I have known Sylvia professionally for more than fifteen years. She has unequalled knowledge of how children learn to read and write and has worked passionately to educate and support professionals and parents. Long before most of us in the field of education recognized the importance of phonological awareness, Sylvia understood the necessity to move beyond the whole-word approach to reading instruction that was the basis of school reading programs. She was well aware of the fact that many readers struggled because they could not readily make the link between letters and sounds, but with systematic instruction, children could learn to be efficient readers and writers. I feel fortunate that I have access to the wealth of knowledge Sylvia has acquired as an educator, consultant, author and presenter.
Michele, Registered Psychologist, President of the Alberta Learning Disability Association
I have had the good fortune of working with Sylvia over the last decade. Sylvia is a truly dedicated and gifted educator who works tirelessly to help both students and their teachers learn new strategies to improve their skills. Sylvia has a great deal of knowledge and she uses this knowledge to tailor approaches to help those she works with. I have worked with Sylvia, both as a teacher and administrator, and I would highly recommend her.
Mike, Elementary School Principal
As president of the LDAA-Edmonton Chapter, I strongly endorse the work of Sylvia Hannah Sinclaire, as educator, author, and diagnostician. She has worked unwaveringly throughout her career to develop and support the work of literacy for children, teens, and adults. She remains steadfast in her commitment to focusing on the skills that good readers use, and then ensuring that all learners understand and apply those same skills. As a professional colleague, I consider Sylvia to be at the top of the field as to knowledge about the development and provision of effective literacy instruction for all ages.
Judy, President of the Learning Disability Association of Alberta - Edmonton Chapter
Even though I've always been a successful language learner, I realized when I became a language teacher that I secretly felt that English lacked a unifying system. I found myself commiserating with the students I taught, agreeing: "It doesn't make sense, does it?" or "It's best just to memorize it rather than try to understand it."
This seminar not only made the system behind English explicit for me, but gave me important tools to teach the portion of students for whom the system is a mystery. Even if my career takes me into junior and senior high school classrooms I feel that what I've learned about multi-syllable words and syllabication will still be relevant. The work on the "visualizing and verbalizing" comprehension strategies is also useful for all ages and can be integrated with current trends toward multimedia texts and film.
As a first-year teacher, I feel this course gave me a boost in confidence and a unique set of ideas to bring into my school community. I look forward to telling my class: "Of course English has a system and that's why you will be able to learn it."
Alison, Elementary/Junior High Teacher
As a special needs teacher with reading levels ranging from grade level to four years behind, my focus is on increasing the reading achievements of my students. I have used many excellent research-based practices, but have still found up to half of my students not achieving at the level I would wish. I kept feeling that there was a piece missing. Now, having taken Sylvia's course, I believe I have found that "missing link". Not only do I understand the phonological aspects underpinning reading achievement, but I also have been given the tools and clear and concise instruction on to use them to support my students in their reading journey.
Lissa, Grade 3/4 Special Needs Teacher
I have had the pleasure of working with you for the past two weeks. Although I was unfamiliar with phonological awareness, I was curious about its application with my students. I teach grade 1/2 students with mild to moderate learning disabilities that often have difficulty with language.
I understand, now, why this seminar required two full weeks! Each day provided invaluable information and your professionalism and sense of humor kept me motivated. Although the course was intense, I appreciated the pace at which you guided our group. At no time did I feel as though I would be unable to implement phonological techniques with my students.
Thank you for your dedication to learning and I look forward to sharing many success stories with you in the future.
Linda, Grade 1/2 Special Needs Teacher
I have enjoyed taking your course and can already see how it will be very beneficial to my remedial students. It's been so interesting for me to see what a broad range of ages, phonological awareness can help. That excites me!
This course has helped me better understand the linguistic side to teaching reading and spelling. I can now see how this linguistic knowledge will help me address some of the problems that I previously could not.
Even just learning about "climate for learning", the consonants and the vowel system provides a great foundation to keep building upon. No matter what level of student I will be working with, I can see using these three concepts as a beginning point.
I really enjoyed the opportunities we had to observe a student and watch the videos. They really helped solidify what I had learned and helped me see how to incorporate these ideas into games or activities.
Thank you so much for all your time and effort to make this course interesting.
Karen, Elementary Teacher
I had first heard of using consonant pictures in Calgary at a speech and language course. Here I have learned a deeper understanding of the consonant and vowel pictures and of linguistic reasons behind certain sounds in words, i.e. hopped versus landed. I have used the consonant mouth pictures with my speech and language delayed children (for articulation purposes) but I'm excited to go back and take it even further, i.e. setting the climate for learning, adding the vowel chart and analyzing words with the mouth pictures. Having worked with speech and language delayed kids I see so many with auditory weaknesses and it confirms for me how foundational phonological awareness is. Listening to how our alphabet sounds are made and using the mirror to reinforce them could be emphasized so much more in the Kindergarten classes and I hope I can have an influence with future K-teachers I meet, e.g. perhaps facilitating a small group of children at centre time and working through the concepts each week. Simple reading and spelling begins in Kindergarten and I can use those mouth pictures for analyzing simple words. I may not always be in a K environment and so to have the knowledge of more complex and multi-syllable words and how to cater syllable chains to various problems was good for the brain and should be a valuable resource down the road, and for my own children in the meantime.
I liked that you've taught us info. first and then handed out the corresponding sheets. You spoke slowly and with pauses which helped to digest information. I like the hands-on practicing time we had. Observing the student sessions was very useful. I can see why the course is two weeks - there is so much to absorb and wrap your brain around.
I liked being with the group from the school and listening to them brainstorm how they might "weave" these strategies with the rest of their program. I hope I have a chance to observe some of their classes, once they've had some time to put strategies into practice.
I have paid for this course myself and feel that it was money well spent. I had seen, heard of, and even used "bits' of this course. Therefore, one of my primary reasons for taking it was to become much more familiar with the whole structure. While I think I understand most of the concepts behind the strategies, true familiarity and confidence will come the more I practice and "play with it". I have learned new strategies which I am eager to put into practice and it has given me a renewed interest in the English language and all its peculiarities.
Beth, Elementary Teacher Assistant
In grade one I came to use the Phonological Awareness System because I wanted to help my students become successful when learning to read and write.
Historically, the children that came into grade one at my school were emerging readers, who often struggled to spell and write and certainly did not want to take risks. I needed and wanted to increase their comprehension in reading and writing and to make the process they went through more meaningful.
So the challenge became....what could I do to help the children improve, meet their needs and ensure success.
I wanted to bring all the facets of reading and writing together, to help make meaningful connections, and to build a meaningful sound sequence system for the children to use everyday.
...I began to work with Sylvia and we started to identify the areas that we could use to make these connections for children. She took us through an intense course on how to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
We identified how consonant sounds and vowels were going to be taught and developed a system to do that.
Once it became apparent that the children's understanding and their comprehension had increased, we began to fine-tune the process. Each of us has then developed and implemented the process in our own way.
I think it's important to note here that we did not throw out things that were working for us in teaching the younger children to read.
We were already doing many things that were working.
We constantly monitor how the process is working and what needs to change. We meet regularly with Sylvia to share the trials and the tribulations that start to happen as we have moved this process along.
The greatest addition to my program was the steady growth in reading and writing and that the children did build a sound sequence system that applies in context to their reading and writing and that has translated into much higher comprehension results.
The buzz in the classroom is unbelievable when they make a connection.
It has been so exciting to watch the children change and grow.
My greatest worry now is what to do now that we are experiencing so much success. A problem I am happy to have.
I have never had children perform so well in day-to-day classroom work, and on their year-end academic testing.
Kathy, Grade 1 Teacher
"Using Sylvia's expertise, our student's reading performance soared in grades 1 and 2. Our at-risk children in kindergarten were able to understand and independently produce sound-letter correspondences. The majority of our kindergarten students comprehended, at the end of kindergarten, from the middle to the end of grade 1. Our identified students at-risk in kindergarten performed at the beginning of grade 1."
Dr. Gabe Mancini, Elementary School Principal
During my 15 years of teaching, I have discovered strategies that work for students with learning disabilities. Through trial and error, I pieced together my own philosophy and program to teach these students to read and write. However, I was always frustrated when my students moved into multi-syllabic words. What I discovered through the course of Sylvia's seminar was a philosophy that resonated with the discoveries I had already made, and taught me a new way to look at teaching students word identification skills at a higher level. Every day yielded at least one "Ah ha!" moment. I finally feel like I have more of the "the answer" and that I will be more able to develop my students into readers and writers.
Su, Reading Specialist/Consultant
It has been my great good fortune to be mentored by Sylvia Hannah. Her work as a reading specialist has had a profound impact on my teaching practice and beliefs. I was first introduced to Sylvia when she assessed a boy in my grade two class, named Gabe. At the time, I had been teaching in primary classrooms for nearly twenty years, had multiple reading courses under my belt, and was recognized for excellence in my work. But, I didn't know what to do with Gabe.
Gabe, like many children, came into grade two functioning at a beginning to mid-grade one level in reading and writing. With good reading instruction, these children typically complete grade two either at or above grade level. I was proud of the progress of my students. But, like many teachers, I felt a sense of failure when, despite my best efforts, there were students, like Gabe, who continued to lag behind.
Sylvia recognized Gabe as an affable, intelligent little boy with a great imagination. She also recognized that he had extremely limited phonological awareness. At mid-year, Gabe began attending tutored sessions. These sessions, based on methods that Sylvia had practiced and refined over many years, vastly improved Gabe's phonological awareness.
By the end of grade two, Gabe was reading independently, and his father, who had attended many of the sessions, had undergone a revelation about his own struggles as a student. While bright enough to attend law school, the father had frequently been overwhelmed. Now he knew why - limited phonological awareness. As a reader, he had relied heavily on an excellent sense of language and a good visual memory. His ability to decode text had been inadequate.
In the position of Special Needs Coordinator for the school's K to Gr. 9 students, I began to work extensively with Sylvia assessing and programming for students achieving below grade level. Inevitably, the same picture arose. Many of these students, in elementary and junior high, had poor phonological awareness. Along the way I learned the same holds true for a quarter to a third of the general population. Despite good phonic instruction, a significant number of students are phonologically challenged. The implications in terms of reading instruction are enormous.
I needed to learn more so, the following summer, I registered for a two week long Phonological Awareness Seminar taught by Sylvia. The work was intense but I developed greater insight into the challenges faced by many students and gained an invaluable set of skills that I added to my teaching practice. That autumn I began incorporating these diagnostic and teaching strategies working with all the students in my grade one classroom. Predictably the results were impressive. Even my lowest students achieved grade level in reading.
Without revealing why, I asked a district Speech and Language Pathologist to assess a group of my students at the end of the year. She was bowled over and stated that she'd never seen a group of students that were working at such a high level phonologically. "Whatever it is that you're doing, keep doing it!" Only afterward did I tell her that she'd just finished assessing the bottom quarter of my class.
Other teachers in the elementary began to take note and asked if Sylvia and I would do an eight part series of in-services on reading. As word spread, teachers in the junior and senior high expressed interest in learning more. Few saw themselves as reading teachers; many felt frustrated and inadequate when faced with students who performed below expectations. Some even recognized themselves when we began to talk about the reading and writing behaviors typical of people with poor phonological awareness.
A door has opened for me. I now have the tools to identify, teach, and remediate students of all ages who struggle with reading. I have so much more to learn, but, thanks to Sylvia, I feel equipped to meet the challenge.
Gail, Elementary School Curriculum Coordinator
It is with sheer pleasure that I write this testimonial of Sylvia Hannah's very intelligent program on Phonological Awareness! Throughout school my son, Justin, has struggled with reading and spelling. I knew he was struggling and even though I am a teacher I could not find any way to help him. It was very odd, because he did so well in Math and other subjects. Justin always tried hard, but would become frustrated and eventually I think that we both gave up! It was through fate that I took a position at a School with a very special principal that really believes that the child comes first. He decided that I should learn Sylvia's phonological program so that I could incorporate some of it into music classes and so that I could pull certain children out of classes for extra help! I soon found myself telling Sylvia about my son, Justin. She said that she would come and listen to Justin read and test him in other areas. Sylvia told me with tears in her eyes, that Justin had a learning disability. He performed at a grade 8 math level and a grade 2 reading level! It was a shock to hear that our child had a learning disability, but now we knew how to help him! We started to work on the phonemics right away! Over time, Justin began to embrace the time we spent together. One day he came home from school and said, "Mom, I feel confident reading in front of my class now!" Even as I sit writing and thinking about this today, I get tears in my eyes! Justin is still working hard on his spelling but he is reading novels at his grade level (one year later) independently! Another time that Justin and I were working he said, "Mom, you know that lady who taught you how to teach me how to read? She is really cool!" Ultimately all kids want to be successful and Sylvia's course is a wonderful path for students who struggle with phonological awareness, muscle memory, reading and spelling! We owe so much to my very warm, knowledgeable, compassionate and funky friend, Sylvia!
Rhonda, Elementary School Music Teacher and Mother of 11 year old Justin
When it comes to helping students struggling with literacy, Sylvia is little short of a miracle worker.
She has been my friend, colleague, and mentor for almost 30 years and throughout that time, she has focussed on her two great passions: helping students and literacy.
She is a kind, caring, compassionate, gentle, thoughtful, generous, and optimistic person. She makes people feel good about themselves, not with false or contrived praise, but by using her insight and intuition to uncover strengths and positive traits, and by providing the kind of instruction needed to help students make progress, and feel the exhilaration that comes from learning.
She is also a lover of reading, writing, teaching, and learning. Books have a special place in her life. Literacy opens doors and Sylvia is here to ensure we all have the keys we need.
Sylvia has always known that students feel good about themselves when they know that if they make the effort, they will make progress. But too often, during her many years of assessing students with learning difficulties, she came across those who tried their very best, yet just couldn't "get it". She made it her business to find out how to help these students.
Often a trail-blazer, Sylvia has questioned, experimented, and generally stretched the limits, seeking new and different answers to the best way to reach struggling students.
She is a leader in her field. Often Sylvia would share some new information or research findings pertaining to education with me. Many times, I would hear the same information presented as "news" during professional development seminars ten years later!
On one occasion, she was exceptionally excited about a new way of teaching and learning that she had discovered, and was looking for a student to try it out with. It so happened that I had been tutoring a neighbour's grandson that summer. He was a bright seven year old, with a supportive family, who had not learned to read after completing grade one. Although I was given materials and guidance by one of the school's reading consultants, I could not honestly say that he was any further ahead by September than when we started. Then, Sylvia worked with him and, for the first time, he began to make progress!
Unfortunately, Sylvia did not always receive encouragement in her pursuit of effective teaching methods. She became a champion for those who struggled and fell through the cracks of the school system. She found ways to help them and when her work was not embraced by the school system, she did what needed to be done. She opened a private centre devoted to this work.
I worked for, and with, her and a group of devoted literacy experts at her clinic, and learned more in my short time there, than in all my previous university education. The most striking thing about the centre was the kindness felt by, and from, all involved. There was no competition between staff members, no egos that needed massaging. Sylvia made us all feel valued and we knew our work was important. She gave us the tools we needed, to do it.
Sylvia's book did not come out of nowhere. She agonized over how to make her knowledge accessible. Her main concern has always been to help the largest number of students, whether by teaching them directly, teaching teachers, or teaching parents what to do, and how to do it. She wrote her book to get the information "out there", so students can be helped.
So many lives have been changed because of the knowledge and experience that Sylvia has shared over the years, and now, so many more will develop literacy skills that seemed beyond their grasp.
Judy, Special Education Teacher (retired)