Debbie Stange - Reading Ropes

Debbie Stange: Parent Course Instructor

Let me tell you a little about me. What drives me, why I love literacy and why I know that one of the best helps for a slow progress reader is a powerful and informed parent.

By way of introduction my name is Debbie Stange. I have over 30 years’ experience working both in classrooms, as well as working with children as an Individual Needs and Literacy Coordinator. My area of passion and focus has always been in the early years, using best practice thinking to help develop literacy skills in struggling young readers, which led me to complete my Master’s degree at the University of Melbourne in Special Education and Early Intervention.

I was fortunate to complete my undergraduate qualifications in South Africa. During that time there was a strong focus on teacher training that included a systematic way of teaching reading. This included a robust phonics program, high-frequency words and decodable readers. While these programs and readers were rather dull in their content they taught me the importance and relevance of the components necessary to teach a child to read.

After leaving South Africa I continued my teaching career in Australia. Here I found myself exposed to the Reggio Emilia philosophy and later the IB Primary Year Program. Again, this was an amazing journey of growth and learning. I realised that in education one question leads to so many more questions. Most importantly as educators we need to keep asking ourselves why we teach the way we do, what evidence and research support this, and what the purpose of it is. This thinking has been a driver for me, and through this way of thinking I have been a lifelong learner constantly trying to be as informed as possible about current research in education in the area of literacy.

I became increasingly passionate about helping dyslexic children, and those described as struggling to break through to literacy. I spent hours and hours trying to understand why children had difficulty breaking the reading code and how to support them with targeted intervention. I eventually transitioned from classroom teaching into a leadership role as a Head of Individual Needs at a Melbourne private school. This allowed me to immerse myself completely into the world of slow progress readers.

While providing intervention support, I became increasingly aware of the challenges and frustration faced by parents. I eventually realised how few parents were empowered or understood their rights and role in decisions made about their children’s learning. I also realised how ‘hungry’ parents were to know more about the reading process, about interventions and how they could support at home, but they didn’t know which way to turn to find this all out. Most confronting was also realising the angst and pain parents endured, as they wanted to help but also hoped things would get easier and their child would ‘catch up’ and make the expected reading gains.

I began to see that behind the children making the biggest gains, were actively involved and informed parents. Many of these parents had taken years to educate themselves and become the powerful advocates and teachers their children needed. They had scoured the internet and read hundreds of articles on slow-progress reading, dyslexia and anything else they could get their hands on. I witnessed first-hand the huge impact knowledgeable and actively involved parents have on their children’s reading success and I decided that what slow-progress readers need more than anything else, are parents like that.

It also became even more clear to me how parents are so often left to work things out for themselves. Without the support of each other I realised parents were pretty much out there on their own. I am not sure why this shocked me, I somehow naively assumed that parents would understand something that I have spent my entire professional life learning! Anyway, this was a lightbulb moment for me…

If parents understood the reading process as soon as their child started to experience difficulties, and understood why their child was struggling, then surely if provided with strategies and resources, they would feel comfortable supporting their children at home in the best way possible. I also considered the fact that teaching degrees spend less than 5% of their time teaching teachers how to teach reading! For struggling readers, that is disastrous. So, parents need to learn this, so they would be empowered and become confident advocates for their child as they would understand their child’s relative literacy weaknesses and strengths. The process would be demystified and for me this was the obvious starting point. How can parents really support if they don’t fully get why the process is so challenging for their child?

Armed with this knowledge they would then be able to understand and choose the best intervention options for their children, set up meetings and be part of action plans in a much more meaningful way. I was getting very excited about all this, it was making so much sense to me and I was further inspired when I realised that these empowered parents would then know how to explain a dyslexic profile to their child. So, from an early age their child could understood why they were finding it so hard to break the reading code. Children deserve to know this and understand it, but how can parents explain it if they don’t get it? I was really enjoying how this was feeling so kept thinking. I realised that if we could get a parent of a struggling reader to this point as early as possible in their child’s schooling, they would also then understand any comorbid conditions that may be associated with a dyslexic profile so much more easily. I then considered the wellbeing of both the child and parent and how this is such a big part of the challenges that parents face. So, in a nutshell I was seeing how a truly informed parent who understood the reading process could result in the most amazing outcomes for their child.

And so, as a passionate Early Literacy Interventionist I decided, that despite being an introvert and modest, I had to do something about this. I suppose that lovely saying resonated “If not me then who and if not now then when” and so, together with our team of experts, the Reading Ropes Parent Academy was proudly born!

Best practice in literacy instruction and special needs is a moving target, and staying abreast of evolving pedagogical approaches is therefore critical. The Reading Ropes Academy was my way of logically bringing together all a parent of a young child struggling with reading would need to know right now. It is all about Early Intervention and the program is explicit, research based and most importantly, action-oriented. It is a course designed for parents to demystify what schools don’t or can’t always share about early literacy and the slow progress reader. The Reading Ropes Parent Academy empowers parents to provide and advocate for this level of support for their children. It was designed to help parents act from the very start of a child’s reading and learning journey. As we all know we need to provide intervention, even if there is the smallest doubt or sign that a child is not accessing the mainstream curriculum. The Academy is more than just the culmination of my experiences helping struggling readers and their parents. It draws on a range of programs, professional influences and training that I have completed. It’s everything parents need to know, packaged into one simple, user friendly place.

Some of the influences include…

Recent training & workshops:

  • University of Melbourne: Masters in Special Education & Early Intervention
  • Beyond Reading Recovery workshop 2012
  • Autism and Aspergers workshop 2012
  • Thrass Course 2014
  • Thrass Follow Up Course 2014
  • SPELD Victoria Teacher Training course in Specific Learning Difficulties 2014
  • 4 Steps to Identifying Dyslexia: Michelle Hutchinson, Bronwyn Billimoria, Fiano Cranston 2014
  • Assessing and Teaching Phonological Knowledge: John Munro 2014
  • Teaching and supporting Students with Special Needs National Conference Melbourne 2013
  • The Smart Spelling Approach 2015
  • Positive Behaviour Management 2016
  • Mulit Lit Training 2016
  • MacqLit Training 2016

Other programs, training & early influences:

  • Reggio Emilia Study group
  • Toe by Toe and Stride Ahead Keda Cowling and Harry Cowling
  • Smart Spelling: Michelle Hutchinson
  • The Literacy Restaurant: Michelle Hutchinson
  • Letterland
  • Jolly Phonics
  • Sound Check and Little Learners Love Literacy: Maureen Pollard
  • The Magic 100 words: Marcella Reiter
  • Just the strategies: to help struggling students AISV
  • How to write an ILP: Radmila Harding

Assessments I Use / Administer: 

  • PROBE
  • Sutherland Phonological Awareness
  • Seapart phonological Assessment
  • Phonological Processing Woodcock and CTOPP
  • PhAB: Phonological Assessment Battery
  • York Assessment of Reading for Comprehension
  • Linda Siegel Reading Readiness Assessment
  • Running records Benchmark Assessment
  • BURT Reading Test
  • Neale Analysis of Reading Abilities
  • SWST
  • TOWRE
  • ACER
  • Ravens
  • AGAT
  • KBIT
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