefully be a series about the journeys educators have been on to change literacy practices in schools. This story is unique in that this educator also went through immense challenge and struggle being a parent to a child who experienced significant reading difficulties in primary school. Thank you for your bravery and generosity in sharing your story, and for the tireless advocacy work that you do as a result of your experiences. This is an unedited recount of their experiences.]

I completed my final year of my undergraduate degree in 1987 during the heyday of whole language. We were given repetitive texts to teach reading and trained in running records & miscue analysis. I was told to "immerse the child in print". My son was bathed in books and language in utero and read multiple stories every day, he loved books and couldn’t wait to go to school. It wasn't until my son nearly drowned in a sea of words that I woke up to the folly that is balanced literacy and the 3-cueing system.

His teachers had said, "He's a boy", "he will pick it up soon", then it moved to, "he's not trying hard enough" to you're not reading at home with him enough", to "he needs coloured lenses", "he needs behavioural optometry", "he needs listening therapy". He struggled through those early years with me throwing everything at him that I was taught at uni.

His early years of school were horrendous. I have a short video of just how hard it was for him to read, it’s hard to watch. He would often disappear after school and many times I found him hiding in his cupboard crying saying, “I’m dumb, I’m stupid”. I have held his hand on the final night of many school holidays and listened to him tell me he’d rather die than go back to school. It’s heartbreaking to hear your own child talk this way.

Finally, in the middle of Year 4 he was diagnosed with dyslexia. The Australian Dyslexia Association finally unravelled for us why he was struggling. They pointed me in the direction of explicit and systematic phonics, along with the Rose Report, the National Inquiry Into the Teaching of Literacy, works by Jean Chall, Sally Shaywitz, Louisa Moats, David Kilpatrick, Mark Seidenberg, Diana Hanbury King, Ron Yoshimoto and Jennifer Buckingham's "Why Jaydon Can't Read" and more. I read everything I possibly could and trained in Multisensory Structured Language, Sounds Write, LETRs, Yoshimoto maths, EDI with Joe Ybarra as well as Lorraine Hammond and Brooke Wardana’s PD on EDI, you name it I did it, and I earned a Masters degree in Special Ed, along the way.

With good instruction my son began to learn to read. I realised my son was not alone and there were many children missing out on quality instruction that would help them, so in 2011 I began working with students with the knowledge that I had gathered and started Dyslexia Support Australia Facebook group to share the science of reading and help parents and teachers avoid the expensive snake oil therapies and wasting valuable instructional time. Dyslexia Support Australia has grown to 17K+ members and we have expanded our admin team to 4 to moderate membership and comments. Over the years we have always advocated for those with reading difficulties and we formed a national network of Facebook support groups around Australia to encourage evidence-based instruction and support organisations like AUSPELD, SPELD NSW, Learning Difficulties Australia and Five from Five. The network of Facebook groups have also been the catalyst for forming Code Read Dyslexia Network, of which I am a founding member.

Once my son began to learn to read, he felt better about himself and started to advocate for the needs of others who struggled with reading and wrote to channel 10’s The Project who then interviewed him for a story on dyslexia. I wholeheartedly believe that learning to read, for him, has been lifesaving.

Several years ago, I began working in a learning and support role in a K-6 setting so I could reach students in schools where they should be getting effective instruction in learning to read. Initially I fell into an L3 school and consequently was trying to assist large numbers of students in Years 3-6 who had still not learned to read. I am pleased to hear the NSW Department of Education will archive training for L3 and are aligning training to the science of reading. This year I am teaching in a NSW Public School with an incredibly supportive Principal and Instructional leader and our whole school has embraced the science of reading. I am heartened by the recent massive increase in interest in the SoR and feel as if we are beginning to turn a corner thanks to the collective efforts of many strong and unwavering advocates in Australia who have been at this a lot longer than I have.

Julie Mavlian

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