~ Vedashree Patankar and Deepa Soman
Our Lumière Learning Monday sessions are a popular weekly event.
Each week we have an eclectic array of invitee speakers or scheduled sessions by team members.
These sessions are intended for learning and new knowledge about work and life. They are intended to help broaden our world view.
Ms. Veena Basu, our Learning Monday guest in September is a pioneer in the area of special learning needs in the country. She has worked as a consultant, guest lecturer and special educator in several noted schools and colleges in Mumbai and USA. She is also the ex-Principal of a Special School in Mumbai.
One of Veena mam’s noted achievements include developing and publishing phonic based reading program called ‘Phonicsc2c- Chaos to Clarity-Beginners Reading Program.’ She runs BVERVE- a multi-modal Centre where parents, children, adults and professionals can avail of various services such as cognitive skills training, counselling, remediation, occupational therapy, psycho-educational assessment and other therapeutic alternatives.
In her session we asked Veena mam to about her reading program and materials. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Adults take reading for granted, we speak as fast as our mouths permit, and many become voracious readers across media platforms. We seldom think of HOW we learned to read so effortlessly! This session provides an insight into this HOW of reading.
As a special educator, Veena mam explains that each child has a varied speed of comprehension. Some children lag. This is why nursery teachers speak slowly, clearly and in a way that their mouth is visible to the child. Both sight, sound stimulus is necessary for comprehension. She talks of ways to tackle the lack of comprehension, and the need to add a multi-sensory dimension to the learning. This way the child is engaged visually, auditorily and kinaesthetically through the sense of touch.
Along with our 5 senses, the proprioceptor (joints) and the vestibular (balance) senses help take in the world Therefore, it is essential to engage with all of them. One way to engage all the senses is through stories and accompanied actions. It makes information retrieval easier for the child, the action gets imprinted in their brains. Sounds are very important she says, as they lead to ‘phonemic’ development. It is an understanding of each sound that a word contains.
Veena mam makes us do a little exercise to speak out our name along with saying the phonemes or each sound and offering a final count of letters, syllables and phonemes or sounds in our names. This is harder than we think and it leads to a lot of laughter as we stumble to identify the phoneme count. This intuitive of sound is an integral part to reading, along with alphabet recognition.
Why sounds you may ask? Because 80% of the words in English can be read phonetically, this brings the child 80% closer to reading. She explains that this “sound to print” is spelling and “print to sound” is reading.
Elaborating further Veena mam explains the connection between phonics and reading, along the lines of the US Reading Panel report and the Rose report (2006) in the UK and recommendations. She explains that phonemic awareness, the introduction and usage of phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary development and reading comprehension are essential aspects for a child to be called a reader.
The process of teaching a three-year-old to read is detailed and each step is carefully planned. Starting with one letter of the alphabet, to a set of six alphabets, and going to words made up of those six alphabets. Gradually new alphabets get added to this alphabet glossary, moving to blends and complex combination of words. This was an entire world of learning to read that we take for granted.
Veena mam is a magician with the way she conjures up this complex developmental journey via science and art. She gives access to the hidden world of language and reading. When reading, we use language, our attention, memory as well as the processing speed all whilst ignoring the extra inputs from outside. Reading feels like the first in the line of many multi-tasking activities we undertake.
The learning kit created by her is a tip of the iceberg. After successfully working across a variety of cohorts in Mumbai, Veena mam is undertaking training all CBSE school principals and teachers in Kanpur.
Another interesting area she speaks of is brain training. Her program is centred around the promise of neuroplasticity. The method believes that the brain is a muscle that when exercised, can help create new connections and increase its performance. The brain is trained using an approach called LIFTS. This is no different from pumping iron in the gym. It is an acronym for the series of brain stimulating activities with five steps
Load the brain – Intensify the approach – Feedback driven – Targeted – Sequential. This is a “brain gym” of sorts and Veena mam and her team are excellent coaches who work with parents and kids, elders and children in equal measure.
The starting point for learning is attention and the tenacity to stay on the path. Attention is a very scarce resource and one that needs to be harnessed carefully for ANY learning to take place. Learning should be holistic and not unidimensional to LIFT(S) us to the next level.