Who is Miss Emma?
Emma Hartnell-Baker BEd Hons MA Special Educational Needs.
Doctoral Student, University of Reading.
Mum, Border Collie Lover. Avid Reader.
Thank you so much for taking the time to look at the UK website, and read about my work. I am, at heart, an early years teacher. After teaching a mixed reception and year 1 class in Nottingham following graduation, I left classroom teaching to set up my first day nursery with before and after school care services. Within two years the second was opened, and I absolutely loved managing them both for 8 years, overseeing a team of over 35 incredible practitioners and, together, we achieved 'outstanding' outcomes when inspected by OFSTED. I was later honoured to be appointed by the UK government as an OFSTED Inspector. It is interesting to have been on both sides of that fence!
I have a mad love of children, and therefore a dedication to promoting (and facilitating) inclusion education. For a while I worked with children in care, mainly relating to positive behaviour change, however, something kept cropping up - very few could read and write with confidence, and none of the children and teenagers I supported would choose to read; the words 'reading' and 'pleasure', together, would be considered an oxymoron. This is what led me towards a focus on teaching reading and spelling. I completed a Masters Degree in Special Educational Needs at Nottingham University, and soon after emigrated to Australia with enthusiasm! I knew there had been an Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, and the recommendations aligned well with that of the Rose Report (UK) and NRP (USA) However I quickly realised that this information wasn't being shared, or used to enhance and improve classroom teaching.
Although I was initially happy to deliver teacher training to share research findings, and information about existing phonics programmes such as Jolly Phonics and Letters and Sounds, I knew there were gaps. After banging my head against a brick wall trying to explain how to adapt these programs, to meet the individual needs of students, including those who speak English as a Second Language and those at risk of the difficulties associated with dyslexia, I decided to figure out a way to create a program based on my own methods and activities, that could be replicated by others. I spent about 3 years working with teachers, figuring out how I could make this happen, and finally launched the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach in around 2011. I refused to call it a phonics program, as I wanted teachers to focus on all essential skills - oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension (the 'big six') with phonics being only 1 element - even though essential. I also realised that 'phonics' evoked strong feelings for many - often associated with worksheets and phrases like 'this letter makes the sound ....'. But not calling it a synthetic phonics program created issues for many, even though everything included fully aligned. I will never forget reading that the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach was reported as a 'controversial' literacy program within this 2015 news article, after a school leader had talked to reporters about the positive changes taking place within her South Australian school, especially with regards to those children at risk of failure (eg their dyslexic learners) The teaching team had been following my recommendations to use decodable readers and to systematically teach children to map phonemes to graphemes using a speech to print approach - rather than teaching words using 'clues' and using 'book bands' and benchmarking tests, with basic phonics as something separate. There was a lovely photo of children reading Dandelion readers and the school leader had sent data to show improved results since dropping Jolly Phonics to expand on how phonemic awareness and phonics was taught as part of an approach to teaching literacy with a shared language throughout the school. This should have been a great article to promote discussions about the role of systematic phonics and how to balance this with the requirement of the educational department and Australian National Curriculum. However I found that any criticism of established phonics programs was not encouraged, or my suggestion that we replace talk of 'whole language v phonics' with 'best ways to teach phonics'. Soon after that article, there was a 'ministerial' in South Australia, and schools were apparently directed not to use my resources or activities. In Queensland however our results started to skyrocket, and SSP spread rapidly! Teachers could see that it did not just align with what they were being told with regards to including 'The Big Six' but also 'explicit teaching', eg as advised by John Fleming. So SSP flourished in Queensland and was seemingly blocked in South Australia; teaching literacy seems highly political!
So it was an 'interesting' decade to be in Australia; very much a time of 'The Reading Wars' with two camps; 'whole language' and 'phonics'. Despite my passion for cracking the alphabetic code, I didn't really 'fit' with either camp I received a lot of attacks from various groups promoting synthetic phonics, as I would happily critique if asked, certain well-established practices eg the use of the term 'tricky words' and teaching of whole words within phonics programs, the use of larger sound units eg onset and rime and 'blends', and the adoption of a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. I have been close to quitting on many occasions - but it is my wonderful 'SSP family' who have kept me going. You will realise that the SSP Code Mapping program is a little different - I am out there supporting and mentoring everyone and anyone who has an interest in supporting children, and a dream of every child reading for pleasure. When I deliver training parents and teachers know they can contact me, directly, and I will respond. So it is a very 'personal' approach, with relationships at the heart of everything I do. I am 'accessible' and SSP Code Mapping is therefore a 'people program' more so than a 'phonics program'. I wasn't trying to compete with the big publishers and phonics program developers - I was simply trying to offer easy to implement solutions to meet the needs of all learners and to support teachers - which is why you will see my 'tech assisted' resources; not to replace teachers, but to free them up, and enable children to learn using a differentiated approach. Less teaching, more learning!
I am back in the UK undertaking doctoral work and have just submitted 'SSP Code Mapping' as a phonics program, to be validated by the UK government, and am unsure if my little program is something that will be accepted - I cannot compete with the large companies who have a huge marketing budget to get the program out to millions; I rely on parents and teachers talking about how Code Mapping has helped them become more effective teachers of reading and spelling. I am a real teacher, who makes mistakes, and who wears her heart on her sleeve. I just want to help teachers, so that they can feel empowered, be happier and more supported, and ultimately more effectively meet the needs of every single unique soul in their classroom. However, I think there is a gap in the current climate for another perspective, delivered by someone who 'walks the walk'. I go into schools and demonstrate what I do, I don't just talk about it. I have found that one of the best ways to open the hearts and minds of teachers is to work with a student at their school they know has struggled to read and spell - I can show how we could change things for them, by changing the way they are being taught. It is the reaction of that student that breaks down barriers; far more so than by showing them data from other schools, or sharing research findings. We cannot change behaviours without first addressing underlying beliefs; this was the theme at the heart of my Masters Degree dissertation.
Thank you to everyone who supports the mission, and keeps me focussed on the big picture! Every child reading for pleasure by 6.
Please help me by getting involved!
Miss Emma X