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Sarah Rich is 3P Learning’s resident literacy publisher of Spellodrome, an engaging online learning resource. She is  a valued member of the 3P community.

Sarah’s educational journey of becoming a teacher began at Charles Stuart University in Bathurst. She has taught in public and private schools across NSW. She has also taught gifted and talented students, helping them extend their learning. After realising that there was a lack of literacy resources for teachers, Sarah and four colleagues developed their own spelling program.

The light bulb moment

Sarah’s journey towards becoming a literacy publisher began in her third year of studies when she had a stand up argument with her lecturer. The lecturer was advocating the whole language approach to teaching literacy, in particular, spelling and reading. Sarah had done her research and been immersed in classrooms through the practical elements of her course and knew that this approach didn’t incorporate a sound teaching style. Nor did it support the practical learning of students. This disagreement with her lecturer was reflected in her mark for that particular assignment, the only fail she had received whilst studying, because of a “poorly structured argument.” Sarah knew that:

“In actual fact the whole language approach is ridiculous, rather, you need a structured, targeted attack to teach children how to read and spell. A student needs to be given all the elements, such as, teaching them all of the different rules and phonemes and helping them develop a solid phonemic awareness.”

This light bulb moment provided the foundation of Sarah’s future work. It formed the basis of her career and later her work in the development of Spellodrome, a program that provides all of the elements of spelling, including visual, phonological, morphemic and etymological words and approaches.

The journey

After completing her Bachelor degree, Sarah pursued her teaching career. She had one year in Secondary and then moved to Primary teaching. Within the first couple of years, Sarah’s passion for teaching and devotion to student learning led her to the quick success of becoming an Assistant Principal. In addition, she was usually the staff member in charge of the English Committee.

“They have always been my interest and my passion – spelling, reading and literacy – with a strong focus on these disciplines in my teaching.”

Sarah went on to start studying for her Masters of Education degree. However, a shift in focus to concentrate on her family and teaching meant that half of her Master’s degree is completed, she has every intention to finish this in the future.

Spelling

Sarah’s development of spelling resources began when she and four of her colleagues felt that there was a need for a new, up to date spelling program. As teachers themselves they understood the need for a teaching resource that was structured and that covered all the different rules and phonemes. They recognised the unprecedented necessity to incorporate engaging and different activities that gave students a reason to progress and learn. This led to the creation of the PEG program, written, self-published, printed and distributed by the group of five. This resource was highly successfully across Australia, particularly in NSW and areas that the team had visited.

“As soon as I went to a school and presented PEG, teachers would purchase the resource. This is because it was written for teachers by teachers.”

As PEG became more and more popular, the degree of difficulty in managing the resource increased. Sarah and her team knew that they needed to shift into the digital space, but the team did not have the time, resources, knowledge or expertise to achieve. This is when 3P Learning came into the picture and purchased PEG. At this stage, Sarah and Anne, another colleague who wrote the program, came to work for 3P Learning. The first thing they achieved under the 3P umbrella was incorporating the content into the online Spellodrome platform and establishing a digital presence. Other initiatives Sarah has worked on include the first ever World Literacy Day, World Spelling Day, an updated Teacher Console in Spellodrome and the development of visual literacy resources

Sarah is very excited that Spellodrome is continuing to develop. The team is currently working on an HTML version of the student console with an updated interface and new look. This will allow Spellodrome to be accessible on all devices.

Proudest moment

In the last two years, Anne and Sarah have produced The Australian Standardised Spelling Age Test (ASSAT). This is a standardised spelling test that can be used by schools across the board. The testing system that most schools used prior to the release of ASSAT was a test dating back fifty years based on standardised data collected in the UK and Australia, using a small sample size. This test lacked accuracy, efficiency and was no longer relevant.

“We developed ASSAT,  and then had the resource standardised, based on a large sample of students who completed the test. We’re really proud as this is the newest and most up-to-date resource for teachers. To complement this resource we also created a series of diagnostic testing that allows teachers to diagnose where their students have problems in spelling. Teachers can then go into Spellodrome and set those particular words so the student practises to develop their skills.”

These additional resources are of significant value to teachers because they are phonics and rule based to support classroom learning. It is understandable that this great achievement signifies one of the outstanding moments in Sarah’s career.

Teachers of tomorrow

Sarah shared her thoughts on the future of education:

“The digital space is transforming with programs such as BYOD, an increased use of tablets in schools and much greater accessibility to information. The internet has brought with it large amounts of content. In addition, teachers need to understand themselves how to make informed choices to be able to teach children how to discern between good and poor quality information.”

Sarah is committed to the education of children. Her passion for literacy has allowed her to develop innovative resources, including PEG, Spellodrome, ASSAT and Diagnostic Testing, to support teachers in the classroom. These valued resources provide a strong foundation for student learning, enhancing student engagement levels and instilling a love of learning in students and teachers alike. Sarah’s dedication to literacy is unparalleled and in essence has led to the development of a sound literacy teaching framework in Australia.