I completed the Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) training in Hobart in 2018, thanks to a Square Pegs scholarship. I don't think it is overstating it to say that this week-long professional learning opportunity has significantly changed the course of my life’s work.
Prior to completing the training, I had spent 7 years working as Director of Studies in a school for students with learning difficulties (primarily dyslexia) in the United Kingdom. While this amazing opportunity had given me lots of experience working with children with literacy learning difficulties, what I lacked was a strong foundational understanding of the theory behind a synthetic phonics approach, and a clear picture of exactly what a rigorous approach looked like. The MSL training delivered this.
Following the completion of the training, I decided to seek out a mentor to support me as I developed my skilIs. I reached out to a former UK colleague, Cathy Harrison from Rookery Road, West Melbourne, for support. Regular interstate trips enabled me to frequently pick Cathy’s brain; she was very generous with her time and support of my learning. During these trips I was also able to access some fantastic professional learning opportunities with experts like David Kilpatrick, and even manage a visit to the wonderful Bentleigh West Primary School, a leading school in their implementation of evidence-based practices.
I now work with students, families, teachers, and school leaders, in a number of different roles. In 2017, I established a private speech pathology/ education practice, Start Smart Tasmania, with a speech pathologist, Tania Innes. In this capacity I work 1:1 with students delivering literacy intervention. I also mentor other Literacy Instructors and, along with Tania, offer professional learning and coaching to teachers setting out on their journey into the ‘Science of Reading’. In 2020 I developed an app, Smart Cards, to support teachers and parents in their implementation of a synthetic phonics approach. Several schools are now using the app to support our shared students.
In my part-time, school-based role as Student Support Coordinator at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School in Deloraine, I have delivered small-group literacy intervention for the past few years. Part of this role has included modelling and consultation with staff, who continued the intervention daily. Since 2019, we have been gradually supporting staff to complete further training in synthetic phonics. This year, now that every teacher at the school is Orton-Gillingham (OG) trained, my role has evolved to include whole school literacy development. We are now also approved as a Dyslexia Aware school through the Australian Dyslexia Association.
Outside these paid roles, I also co-ordinate the Launceston Square Pegs Parent Network. This group provides opportunities for parents of students with dyslexia to come together and chat about their experiences over a cuppa and share resources and ideas. The collective knowledge in the room at any given meeting is quite remarkable - there are some incredible parent advocates involved in our small but enthusiastic group.
Additionally, I have also been involved in the Learning Creative’s SLAM Camp. This is a non-residential camp for students with dyslexia held, under usual circumstances, in Melbourne each January. The camp aims to provide intensive, small group intervention alongside activities designed to build confidence and foster connections between students, such as robotics and circus skills. Professionally, I enjoy the opportunity to not only work with the students but to work alongside other educators who share my passion and learn from them.
In both my school-based role and private practice I have seen some remarkable improvements in literacy outcomes, results I previously would never have thought possible. My only work-life regret is that I wish I had known sooner what I know now about the teaching of literacy!
Despite feeling very confident in my practices, I am still keen to further develop my skills and knowledge in this area. I have completed further professional learning on morphology, consolidated my understanding of phonology through completion of the OG course, and (finally!) completed a Master of Education (Special Education) through Flinders University. I now look forward to more opportunities to explore the teaching of grammar and writing.
Thank you to Square Pegs! I remain incredibly grateful for the opportunity to undertake the MSL training: this opportunity led to so many more and enabled me to work in incredibly fulfilling and important roles, alongside some wonderful students, teachers, families, and schools.