Archived Articles

Vera’s Articles

Sharing the Gift of Literacy
Family Writing
Phonics Program – published Sept 10, 2005

News Articles

Moira MacDonald – Kids need a break too! – October 29, 2007
Stefan Schussler, The Leader-Post Published: Thursday, October 25, 2007
Neighbors – Senior of the Week


Sharing the Gift of Literacy

Vera Goodman’s gift is the ability to help adults see the possibilities in children by identifying and building on their strengths without ever mentioning weaknesses. Her research has led to a simple, unusual approach to reading that enables beginning and struggling readers of all ages to read quickly and with understanding.

Goodman believes she has skills to offer that come only through experience. Despite her age, Goodman explores possibilities, embraces them, runs with them and is not afraid to take risks. She invests her time and money in the belief that she can make a valuable contribution to society.

For instance, when she realized that, just as family reading helps children become competent readers, engaging in family writing would enable children to become effective writers she wrote Simply Write! Personal and Family Writing. She also self-published a bestseller Simply Read! Helping Others Learn to Read.  Her most recent book Simply Too Much Homework!  What Can We Do? explores the consequences of excessive homework on students and families.

Goodman’s extensive network of friends knows no boundaries. Regardless of age, occupation, social status or race, she feels she has a lot to learn from each of them. This openness has led to what she says is, “An incredible synchronicity. People enter my life in fascinating ways just at a time when they can refer me to a timely book, provide a story that illustrates a point in my writing, or give advice on a new idea.”

Her magnetic spirit attracts people who pick up her enthusiasm and become part of her newest project.

She fills her days with speaking to a wide variety of audiences, consulting with parents on how to become successful reading coaches, writing articles, making media appearances and networking.

You can see why her favorite question is, “I wonder what will happen tomorrow?”

To Goodman, it’s not about age. She believes a successful life is measured by identifying your passions and doing them in spite of obstacles or the opinions of others. When you are older, you have the time, resources and confidence to follow your passion.

As Goodman says, “What the heck! I’m going to be old anyway, so why not try to be useful?”

Vera Goodman B.Ed., M.A. taught grades one to nine for 30 years and continues to teach adults as a consultant and as a professional speaker to a wide variety of audiences.

Free for distribution allowed with permission from the author.


Family Writing

As Albert Einstein once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”

Many of the world’s best-known authors came from families where one or both parents wrote for personal or professional reasons. Pierre Berton, for example, had a mother who wrote voraciously. She was a second-generation writer who wrote regularly just for the love if it.

We learn by living with others. When we live in a family that models and celebrates writing, we learn to value writing. Children are seed beds. Whatever is planted grows, unless it is weeded out. Parents who write serve as models, and in planting the seeds of writing they do their children an inestimable favor. Writing becomes a form of enjoyment and play.

The inspiration for my second book, Simply Write!, came one night when I suddenly realized that as a public speaker on literacy issues I had talked extensively about the importance of family reading to raising strong readers, but I had never advocated family writing as being important to raising effective writers. This realization gave new focus to my writing. I began to look at writing as a family affair, and to ask myself what it would look like if we promoted this concept.

Family writing involves creating ways to extend the classroom community of writers to include the home. When parents, students and teachers celebrate writing together, strong relationships are established. Writing is strengthened and enriched – it comes alive in an incredible way. It creates a community to which all contribute and where all are nourished.

Teachers are the only ones who can make this happen. They are in an ideal position to become catalysts in encouraging families to write and in helping parents learn how to coach students to writing success.

Parents are busy. They don’t need another intrusive demand on their time. This has to happen slowly, using simple techniques that don’t require huge time commitments. Change occurs one person at a time so don’t expect all parents to want to be part of this community of writers. The trick is to start by making it easy for everyone to participate in a small way, to engage people on a new level.

A simple starter activity is to send home two copies of a particularly graphic description or character sketch with blanks replacing the adjectives. Ask the student to have two family members fill in the blanks independently. When the students read these aloud to each other, they will have fun and realize the power of adjectives. By exchanging their paragraphs with other students and taking them home to share with their families, everyone will understand the strength that comes from the judicious choice of adjectives.

Learning is a conversation, a turning around together, a dance. We can only dance together when we bring some common understandings. Families will engage in more productive conversations when they write together. I envision family writing as a partnership between home and school.

In his new book, Inspire!, Larry Secretan differentiates between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is exterior and compels learning through fear of failure, prizes, awards, stickers, pizzas and so on. It inadvertently creates haves and have-nots. It is a method of getting others to do what you want them to do.

Inspiration is interior and stimulates new ideas and creativity. Its rewards are the joy and satisfaction of realizing one’s own strengths and capabilities. Every person is creative in a totally unique way. Recognizing that creativity is the basis for a successful life. Writing is so important and powerful because it allows us to capture our unique thoughts and behaviors in a form that can be examined, revised, rehearsed and extended.

Secretan says, “Leaders are coaches. Great coaches inspire.” Having even one teacher who is a true leader, who is able to inspire students to bring their souls to writing, who enables them to recognize the joy and satisfaction of personal writing, is the greatest gift any person can receive. It builds self-worth and confidence like nothing else.

Teachers who choose to broaden their vision, who include the families of their students in the work of inspiring them to become life-long writers, have the potential to become these true leaders.

Vera Goodman B.Ed., M.A. taught grades one to nine for 30 years and continues to teach adults as a consultant and as a professional speaker to a wide variety of audiences. She is author of the bestseller Simply Read! Helping Others Learn to Read, her 2nd book, Simply Write! Practical Advice for Personal and Family Writing and her third book, Simply Too Much Homework! What Can We Do? She also has a simple and fun online course that teaches anyone who can read how to coach anyone who can’t to become a successful reader. Go to http:///www.readingwings.com for more information.

Free for distribution allowed as long as the last paragraph is included that gives credit to the author.


Phonics Program

Article republished from the Edmonton Journal – Sept 10, 2005

What if you devised a wonderful new way to teach kids to read, only to find out it didn’t work?

This week, the Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education released a $65,000 three-year study of Meaningful Applied Phonics, or Literary M.A.P., a new writing curriculum the Edmonton Public School Board pioneered in the 1990s.

From 2001 to 2004, a team of 25 researchers tracked more than 200 students from seven Edmonton schools that used the M.A.P. intensive phonics program as the central reading curriculum. The seven schools had very different populations. Some were ethnically diverse, others were not. Some were in poorer neighborhoods, others in more affluent districts. One was rural, one served primarily aboriginal students. The study then compared the students’ progress in reading and writing with a control group of students from seven similar schools not using M.A.P.

The researchers followed the same students for three years, testing them at repeated and regular intervals, using a variety of reading, writing and language comprehension tests.

The study’s principal investigator was Linda Phillips, director of the Canadian Center for Research on Literacy at the University of Alberta. Stephen Norris, an educational policy professor at the U of A and the Canada Research Chair in Scientific Literacy and the Public Understanding of Science, and Dorothy Steffler, a professor of psychology at Edmonton’s Concordia University College, were her co-authors.

The results were startling.

Instead of doing better than their peers at reading and writing, the kids in the intensive phonics program were falling behind the students in the control group, generally doing worse every year they stayed with the M.A.P. curriculum.

The author’s blunt and damning conclusion?

“Based upon the evidence produced in this study, continued use of the M.A.P. program is indefensible.”

Phillips is keen to stress that phonics are a hugely important part of teaching children to read. Her study doesn’t suggest schools stop teaching phonics, just what she terms the “prescriptive” M.A.P. phonics curriculum.

The Meaningful Applied Phonics system goes well beyond teaching kids to “sound out” letters and words. It begins by teaching children to print, correctly and precisely, the letters of the alphabet, while they learn the sound made by each letter and letter combination, or “grapheme.”

The idea is to give kids a “multi-sensory” understanding of language, to learn to read and print at the same time.

The M.A.P. system expects and instructor to teach the old-fashioned way, leading a while class through a lesson, step by step, in a set sequence.

Initially, M.A.P. was designed for students in the Edmonton public school’s alternative Cogito program, which emphasizes rigorous academic standards, teacher-led, whole class instruction and strong basic skills. While the board won’t say how many schools are using the M.A.P. curriculum, or elements of it, a Journal story from 2002 reported that 20, or about 12 per cent, of the city’s elementary schools were using M.A.P.

It’s understandable that the highly structured approach would appeal to many educators and parents. Parents worry tremendously about how well their kids are learning to read, and M.A.P., with its reassuring back-to-basics philosophy clearly looked like a winner.

But that’s not what the evidence says. And we must be careful not to adopt new teaching methods just because they seem intuitively better.

M.A.P. didn’t work well for kids in the middle of the academic spectrum, but for the kids at either end, the effects were worst of all. The schools which fared most poorly with the curriculum were the high-needs school with the large aboriginal population and the high-performing school in the affluent neighborhood.

Phillips suggests kids at the high-needs school were not ready for the structure the program demanded, while the most academically advanced kids were bored with all the repetition.

No one can fault the Edmonton Public School Board for piloting a new reading technique.

We want our largest school board to innovate, to look for ways to improve teaching. And the board should be praised for co-operating with the researchers to test M.A.P.

Still, the public school board isn’t ready to shelf the M.A.P. program, at least not yet.

“This research is one piece of data and we’d never base our reading program on one piece of data,” says board spokeswoman Lisa Austin. “We don’t throw something out because of one piece of research.”

Austin says the study will be analyzed carefully. But for now, M.A.P. will remain a strategy available to teachers and principals who want to use it.

It’s popular these days, especially in some quarters, to talk up the marvels of going “back to basics,” to talk about phonics as the cure for all academic woes.

But before we foist any new pedagogical trend on our children, we need thorough, rigorous researchto see whether it achieves measurably better results. When we’re lucky enough to have such research right in front of us, let’s not ignore it

Vera Goodman B.Ed., M.A. taught grades one to nine for 30 years and continues to teach adults as a consultant and as a professional speaker to a wide variety of audiences. She is author of the bestseller Simply Read! Helping Others Learn to Read, her 2nd book, Simply Write! Practical Advice for Personal and Family Writing and her third book, Simply Too Much Homework! What Can We Do? She also has a simple and fun online course that teaches anyone who can read how to coach anyone who can’t to become a successful reader. Go to http:///www.readingwings.com for more information.

Free for distribution allowed as long as the last paragraph is included that gives credit to the author.


Moira MacDonal – Kids need a break too! – October 29, 2007

It’s time to settle how much homework is the right amount for students of all ages
It could have been a major misstep by Premier Dalton McGuinty when he pooh-poohed the idea of less homework early in the election campaign.

A video shot during a campaign stop and posted on YouTube shows McGuinty saying: “Mr. Tory says our children have too much homework, so he’s going to reduce the homework load.” Big cheers from the kids. Whoops.

Homework has become a heated subject, and not just among students (check out www.stophomework.com). When I was in school we got next to no homework until we approached high school. Then the drive for a tougher curriculum and standards hit in the mid-1990s and the load went up, sometimes due to teachers struggling to cram everything into class time. These days even kindergartners bring home worksheets for the weekend.

A friend whose five-year-old takes weekend Chinese classes says between homework from Chinese school and kindergarten, she and her son are busy most nights at the kitchen table.

Toronto District School Board trustees are awaiting a review of the board’s homework policy with the possibility of an end to weekend and vacation homework assignments.

Retired teacher Vera Goodman also says “enough.” The author of Simply Too Much Homework, will speak next Saturday to the annual People for Education conference at York University.

The 73-year-old grandmother of three and reading consultant calls herself “The Raging Homework Granny.”

“It’s a huge discussion across North America … I think the whole thing has got out of whack,” says Goodman on the phone from her Calgary home. “I love children and I love families and I see what homework is doing to them.”

As a language arts teacher Goodman assigned her students “minimal” homework, such as reading novels.

“I think there’s homework you can assign that’s really fun and really interesting,” says Goodman, such as getting kids to interview their family members or neighbors.

Busy Families

What she sees now are kids receiving too much homework, poorly-designed homework that sucks time away from busy families that need time with each other, results in kids getting graded on assignments their parents have done for them, does not contribute to true learning and overburdens kids to the point they hate school.
She calls vacation homework “an oxymoron,” mentioning the time she was at a family cottage for Thanksgiving and watched her grandson trying to do math homework on his laptop.

“Kids need a break too,” she says, adding little will change until parents start banding together to demand it from government.

There is no Ontario government policy on homework. Some guidelines — such as those at the TDSB and what John Tory proposed — are based on 10 minutes per day of homework per grade, so Grade 3 students are doing 30 minutes, Grade 6 an hour and Grade 12 students two hours.

While Goodman and other critics say there is no research proving homework improves learning, a review of studies on homework effectiveness in the U.S. said 14 out of 20 studies done between 1962 and 1994 showed homework did improve achievement, but only starting in middle school and increasing through high school. Limited homework in elementary school was valuable only for getting kids ready to do more demanding homework later on. The best homework were assignments where students practised concepts they had learned or prepared them for new lessons. And the researcher agreed with Goodman that homework should not be graded.

Homework is important. But when so many of us complain our lives are already too busy, we need to ask what we’re teaching our kids when we dump piles of it on them for the sake of homework — and not learning — and take away time for them to just be kids.

“Time is a coin we have to spend and that is the most precious thing we have,” says Goodman.

A grandmother ought to know.

Vera Goodman B.Ed., M.A. taught grades one to nine for 30 years and continues to teach adults as a consultant and as a professional speaker to a wide variety of audiences. She is author of the bestseller Simply Read! Helping Others Learn to Read, her 2nd book, Simply Write! Practical Advice for Personal and Family Writing and her third book, Simply Too Much Homework! What Can We Do? She also has a simple and fun online course that teaches anyone who can read how to coach anyone who can’t to become a successful reader. Go to http:///www.readingwings.com for more information.

Free for distribution allowed as long as the last paragraph is included that gives credit to the author.

Stefan Schussler, The Leader-Post Published: Thursday, October 25, 2007

A former Regina school teacher believes kids are getting too much homework. Simply Too Much Homework by Vera Goodman, a retired Calgary woman who taught for two years at Rosemont School in Regina in the late ’50s, argues that homework places unneeded stress on children and takes time away from family and activities that could be more beneficial.

“I have contacted a lot of families and a lot of children and I became aware of the huge burden homework is for these kids,” said Goodman, who is originally from Moose Jaw. Goodman pointed out that including travel time between school and home and class-time, students are devoting almost eight hours a day to school — and that’s without homework being assigned.

In addition, students are being assigned another 10 to 20 hours of homework every week. According to figures from Saskatchewan Learning’s Web site, 25 hours a week are spent on in-class instruction. “Time is our most valuable asset,” Goodman said on the phone from Calgary. “It’s all we really have. What important learning from parents and society is being forfeited to homework?”

But that kind of learning need not be forfeited, according to Terry Lazarou of Regina Public Schools. He said that homework is more than just chapters and exercises. “Homework is not only work that could not be completed in class, it is also work that can’t be done in a classroom setting. It can include interviewing a family member. Even sorting laundry can teach a child counting and differentiation. Homework expands the possibility of learning outside of the school environment,” said Lazarou.

According to Lazarou, the quantity and type of homework given is at the teacher’s discretion. Teachers are encouraged to assign homework that students find interesting. According to Student Evaluation: a Teacher’s Handbook, available from Saskatchewan Learning, extra homework is often assigned to students if a teacher feels they need more practice before learning further concepts, and that should be assessed through observation of the individual student. It should give the student an opportunity to demonstrate the extent of their knowledge and skills. It should never be assigned as punishment.

Goodman also suggested grades not be given for homework, because it does not take into account individual students’ socio-demographic circumstances. “Not all people have the same conditions to do homework. Some parents can really help them a lot and some parents can’t help them at all,” she said.

According to Saskatchewan Learning, there are two extreme views on fairness and equity in evaluation. The first is that students are individuals with individual needs, and that evaluation must take those needs into consideration through adaptation or alternative approaches to that evaluation. The other extreme is that every student be on a completely level playing field. Which interpretation the teacher uses for evaluation is a value judgment the teacher must make according to the curriculum and the goals of teacher and the school.

Goodman said that even if parents and teachers disagree with her points, her only hope is to create discussion on the issue. “This is the only book of its kind in Canada, so I’m waging my own little war,” Goodman said. “I’m just trying to raise awareness.”

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007

Vera Goodman B.Ed., M.A. taught grades one to nine for 30 years and continues to teach adults as a consultant and as a professional speaker to a wide variety of audiences. She is author of the bestseller Simply Read! Helping Others Learn to Read, her 2nd book, Simply Write! Practical Advice for Personal and Family Writing and her third book, Simply Too Much Homework! What Can We Do? She also has a simple and fun online course that teaches anyone who can read how to coach anyone who can’t to become a successful reader. Go to http:///www.readingwings.com for more information.

Free for distribution allowed as long as the last paragraph is included that gives credit to the author.


Neighbors – Senior of the Week

Take a break from all that homework Gala celebrates family with entertainment
Jennifer Partridge, Neighbors
Published: Thursday, September 06, 2007
After 30 years of teaching, raising three daughters and managing a busy social life, it makes sense that Vera Goodman might want to relax.

That she might want to enjoy leisurely afternoons on the golf course or try her hand at bridge, bocce ball or bird-watching.

But no.

Vera Goodman is a local literacy consultant who has just come out with a new book, Simply Too Much Homework. “Children only have one lifetime . . . and shouldn’t have to spend the whole day, evening and holidays doing schoolwork,” she says.

Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald

Goodman, 72, is actually gearing up to celebrate the launch of her third book, Simply Too Much Homework! What Can We Do?

“I’m very passionate about this book,” she says. “Children only have one lifetime — and so do we — and (kids) shouldn’t have to spend the whole day, evening and holidays doing schoolwork . . . Homework is a big, contentious issue. Kids don’t want to do it, the y shouldn’t have to, and the y fight against it.”

Goodman’s Spirit of Childhood family gala takes place this weekend, Sunday, Sept. 9 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Red & White Club, 1833 Crowchild Tr. N.W.

Showcasing a plethora of entertainment, including clowns, magicians, singers and dancers, Goodman is extending an open invitation to an afternoon of family fun and frolicking. Admission is free.

“It’s open to everyone but I’m really encouraging families to come,” Goodman says during an afternoon chat in the comfort of her home. “I’ve got a lot of activities for children to enjoy. It’s going to be just fabulous.”

Not one to rest on her laurels — or the fact that her most recent work has just hit store shelves, Goodman is already hard at work on her next book.

“I think I was born teaching something to someone,” says the author of Simply Write! Practical Advice for Personal and Family Writing and Simply Read! Helping Others Learn to Read.

“I’m an inveterate teacher. I love it and I’ve always looked to see how I could find new ways to do things.”

Goodman, a bestselling author, teacher and speaker who is renowned internationally for her commonsense approach to teaching and learning, has, quite simply, chosen to apply those theories to reading, writing and literacy.

“I am very sad in my heart when I think of even one child who can’t read,” says the founder of the Calgary Young Writers’ Conference, which hosted its 24th annual convention earlier this year.

“Can you imagine not being able to read in our literate society? I have a deep compassion for anybody, child or adult, who can’t read. And I know that I can help the m to turn that around, to be able to read fairly quickly. That’s what propels me to pursue this, when all my teacher friends are out playing golf, going to the States and having a good time.

“I feel I’ve been given a gift to give to families of children who aren’t reading well because it isn’t just the child who suffers by not reading well. It’s the whole family.”

Simply Read! Helping Others Learn to Read, which Goodman wrote in 1995 following her retirement from teaching, forms the basis for the in depth consultations she conducts for parents.

“I teach them what to do, how to coach their own child to read and then I model that for them,” she says.

“I turn kids — and adults at any age — around very quickly in their reading.”

Helping children, teens and adults learn to read is so important to this longtime literacy consultant and advocate that she has plans to create a reading-coaching kit for parents to use with their own children.

“That’s my work for this fall,” Goodman says with a smile. “I’m helping parents take that kit, practice with their child and make the m successful readers.”

For more information on this weekend’s Spirit of Childhood family gala, visit www.readingwings.com, e-mail vera@readingwings.com or call 240-0402.

© The Calgary Herald 2007