Monday, 18 December 2006

Don't Bother With the Karaoke

I'm a bit slow on the uptake with this story which surfaced yesterday. But it is shocking, if it is true. And the question that comes to mind is why? Well, for a start there is and has been considerable confusion nationwide as to how to teach reading, for quite a while. There has been a largely ideology driven debate between whole word (which became dominant during the 70s and 80s in educational academic circles) and phonic strategies (the more "traditional" style of breaking words down into sounds; and when the phonic system seemed to have won the day in the Literacy Strategy, it was hedged around with many "varieties of methods". (I'm not a Key Stage One specialist so I'm not sure of the techincalities of it). My observations of children still struggling years later tell me that whole word strategies work well in situations where children have a lot of books, a lot of reading with mum/whoever, and are keen story types. Phonics can't magic you a complete reading system, but it can do an awful lot of the groundwork.

But the Literacy Strategy has only been policy for about 7 years.

Children's books are going through a real renaissance: there are gorgeous picture books (Lauren Child etc) around and there are challenging, gripping books for 11+ (I don't like Melvin Burgess' books much, but there's no doubt they're a thoughtful read). The problem for me is that the inbetween stuff isn't as classy. There are some good series, and many good particular books, but the range isn't as good as the two ends of the spectrum. I think a lot of children get put off by leaving the reading scheme and finding - not very much. I'm also inclined to think there's too much that's procedural in our approach to reading, when it should be a constant, magnificent journey; teachers should be readers and be seen to be so, and discuss and swap and recommend, all the time.

I don't think as a culture we rate reading as highly as perhaps we did. Other forms of narrative are pushed just as hard, which is fine, except that the only one that needs real training to grasp and become independent with, is reading. We don't regard the ability to read as the glorious freedom, which once gained - with a bit of hard work - will let you run for as long as you live. I've heard recently from teachers that we should see it as a skill that some children will never be good at while they are good at other things. Fine - but the ability to read is, for me, something else entirely. It is the means to a degree of independence, intellectual, moral and practical, that it is very difficult to attain otherwise.

The story is dressed up as funny - it's not, it's a fucking tragedy and balls should be cut for the way we're allowing so many people (not a tiny minority) to suffer in this way.

6 comments:

james higham said...

...There are some good series, and many good particular books, but the range isn't as good as the two ends of the spectrum. I think a lot of children get put off by leaving the reading scheme and finding - not very much. I'm also inclined to think there's too much that's procedural in our approach to reading, when it should be a constant, magnificent journey; teachers should be readers and be seen to be so, and discuss and swap and recommend, all the time...

A most readable post and important to stew over [until the last three lines]. I can't accept teachers saying the child doesn't read but has other skills. That's PC in education.

The Tin Drummer said...

Agreed...road to hell, good intentions, paving, etc.

not_saussure said...

I don't know anything about the teaching of reading, but teaching children by having them break words down into syllables sound a very laborious way of doing things; I mean, what's the connection between ker ah tuh and the word 'cat'? They don't seem to have anything to do with each other. Or have I misunderstood? Probably.

My very aged ma, who used to be a big noise in the teaching of reading, has two insights whenever I've discussed this with her. First, she reckons it's important that the teacher is comfortable with the approach she's using and understands it properly and, far more importantly, that different children find different approaches easier than others, and it's important to be able to switch styles depending on what works best for the particular child.

The Tin Drummer said...

I don't know anything about the teaching of reading, but teaching children by having them break words down into syllables sound a very laborious way of doing things; I mean, what's the connection between ker ah tuh and the word 'cat'? They don't seem to have anything to do with each other. Or have I misunderstood? Probably.


They do have a connection because they can be put together, blended into words - you have to be ready to spot the connection though. It's not really laborious when it's done well(like Jolly Phonics or something) and it provides a good basis for many high frequency words but it's not a catch all. You can't use phonics for some vowel sounds for example- these are learned by sight instead. Different children do have different learning styles but the debate has for years been drawn along these two broad lines- whole word vs phonics (and it's been tainted by ideology - liberal vs conservative, freedom vs constraints). There are lots of other things you can do with it but nothing works well without constant exposure to print, stories and picture books. This was the thrust of my post - you need a reading culture to get children past that initial point.

Colin Campbell said...

This is topical since my wife is heading out for a karaoke session this afternoon with her likely drunk colleagues. Since Karaoke is usually associated with heavy drinking, the need to read is not important.

That said, getting the mechanics of reading right early, along with an overall interest and enthusiasm for reading is critical. I used to volunteer in a learning assistance programme at the kids school. There were quite a few kids, bright enough, who really struggle d with the mechanics of reading. Because of this they struggled with many other subjects and were in grave danger of failing generally.

I take it so much for granted and with an early childhood teacher for a mother, our kids are both pretty literate and interested.

My grandfather, the coal miner, on the other hand did not learn to read until he was in his seventies. His wife had interpreted for him for all the years they were married and when she died he needed to be able to see what was in the papers, so he taught himelf.

Easier when you are younger I would think.

The Tin Drummer said...

Lovely comment, Colin - thanks a lot. I agree with everything you've said, especially the last sentence. That's why I think we should really make more use of these glorious picture books that are out there at the moment. One of our problems is where to go then. We must give them real books, real stories, we must shower them in literature and print. And more than that - I'm just not convinced, after 5 year spent mainly teaching English to young children, that we love reading enough. We tick it off, follow the prescribed schemes, but beyond that? - Not sure.

You're dead right about the karaoke of course - on reflection I wonder why no-one mentioned that in the article.