Saturday, 1 February 2014

We must not tar every child with the same brush!

You are absolutely right. Imposing synthetic phonics on all children IS a form of abuse. Many children are quite able to learn using the ‘look and say’ method.
However, in my opinion, the biggest problem (and it has been for many years) is that the hearing of reading in the primary school classroom is not as regular as it should be. This is also a form of abuse! Or neglect.

After many years of teaching in the state system, I now run a private English Tuition business. I am passionate about children’s literacy and I am horrified when many of my pupils tell me, week after week, that they have not read to anyone. Many of them read to another adult  once a fortnight, if they’re lucky.  Furthermore, many don’t even read to a trained teacher. Whilst I am all for utilising parents in the classroom to hear children read, I also believe that the hearing of reading is a very important teaching situation.

In other words, in many primary school classrooms, it’s a case of being, ‘caught not taught’. 
Few head teachers pinpoint the hearing of reading as being top priority. I am very thankful that in my first teaching job in Surrey, it was most definitely top priority as it also was in my second job, in Exeter.

Hearing children read, daily, is the single most important task that all primary school teachers should adopt as top priority. I know that… because it works.  It’s such a simple remedy yet completely overlooked. In the past, I have listened to teachers say,‘I don’t have the time to hear them read and anyway, the children are reading every day by reading labels on the walls etc etc!’
My answer to that…well you can guess!

The teaching of reading needs structure. It is far too ‘hit and miss’ in many schools and there are far too few ‘experts’ in children’s literacy to lead and guide other teachers.  Children pick whichever book they fancy from a box of random books and then we wonder why they struggle to read. There is not enough thought, time and care given to children's reading.

At the beginning of the school year, I was asked to help an 8 year old boy (Year 4); a non reader.
His mother was worried sick and the ‘all too often used’ word ’dyslexia’ was being uttered. He rarely read at school and received little help. There appeared to be no problem with his hearing or sight and there was no history of dyslexia in his family.

Four months on, this little boy is almost a fluent reader.  I only see him once a week but
due to regular reading with me along with my guidance for the parents and what they should do between lessons with me, he is a changed boy!
He is absolutely loving books and last week for the first time, he asked for more books than I normally give him, to last throughout the week. He has also learnt to read using the 'look and say' method.  No phonics. Proof that not all children need that approach. It was purely a case of regular reading… and structure…nothing more, apart from my enthusiasm!

I see many children like this! And having spent 40 years teaching children to read, I certainly know what works! Now, that isn't to say that the use of phonics doesn't have a place in the classroom; of course it does. But we shouldn't tar every child with the same brush...and there's far too much of that
in education for my liking.

Sally Hall.

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