Project: Just Sentences

The Just Sentences pilot project is bringing speech pathology support to the literacy programs of a small number of inmates within the Tasmania Prison Service. These are men whose literacy skills have not yet moved very far along the literacy continuum. But they can! And they have! You can read in the original report, about the enormous difference it made to two inmates.

We think the results of  this report are really important. Life can be dice. A different roll or a different splash of the genetic soup, born into a different family or community, and any of us – you, me, the people we love – could have had a life of being unable to read, stuck in a path of poverty, crime and imprisonment. The report shows that with the right kind of extra support, many lives which are currently warehoused… (pause for gravitas)… could be transformed. After all… adults who have not learned to read are the grown-up versions of our society’s children who struggle to learn at school.

We know they need targeted, evidence-based support when they are children; and if they don’t receive it then, they still require help of this calibre as adults. The good news is that they can make quite stunningly quick progress when they receive evidence-based help.

Since this report was written, several more men have been part of the Just Sentences program. Many learnings continue to be made about the delivery of evidence-based, direct instruction in language and literacy within Tasmania’s prison. Such learnings are needed to inform processes for increasing delivery of this service.

Importantly, the Just Sentences project also made a difference within the professional learning of those who teach literacy at the prison – and then further led to our speech pathologist, Rosie Martin, providing professional learnings for those who teach adult literacy across the state of Tasmania. Such multi-disciplinary collaboration is exciting development toward change and continuous improvement which follows the evidence.

You may wish to ask at this point ‘Why are speech pathologists teaching reading?’

It’s because their skill and knowledge is in the acquisition of language, and in the processing and production of speech sounds – and… after all…

Literacy is language which has been placed on a page or screen using a code based on the speech sounds.

So if something goes awry in the process of acquiring reading, writing and spelling, to overcome the problem, it is essential to get into the basic skills of language and sound processing – enter the speech pathologist.

And at this point it is worth reiterating that, wonderfully, adults can respond quite quickly when they receive targeted help arising from knowledge of the structure of language and its phonemes (sounds).