Month: August 2013

It Didn’t Stop Them – Part 2

Here are some more well known people for whom dyslexia is part of life.

Cher:  This entertainer has achieved success in the fields of acting and music.  Cher dropped out of school because she found learning so difficult. “Almost everything I learned, I had to learn by listening. My report cards always said I was not living up tp my potential.”




Thomas Edison:  One of the most prolific American inventors, Edison was considered hyperactive and stupid by his teachers because he asked too many questions  and  was a slow learner.  His maths was poor, he had difficulty with words and speech and found it hard to concentrate. His mother withdrew him from school after three unhappy months and taught him herself.



Walt Disney:  Disney lost his job at a Kansas City newspaper for not being creative. As a child he was also labelled as slow.




Winston Churchill:   “I was, on the whole, considerably discouraged by my school days. It was not pleasant to feel oneself so completely outclassed and left behind.”

Churchill did poorly at school. He attended three different schools before embarking on his military career.  He went on to become a politician, statesman, one of the great wartime leaders, an historian, a writer and artist. He also received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Whoopi Goldberg:  Whoopi is an outstanding comedian, actress, song writer,  political activist and television presenter. At school she really struggled with reading. She was called ‘dumb’ and ‘slow’ and even ‘retarded’. She dropped out of school at age 17 and was diagnosed as dyslexic as an adult.  


Each of these people has struggled to learn yet they have managed to overcome their learning difficulties and achieve wonderful things.  If they had received the necessary support as children, perhaps their journeys may have been easier. Their determination to succeed is inspiring. Fortunately in each case there was someone, whether the individual themselves or someone close to them, who did not believe that they were ‘dumb’, ‘stupid’, ‘retarded’, ‘slow’, ‘uncreative’, ‘unable to concentrate’ or any of the other labels that were applied. A way to learn was found and these people showed that they were in no way slow or unable to learn.

We know a lot more now about how to support dyslexic learners. What is needed is better teacher training to

a) identify children with dyslexia or other learning difficulties and

b) to provide the specific and differentiated instruction necessary for each student.


Let’s give every learner the best possible chance.



Reading with Children

An article in today’s newspaper says that two-thirds of youngsters are read to less than once a week.  According to the Courier Mail (27/08/13), by the time a child reaches five, 64% of parents read to them less than once a week. For ages 9 – 12 this rises to 77%.On the upside, 80% of parents say they find time to read to their babies and toddlers at least once a week.  

Reading to and with children is vital for their cognitive development.  It helps them make the connection between symbols and words.  There have been many studies that link academic success with early and frequent reading at home.

With today’s busy lifestyles, parents say that,  by the time they come home from work, they are too tired for a story session or that the children are already in bed.  If this is the case in your house, just do your best.  Find those moments when a quick story can be read or even recited.

Start with nursery rhymes and nonsense songs when the kids are tiny. They love the rhythm of the words and this encourages them to remember and repeat the rhymes themselves.  

Take your children to the library and let them choose books that appeal to them. Sit on the floor right there in the library and read with them. 

When you read to your children, read with expression, funny voices, different speeds and volumes.  The children will love listening to the “tune” of the story and will learn when to turn the page by the changes in your voice.

Discuss the pictures. Expose your children to a rich variety of words and expressions.  Let them hear the variety and beauty of the language from an early age. Connecting and sequencing the images with the words helps build the skills necessary for reading independently. With older children, discussion encourages logical thought and exploration of concepts e.g. right/wrong.

Reading together is a wonderful bonding time for you and your child. The snuggled-up together experience of sharing a book is one of the most enjoyable parts of parenthood or grandparenthood.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”  — Emilie Buchwald






It didn’t stop them. Part 1

Edward Hallowell, an American psychiatrist, was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia.
His words ‘People who have huge abilities usually have a disability.’ are very interesting.
They made me look for more people who have reached the top of their professions despite having been diagnosed with a learning disability.

Albert Einstein: He could not talk until he was four. he did not learn to read until he was nine. His teachers said he was mentally slow , unsociable, and adrift in his foolish dreams. He failed the entrance exam to college, only passing after an extra year of preparation.

Tom Cruise: ‘I’d try to concentrate on what I was reading, then I’d get to the bottom of the page and have very little memory of anything I’d read.’ He learns his lines by listening to a tape.

Vince Vaughn: ‘As a kid I had a hard time reading in school. I was the kid who would go one period a day to the class for kids with learning disabilities.’

Henry Winkler: ‘As a child I was called stupid and lazy.’ Henry Winkler is an accomplished actor and author of the Hank Zipzer books. His dyslexia was not diagnosed until he was 31 and was a most unhappy part of his childhood. His Zipzer books are about Hank who also has dyslexia. Henry Winkler tours schools reading his books and talking with children and teachers about having learning disabilities.

Nelson Rockefeller: As a child of nine, he did not know the letters of the alphabet. he was thought to be dull and backward. He worked tirelessly to support special education programs in schools.

George Patton: He was bright and intelligent and bursting with energy. He was unable to read and write. He got through school by memorising what was said or read to him. His wife corrected his spelling, punctuation and his grammar.

Jay Leno: He got mainly C’s and D’s in school. When he was enrolling into Emerson college in Boston, the admissions officer said he wasn’t what they wanted.

Agatha Christie: This famous author had a learning disability called dysgraphia, which prevented her from producing a legible piece of writing. All her manuscripts very dictated to a stenographer.


Way back in 2009

Way back in 2009, the British government reviewed their education system and realised that teachers needed to be trained to identify and support children with dyslexia. Ten million pounds was allocated for this purpose.

In the report dyslexia was defined as a “learning difficulty which primarily affects skills involved in accurate and fluent word-reading and spelling”. 

Dyslexia should not be treated as a distinct category, the report says but, rather, as a continuum, much like other disorders.  It concluded that children with dyslexia need to be taught in a highly structured way with emphasis on the phonic structure of the language. 

Phonemic awareness is at the core of the problems experienced by dyslexic students. They struggle to hear the sounds of the language and to apply the letters that match those sounds. Their verbal memory, attention span and organisation and sequencing skills may also be weak.  

A highly structured learning environment where there is specific teaching of phonemic awareness supports these children as they begin their journey as readers and spellers. Programs can be differentiated to allow each student to progress through the sounds, starting with the first level (s,a,t,p,i,n), at their own pace, building on prior knowledge as they go.

If it is good enough for the British system to make reading/spelling a non-negotiable by age 6, why is it not happening here in Australia?

To read the whole article see




Okay, today I have my crankypants on.  

There is so much in our press about how poor our school results are, how children are not being taught the basics, how the levels of literacy are becoming ever lower, that one would assume that educators would be looking for ways to address the problems.


Why then, is it so hard for the powers that be to see the elephant in the room? There is little to no specific teaching of phonemic awareness in our schools. Pre-service teachers are not being taught how to teach reading. They are being taught about literacy and literacy programs, about the four resources model, about whole language (Gasp!) but they are not being taught how to teach a child to decode and encode the language.

These same pre-service teachers are returning from practice periods in schools and reporting that they feel “lost’ and ‘inadequate’ when faced with the teaching of reading.

Phonemic awareness refers to the ability of listeners to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound. Even experienced teachers think phonemic awareness is just another name for phonics. Phonemic awareness is not phonics. Phonemic awareness is auditory and does not involve words in print.

Within the phonemic awareness elements children learn to hear the smaller parts in spoken words, to identify placement, to blend, segment and manipulate speech sounds and to pronounce speech sounds more easily. They learn to spell words according to speech sounds, using lines to represent the speech sounds – ready to make choices with regards to speech sound pics. The biggest predictor of reading and spelling difficulties is poor phonemic awareness, which could be called ‘voice blindness’.

As part of a literacy program this approach builds the base for reading/spelling success for all students, including autistic and dyslexic children. It is fun for the children. They see themselves learning quickly. Success breeds success.

Going to my happy place.


No prizes for guessing where this is. It is, of course, beautiful Hawaii. This is my happy place.

I first visited Hawaii in 2004 and fell in love with its people, scenery and mood immediately. It is a ten hour flight from Brisbane, usually overnight, but the cramped economy class conditions and lack of sleep are quickly forgotten when you step out of the airport.

On my first visit, I travelled with three teenage girls – my daughter and her friends on their end of school trip – and spent the vacation exploring Oahu on my own as they were busy doing teenage things. I discovered the trolleys that will take you just about everywhere. I particularly enjoyed the history tour. It brought James Mitchener’s ‘Hawaii’ to mind. I re-read the book when I came home.

The second visit to Hawaii in 2011 was only for three days with the new man in my life…to celebrate my birthday and to join the cruise ship that would take us back to Australia. On my birthday, in the gorgeous restaurant of the Halekulani hotel, with hula dancers swaying and singing in the courtyard below, he proposed. (Gasp – totally unexpected.) Hawaii will always represent romance for me.

Last year my husband and I returned to celebrate the anniversary of our engagement. We stayed for two weeks this time and had the chance to explore Oahu together. We drove around the island stopping often to admire the views and to talk with the people. We ate shrimp at the shrimp farm and pineapple at he pineapple plantation. We tried the coffee and macadamia nuts and walked along Sunset Beach – sadly no big waves that day. We wandered along the beach where Elvis filmed “Blue Hawaii” and saw the famous inlet where Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster made the famous kiss in the surf scene in “From Here to Eternity”. We visited the gorgeous Buddhist temple, rang the giant bell and admired the koi.
The windows in our hotel actually opened so we were able to have the breeze from the ocean drifting through the room and hear the hula music at night. We ate delicious food on a sunset cruise, drank Mai Tai’s in the beach bars and visited Pearl Harbor. It was an amazing vacation.

Next year we will return to Hawaii, this time to Maui as well as Honolulu. My husband wants to play golf on one of the famous courses there and I am looking forward to seeing all that the island has to offer. As usual I will be travelling with an almost empty suitcase because the shopping outlets in Hawaii have great clothes at prices so much cheaper than here at home.

Hawaii is my happy place. When I sit down to plan a vacation, it is the first place that comes to mind. I even try to make it a stopover on trips to other places. The travel websites have me on their lists for notification of deals on vacation packages there. I wonder if I could get a job as an advertising agent for the place? Now, there’s an idea……!


I was asked yesterday what inspires me to write and my immediate answer was ‘Everything.’

Ideas come from all angles all day.  I have always been a wonderer. I wonder about lots of things. Place names, in particular, fascinate me. I wonder how those places came to be named as they are. As a child this wondering was the cause of my being ejected from the classroom on a regular basis for asking too many questions.  Who was Weller and what did he do to get a hill named after him? (Suburb of Brisbane – Wellers Hill)

Luckily for me, the principal of the school was a very special man. He was about nine feet tall – six feet of which were legs – and always carried a bamboo cane. Eeek!  He had a habit of prowling the corridors and verandahs in search of miscreants. He would make his extremely tall and scary way toward the small red-haired girl standing by the classroom door, bend so that we were face to face and say, ‘Not again, Coppertop. What did you say this time?’

I would perform the required head bob and tell him my question. He would then take me to the school library, point out the section in which I would find the answer to my question and leave me to it. ‘Come see me when you have the answer.’ 

This man who was at once terrifying and kind made me realise that children are supposed to ask questions, that inquiring minds should be encouraged and that it is important to go forth into the world and notice things. He is also the reason I became a teacher. 

But back to what inspires me.  

Places inspire me.  Image      In the seventies I lived in a place in Cornwall called St Mawes.  

It was then a tiny sleepy fishing village during the winter months. It came alive during the summer because of the tourists who came to sail the calm waters of the bay and visit the old Tudor castles that guard the entrance to the nearby Fal River Estuary.  I haven’t been back since 1976 and I guess that it would be an entirely different place these days but my memories of it are all good.  The people would tell stories of pixies (piskies) and smugglers. There was the ruin of an old lighthouse on the headland and treacherous waters to be negotiated by boats as they entered the harbour. This place fired my imagination, reminded me of all the Enid Blyton ‘Famous Five’ books I had read as a child and was the inspiration for my first story ‘Taya Bayliss – Treasure Hunter’.

My home and family inspire me. This is especially true of my dogs, Trudy, seen here, and Heidi.

ImageTheir sheer joy in being alive and their enthusiasm for everything they do is infectious and so funny. I really enjoy writing about their adventures and misdemeanours.  Those of you who read The Big Blonde Dog blog ( will be familiar with these stories.  Trudy provided the inspiration for Minette in ‘Taya Bayliss – Dog Sitter’.

People inspire me.   Last year my husband and I were on vacation at the beach. from  Image

our apartment balcony we had a great view of the lookout shelter atop the headland. There was a man – I don’t think the photo is sharp enough for you to see him – who would stand there looking out to sea.  It did not matter at what time of the day or night I looked, he would be there. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing over there but it really bugged me.  I spent the entire vacation coming up with scenarios, mostly sinister I must admit, for his presence there.  So when I was working on the most recent Taya Bayliss book, Code Breaker, there just had to be a man at a lookout.

Inspiration is all around us. All we need to do is allow the child within to wonder and ask questions.