The Sounds-Write Podcast

Episode 14: SENsational Phonics with Kelly Cross

September 06, 2023
Episode 14: SENsational Phonics with Kelly Cross
The Sounds-Write Podcast
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The Sounds-Write Podcast
Episode 14: SENsational Phonics with Kelly Cross
Sep 06, 2023

In the fourteenth episode of The Sounds-Write Podcast Kelly Cross talks about her son, Freddie's, journey to becoming a proficient reader and speller. Freddie has Moderate Learning Difficulties and Kelly struggled to find the help that he needed to learn to read and write. Since finding Sounds-Write, Freddie has gone on to become the avid reader his parents always knew he could be. Enjoy!

Some helpful links:
Help Your Child to Read and Write course
Sounds-Write's Facebook
Sounds-Write's Instagram
Sign up to our mailing list

Show Notes Transcript

In the fourteenth episode of The Sounds-Write Podcast Kelly Cross talks about her son, Freddie's, journey to becoming a proficient reader and speller. Freddie has Moderate Learning Difficulties and Kelly struggled to find the help that he needed to learn to read and write. Since finding Sounds-Write, Freddie has gone on to become the avid reader his parents always knew he could be. Enjoy!

Some helpful links:
Help Your Child to Read and Write course
Sounds-Write's Facebook
Sounds-Write's Instagram
Sign up to our mailing list

Laura:  00:02
Hello and welcome to the Sounds-Write podcast. I'm the host, Laura, and in today's episode, I'm speaking to Kelly Cross. Kelly is the mother of Freddie, who has moderate learning difficulties. Kelly talks about the moment they realised Freddie was struggling to learn to read and write and the journey to him becoming the avid reader he is today. I hope you enjoy the episode. Hi, Kelly. It's great to have you on the podcast today.

Kelly:  00:28
Hi, Laura, thanks for having me here. I'm really excited to be here on the podcast.

Laura:  00:32
Great. So, could you start off by telling us a bit about who you are and how you first came to be involved with Sounds-Write.

Kelly:  00:39
Of course. So, I'm Kelly, I'm a mum of two lovely boys and I'm also the head of business at Sounds-Write. I've been working with Sounds-Write now for two years, although I have been involved with John and the programme for around the last ten years now. So, both as the parent of a child with learning difficulties and as a big supporter of Sounds-Write with helping such things as the parent carer course and 'Helping your child to read and write'.

Laura:  01:04
Brilliant. So, your son has moderate learning difficulties. Could you tell us a bit about what that's meant for him, especially in his younger years when he was first learning to read and spell? I think a lot of people, you know, hear the term 'moderate learning difficulties', but are not quite sure what exactly that means in practise. I guess it means something different to each individual child.

Kelly:  01:27
Of course. So, my son Freddie and I have checked with him that he's happy to be named in this podcast. So, he was diagnosed with moderate learning difficulties, dyspraxia and a speech disorder in 2013, so when he was seven. Although, I really knew from an early age that he was delayed in his development, so he was missing all of his milestones. We started speech therapy when he was three years old, and really, for him, it meant he was finding it very difficult, even at nursery. And then, of course, when we went into the school environment, it became even more apparent that he had these learning difficulties. His moderate learning difficulties really present in all aspects of his education, really. So, he has stayed in mainstream school, but really, the basics are very difficult for him and initially that presented with being able to read and spell and even sort of understanding the most basic of math challenges as well, was very difficult for him.

Laura:  02:28
Yeah. And when was it that you first became aware that his learning difficulties might make it harder for him to learn to be a proficient reader and speller and kind of when was it that you realised that was going to be a big issue for him?

Kelly:  02:42
Yeah, so it was really from a very early age, like I just mentioned before, it really presented with him missing his milestones. I know that when he was at nursery, there were some concerns around his level of engagement at nursery, as well. And they said that quite often he would just sit in the corner. So then it was the question of, why is that happening? So we had a number of tests. So first of all was a hearing test, and it was shown that Freddie had glue ear, which often meant that he couldn't hear lots of the sounds, so it was like he was underwater all the time. It was also as he went into school that it became quite apparent that he was far behind his peers. So, whilst we had lots of reading practise at home and lots of spelling practise at home, he wasn't showing that he was grasping any of it, actually, Laura, and it was really quite difficult for me to see. I was always getting feedback that he was a really happy child and that he gave it his all at school and he was very, very happy to go to school. However, trying to teach him to read and spell was becoming very, very difficult. I think that was the hardest bit for me. I'd always read to him as a baby. We had millions of books at home for an age-appropriate reading level. However, it was very rare that he would pick up a book and if we wanted to do any schoolwork with him, even at that early age, there was a lot of resistance there.

Laura:  04:10
Yeah. So what were the school doing to support him? I know you said you were doing stuff outside of school to try and help, but was what school were doing enough? What were they actually doing to help?

Kelly:  04:24
It's quite a difficult one, because, like I said, I was getting lots of feedback about what a delightful child he was, how polite he was, he was making lovely friends. And what I wasn't really getting was the feedback in terms of his education and how far away he was from where the expectation was that he should be working at. So, I actually spoke to a teacher friend of mine in the end and sort of relayed my frustration at not having kind of any interventions at school. And she asked if he had got any extra support in terms of school action and school action plus, and I wasn't even aware of what those were at the time, being a first time mum with a child at school. So I did ask for Freddie to get extra support and they did do some interventions, but it became very clear very quickly on that it wasn't enough for him. So by the end of Year 1, I was still struggling to see any progress and I really didn't know where to turn at this point. And then Sounds-Write and John Walker appeared in our lives.

Laura:  05:29
So, how did that feel for you as a parent? It must have been so frustrating to kind of keep asking people for help and not getting much response.

Kelly:  05:38
Yeah, it's very difficult to be honest. You know, like I said, it's where do you turn, who do you turn to? If you've got the school there supporting you via the SENCO, it's great. But actually, they also are trying to find out the problems and where those problems lie and what the issues are and how they can help as well. And that was the bit that I kept fighting for. What can we do, what are the issues, where do we go, who do we get the support from? And what external agencies can we also bring in to help as well?

Laura:  06:09
Yeah. Okay, so, what process did you go through when you realised he was going to need more support and you said you didn't really know where to turn? So, what was that kind of thought process like of figuring out what he was going to need?

Kelly:  06:26
Sure. Well, first and foremost, I went to the GP and aired my concerns with the GP and they were very understanding, actually, and put me in touch with a paediatrician. And at that point, after researching it to death, I quickly understood that actually, to get any form of help, you probably needed a diagnosis. At that point in time, we hadn't got a diagnosis, so we went to a paediatrician and at that point, they did diagnose that he had dyspraxia and the moderate learning difficulties. Following on from this, I pushed for further speech therapy. He had been having speech therapy, but I really needed to kind of get that sorted and regular speech therapy, rather than a few blocks here and there. An OT assessment, so we went through occupational therapy. An Ed psych report as well, just to understand what Freddie's difficulties were, where he was at the age that he was expected to be, and also what those techniques were for learning, because that is the really great thing about that type of report. They can say, okay, these are the difficulties that Fred has got, this is how the school needs to support him and these are the interventions that need to be put in place. I think as a parent, it's very difficult because it's all very new. You're being guided by people and you don't really know what is the best approach. So those external agencies were great. And at this point in time, I had asked the school whether Freddie should have an EHCP. I was told at that point in time that he wouldn't meet the 15 sets of criteria to have the EHCP.

Laura:  08:05
Sorry, what is EHCP?

Kelly:  08:07
Of course, sorry: Educational Care and Health Care Plan. So, what it does, it outlines a child's needs, whether that's educational or for healthcare. It's a document that is legally binding and what it will do is outline the support that a child needs and the funding that is needed to give to that school to be able to support the child in their education. So, the EHCP, I knew it would be difficult. I didn't realise how difficult that process would be, Laura, so it did take me 22 months.

Laura:  08:40

Kelly:  08:41
I originally applied for the EHCP with the school's help and got a no from county and they said that the school should be able to support him. My argument was the school have been supporting him and he still isn't making progress, so where do we go from here? So I took it upon myself to go back round all of the agencies and ask for another Ed psych report, another speech therapy report. At the time, John was also seeing Freddie for Sounds-Write. So I asked John to also write a report with the help of a new SENCO at the school, we resubmitted the application for the EHCP and we finally got it with 30 hours of support, but we didn't get that until Year 6.

Laura:  09:24

Kelly:  09:25
So he had gone all through primary education without the EHCP in place and the funding and the support to be able to get him through there.

Laura:  09:33

Kelly:  09:34
Yeah. So what that has meant is that Freddie was able to stay in mainstream school. The 30 hours in the EHCP meant that he would get a one-to-one support at secondary school. And alongside the school also supporting him, John supporting him in Sounds-Write, us supporting him at home, we really knew that actually he would hopefully have a bright future.

Laura:  10:00
So, what did you find helpful as a parent in supporting him to learn to read and write, in tackling that specific issue, what would you say to other parents in similar situations as well?

Kelly:  10:11
Yeah. So, if I take the second part of the question first, I would say to parents; don't give up. Keep fighting for your child, look for all of that support out there. My support came via Sounds-Write to be honest, to get him to learn to read and write and spell was purely down to Sounds-Write. And all of the lessons that he had and the tutoring and all of the resources that they're able to support him. So, I actually found John through a school talk. They were just implementing Sounds-Write at the school and John was doing a session about how parents can help support their children at school. And I was so inspired by the programme, I tracked John down and just said, would he have a look at Freddie and try to understand where the difficulties were and what I could do as a parent to help him at home. So, that's the first bit, you know, find those people who are willing to help and provide guidance and advice. I would also say that progress isn't always an upward trajectory. As a parent, understand that there are peaks and troughs. Lots of reading, lots of repetition, lots of handwriting practise, just lots and lots and lots of that practice as you go along. I mean, going back to kind of Freddie and phonics and reading and spelling, as a first time mom, if somebody had asked me what phonics programme they were doing at school, I would have looked at them blankly. I'm not sure I even knew what phonics was at that stage. So, working with John, I learned a lot. But the key message that always sticks with me, really, is that guessing isn't reading. So, Freddie was very good at picking up a book, telling me he could read, but what he was doing was guessing the story and the words from the pictures in the book. So the 'guessing isn't reading' has always stuck with me. And even now, when he's reading or he gets stuck on a word, he will try and bypass it or guess it, and I will still say to him, even at the age of 16, 'Freddie guessing isn't reading'. He would also read very quickly in the hope that nobody would notice that he was skimming some words. So, yeah, knowing sort of Freddie's comprehension was great, was the other key aspect of it. So, we asked him lots of questions about stories. He's a child that continually asks questions about the world. We always made sure that we were asking those questions and we were always very honest with him about things as well. He's still naturally inquisitive to this day. I would always check he understood the word he was reading and how it was being used in the context of the sentence, what he was learning about that story as we were reading it together. But I also learned techniques along the way. So, I always thought it was nice to read with Freddie next to him with my arm around him, having a bit of comfort time together. What I soon realised was, actually, if I sat opposite Freddie, watched him read, see where his eyes were going, see if he was concentrating, that was a big technique that I learned. So, yeah, sitting opposite him and actually watching him read, seeing where his eyes are and pointing to the words that he gets stuck on.

Laura:  13:35
Yeah. And as you said there, in that, we were talking before we started recording that, actually, it must have been so overwhelming. As a first time mom, you're already kind of trying to navigate the waters of parenthood as it is. And not only that, but you kind of were in this situation where you had to become an expert in all things phonics and everything.

Kelly:  14:02
EHCP's and all of the acronyms that come with it as well, Laura, that's another area to navigate. But, yeah, I suppose you have hopes and dreams for your children, don't you? And I don't think I ever expected that I would have a child with learning difficulties and dyspraxia and all of the things that come with that. And actually, it's made me a better parent, it's made me more patient, it's made me want to learn. I've had to learn. I've had to work the system, I've had to learn the system. But first and foremost, I want Freddie to be able to progress. And in order for him to be able to progress, I have to learn. So, yeah, that was a really big learning curve for me. I just thought you spell and read naturally, and actually, when you start listening to the things around Sounds-Write, in terms of, you know, children learn the sounds that they hear naturally, it all made perfect sense to me.

Laura:  14:56
Yeah. And, you know, I've known you and Freddie for many years now, and your determination and dedication to fight for Freddie's education has just been absolutely amazing.

Kelly:  15:08
Thank you. I always say that if you as a parent can't do it, then who can? But I've had so much feedback over the years about how lucky Freddie is to have myself and Shaun, my husband, he's also a big advocate for all of this, and I can't believe that there are parents out there who don't do it. But I understand that it's actually really difficult for parents, and a lot of parents won't know where to turn, they won't know who to go to. If the school aren't supporting, then it's just a case of that child trying to get through school as the best they can. And the important thing for me, again, and it's something I've learned via Sounds-Write, is actually, to be able to read and write helps you to access the whole curriculum. It's not just about English, it's being able to continue your education through secondary school as well.

Laura:  15:57
Yeah, of course. What happened, Kelly, when you found Sounds-Write and when Freddie started doing the sessions with John? And could you tell us about how those first few sessions actually went?

Kelly:  16:09
Sure. So when I found John, I felt like someone really understood the difficulties we were facing. And that very first visit when I knocked on the door with a six year old Freddie, and was literally saying, 'help me!', he absolutely filled me with confidence that he could help Freddie. Not only in being a proficient reader, but all of the stuff that comes with that as well. Being able to spell, being able to decode, being able to segment, understanding the code and how it works. So, all of that that came with it. I mean, at the time, I can remember being sat in the kitchen with John and he was talking about all of this, and I was like, 'okay, yeah, no, that's great. Where do I, as a parent, fit into this?' And the very first thing that he did was he drew a circle on a piece of paper, and you've probably seen this before, Laura. And he said, 'What is this?'. And I said, 'well, of course it's a circle'. And he said, 'well, it might be a circle to you, but to other people, it's the sun. It's a moon, it's a pizza, it can be many things'. And then we went to speak about, kind of, what all the children learn naturally and that's the sounds of their own language. And just that very first session it was like a light bulb went off in my head and I was like, I get it, it makes sense, it makes perfect sense. So I was hooked and I said, okay, so I want to learn Sounds-Write and I want Freddie to be able to read via Sounds-Write. So, John then went on to do some diagnostics and gave a very thorough overview of the results. And I'm not going to lie, they were quite hard to take, those results, because when it's presented in black and white it's like, okay, you know that we have got a lot of work to do here. But what we did was we started from the very beginning with the Initial Code. Freddie also had difficulties as a result of the glue ear of hearing the sounds and differentiating between some of those sounds. But we had a starting point, we knew where we needed to go and both myself and John were not prepared to give up at this point. So we were like, whatever it takes, we are going to do it. So the first few lessons started on the CVC words with lots and lots of practise at home. So I came home armed with Initial Code books, a manual, a lot of cut up pieces of paper, marker pens and a whiteboard. And we followed the Initial Code lessons week by week, practising everything John was teaching with us. Freddie loved Sounds-Write, actually. I will say that. So, he had been resistant to reading I would say, at this point. After a couple of weeks, he was starting to pick up books, he was decoding, he was blending, he was reading words. The smile on his face, that he really did see the progress as well. So, it made perfect sense. And more importantly, like I said, that Freddie could see the progress, so he kept wanting to do more.

Laura:  19:15
Yeah, that's so lovely.

Kelly:  19:17
It is, it is. You know, that first sound of, 'I can read', and it was like, 'I know you can, we always said you could'. So, yeah, for us it was just the start of what I will say is a fairly long journey. I think the difficulty was also ensuring he was getting the intervention and the practice at school in the same way. I was very passionate that I didn't want him to learn any other programme alongside this, that all intervention had to be Sounds-Write as well. We were fortunate enough at the time that the school was using Sounds-Write, so there was that as well. But took it upon myself that yes, we're going to do this at home, 30 minutes every day. Sometimes we didn't quite get that 30 minutes depending on how tired he was. But yeah, it was just repetition, repetition, repetition, all the way.

Laura:  20:04
Yeah. And what do you think it was that specifically worked for him about Sounds-Write.

Kelly:  20:11
I think first and foremost, Laura, it made sense to him. It made perfect sense. So, understanding the code knowledge and also being made to say the sounds precisely, it was something that he had never been taught to do. He does have a speech problem, so saying the sounds sometimes are a little bit difficult for him. But when he started to blend those sounds and read a word, he could see he was becoming successful in learning to read, which obviously spurred him on some more. The progress after each lesson made him want to do more. We started to understand the tools that John gave us as well, and the activities that we could do at home. So it wasn't just picking up and reading the book. There was lots of fun activities we could do. And I think moving on to the CCVC words, he found this a little trickier. And then we started to see a little bit of resistance again, but within a very, very short space of time and practising and following the unit lessons and being consistent with error corrections, as well, is what I would say is the other thing. And sticking to the script, we started to see the progress again and then he went flying. [laughter]

Laura:  21:25
You said that it was quite a long journey for him to learn to read and write. How long did it take for him to kind of become proficient, and how has that made a difference to his life?

Kelly:  21:36
Sure, it's actually quite hard to pinpoint at that point where I would say, yes, he became a proficient reader, because progress was slightly slow, but he was continually making progress. And I would say by the time Freddie had reached Key Stage Two, he had made so much progress, he was reading like a different child. He was picking books up, he was wanting to read them. He was reading extracts out of an encyclopaedia. I mean, it was a child's encyclopaedia, but he was interested in all of that nonfiction stuff as well. He would sit and read the sports pages with my dad, and he wanted to read all manner of fiction books. So we certainly saw the gap close between him and his peers at Key Stage Two. I would say by the time Freddie got to secondary school, he was a completely proficient reader. To the point, Laura, that he would stick his hand up to read aloud in class. So, if anybody asked if anybody really wanted to read aloud, Freddie was always one of those first people to stick his hand up. And that was something at the age of six when we first found Sounds-Write that I thought I would never see.

Laura:  22:46

Kelly:  22:46
Yeah, so I would say, sort of, you know, that back end of primary school was really where we saw the difference. Once he'd gone through all of the code and was getting lots of practice.

Laura:  22:57
Brilliant. Yeah. I think a lot of people don't have that strong belief in some children who have, say, moderate learning difficulties, that they can learn to read and write and they can do it. It just might take a little bit longer.

Kelly:  23:12
Yeah, exactly. And, you know, I hear so many stories about things like this as well. In fact, a head teacher friend of mine contacted me and her daughter heard being diagnosed with dyslexia, and as a headteacher, she actually said to me, I don't know what to do. What did you do with Freddie? So, of course, it was Sounds-Write all the way. And I actually put her in touch with the Sounds-Write tutor, and within six months, the tutor has now said, okay, you're off on your own. I cannot teach you anymore. You are doing brilliantly, you are now reading, you're doing all of the stuff around that as well. And so even just that progress. And that was somebody who had been in that environment and had seen phonics programmes. So, yeah, it's really interesting to see, actually, and I guess the message is, don't give up, because the help and the support is out there and it's finding the right tools and resources to help your child. I just do want to add as well, if that's okay. And I know I now work for Sounds-Write, but the reason why I came to work for Sounds-Write was because I could see the impact it had on Freddie. The other thing that I was helping Sounds-Write with was the 'Help your child to read and write' for parents and carers. So what I would say is, for any parent or carer out there really struggling with their child, take a look at the resource, because it is a fantastic resource.

Laura:  24:34
Great, yeah. I'll link that below.

Kelly:  24:36
Yeah, if you could, please. That'd be great, because it really is a... I do feature on it as well. [laughter]

Laura:  24:43
I know, I was going to say!

Kelly:  24:43
Plugging myself, [laughter] but yeah, it is just knowing where to go and getting those resources, so I highly recommend that.

Laura:  24:50
Well, thank you so much for coming and talking about this. It's been really great to hear the story and hear about Freddie and his success.

Kelly:  25:00
Yeah. Thanks, Laura. Thanks for having me, I really enjoyed it. Cool.

Laura:  25:03
All right, see you next time.