Getting to know…Allison Greenland of Leap Into Literacy: An interview with Inner West Mums, Sydney found here:
Tell us about yourself
I’m from Atlanta, Georgia in the USA and my husband is from New Zealand. We met 15 years ago and have lived in NZ for a couple of years, the USA for a couple of years and now in Sydney for nearly 10 years. We have lived in Drummoyne for 6 years and have 2 kids; Ayla 5.5 years and Avery 2.5 years.
I’m a teacher and hold a Bachelor of Business (Marketing), a Masters in Primary Education and have 3 months left of my PhD in Curriculum and Teaching.
I love to travel and we have continued to travel even after having kids. We are often going overseas to visit family or places with the kids. We like going to concerts and events around Sydney, and anything that is family-friendly. I paint, play the guitar and of course love to read and write!
What prompted the switch to education from marketing?
My original focus was teaching but I got swayed to marketing. I was working at a university in Arizona and one of my roles was to help teachers through their certification process. After hearing their passion over the phone, it inspired me and I decided to do my Masters in Education.
What is Leap into Literacy?
It’s a creative reading and writing class for kids and can be used as an extension to what they learn in school. We focus just on literacy and a different book or topic each week. One week we might be doing something like Charlie & Chocolate Factory and incorporating the five senses into our writing. We explore just the first chapter of a book together – that way if they are interested in the book, the kids can continue reading it at home.
I will subtly help them to link what is happening in the book as we read it or listen to it together to different types of reading comprehension skills. They then do their own writing that focuses on the topic for that week.
What inspired the idea for the business?
I had been teaching for about a decade and specifically towards the end when I was pregnant with my daughter, I was teaching the gifted and talented English class for years 5-6. I would be doing a reading portion with the kids and after we read something and I asked what it was about, I found their reading comprehension skills were really lacking. I decided to focus my dissertation on reading comprehension skills in adolescents by increasing their motivation levels and, in turn, hopefully improving their reading comprehension. I started doing research and 5 years in I started finding little things that were helping the students, including Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). For instance, we might have an audio reading of a book to accompany what we are doing or showing some pictures of the visual, or writing a blog and publishing it. By doing this we are tailoring the lesson to everyone, including the visual-spatial students, as they are the ones who tend to lose the interest if they can’t ‘see’ the topic.
My research has shown that reading comprehension is declining every year. So we find ways to help students to really be able to understand what reading comprehension is, and the different things they can apply to it, such as asking questions, prediction, inference, and how to use their prior knowledge to make connections to what they are reading.
Did you see a need out there with school kids requiring additional support?
I did. I looked into Drummoyne and there is no tutoring school here but even when I started, I was running classes in Chatswood originally. I found as a teacher and through my research that something needed to be done with a more creative approach. It’s not your average tutoring class and there is nothing else out there like this, in my opinion. We tie in lots of different genres of books and most of the topics we explore are along the lines of creative writing for kids. We help them to extend their sentences with structure and flow.
For kids who already love literacy, it is an extension of their passion so they can get the most out of it. It gives them the tools to become a writer if that is what they are aiming for. I also get students who are what may be considered ‘average students’ and aren’t passionate about reading and writing, but their parents want them to develop the love for it.
Then there are students who are struggling, and they are the ones who improve the most in a short period of time. I had a parent of a son in year 2 who had been attending for this year and was initially struggling. His mum reported recently that one day last week he sat down and wrote a paper all on his own and received the principal’s award for it! Our program has really helped to build his confidence.
Tell us about a typical session for the kids?
We often start off with some games and warm up activities to get them started and then I’ll introduce the topic we will be working on. I may show them a couple of examples with the projector on the screen but whatever we are doing is very interactive. We then look at the book and tie it in with what we have talked about. We may listen to an audio version of the story, or I might be reading it aloud, or I’ll have a clip of someone else reading it – there is always a visual or audio accompanying the book. We end the class with some planning and organising with a writing component and feedback. I circle around and provide one-on-one feedback by making corrections. It’s important they receive individual feedback and tips on how they can improve in the future. A lot of parents like that there is the benefit of the group dynamics to do games and bounce around ideas, but still like having the individual positives of one-on-one teacher feedback.
How does your program differ to other centre’s out there?
Leap Into Literacy is really focused on creativity and the lessons are fun! We don’t focus solely on worksheets as I have found in the past that this approach just doesn’t work with many students. Our lessons are catered for both auditory and visual-spatial learners that enjoy that level of engagement during the lessons. Rather than working solo on their own, the students work with a fun group dynamic focused on engagement and creativity.
What outcomes are you aiming to achieve with your students?
Our overall goal is for them to develop a life-long love of reading and writing. Whether they are already passionate about literacy or are currently struggling – I want them to reach their best potential that they can with these classes. Some students might see results in a few weeks and others may take a couple of terms, but I have yet to meet a student who hasn’t improved with these skills.
What would you say to a parent who wasn’t sure if their child needed additional support? Is it better to wait or jump in early?
We offer a free trial class to all families so that they can experience our teaching and it gives me a chance to assess where the child is at and whether it’s a good fit for the him or her. They are also then placed in the right level class. One of the most important things is for them to have fun, otherwise they won’t retain the information.
There are real benefits in developing the love of literacy early on, no matter what stage the child is at. It’s always a good thing. It may spark a child’s interest in a way that is not done in the traditional classroom.
What is some of the best feedback you have been given from a student?
I had a boy last week (year 3) that said, “Allison, I think you should teach real writers because you’re a really good teacher and a really good writer”. I couldn’t help but laugh aloud at this one!
A stand out from a parent review was a year 5 student that worked with us for about a year. By the time he finished, he went from literally hating English to it becoming his favourite subject – he loves writing at home and writes his own books. He was very pessimistic about reading and writing, yet now he is entering into writing contests!
What is coming up for Leap into Literacy?
We are offering summer school holiday classes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in January for students in years 1-6. These are always very popular. They are a great way to transition into the school year and can introduce students to new book genres during the holidays when there is more time for independent reading.
You support the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, tell us why you chose it?
I wanted to be able to help out and support a great foundation that is increasing awareness of literacy for all groups in Australia. Helping to raise awareness for students who may not be given the opportunity of being able to read. I hate to think any child out there who is missing out on this life-long skill.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in business? How has this shaped you today and how as this helped you grow personally?
After studying my business degree for a few years and coming to the realisation that it wasn’t my passion, I knew I would need to go back and “re-do” my education. It wasn’t a sense of admitting defeat but I had chosen a career that wasn’t for me.
Favourite or most impactful book for you and why?
Gone with the Wind as it’s about my hometown of Atlanta. I have read it 5 times at least. When I first read it when I was 12, I connected with it and realised that despite the fact that it is fiction, some of my ancestors went through similar things as in the book. Plus the storyline and characters are just so great. It has always been my favourite book.
Favourite spots in the Inner West?
I love Drummoyne for the great community feel and it has a lot of lovely spots for kids. We go to Drummoyne pool often and you can’t beat a walk around the bay. We also like Balmain with its restaurants and cafes, and then we just frequent a lot of the parks and playgrounds in the area. We also like the Powerhouse Museum, and Reverse Garbage in Marrickville for craft. Now that Timbrell park is open again, my kids are happy! And of course the Leap into Literacy centre on Victoria Road ☺