Monday, December 28, 2009

'The Reader Gets Angry'

On the Reading Reform Foundation website, Geraldine Carter has posted a link to a piece, 'The Reader Gets Angry: Scenes from a PGCE', by Gabriella Gruder-Poni on her experiences as a PGCE student.
The experiences Gabriella recounts are nothing short of a disgrace and, if her testimony is true, the imbeciles dispensing the advice she was being given throughout her PGCE course should be sacked.
This, unfortunately, is nothing new: the proclivity to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator, to regard teachers as facilitators and for them to subscribe to the belief that they have nothing to teach pupils, was already well established by the late eighties/beginning of the nineties.
In a review in the Independent, 'Scenes from a British war on knowledge', Boyd Tonkin appears genuinely shocked by what Gabriela has had to put up with. Nevertheless, he still writes:
Now I, like you, have read too many reactionary rants and glib laments over dumbing-down in class. I know the privileged interests such rhetoric often serves.
Sorry pal, but you're missing the point completely. These are not the 'reactionary rants' - what's reactionary about wanting a better education for your child? - or 'glib laments' of 'privileged interests'; they are howls of rage at what is becoming of a system that used to offer a way out for working class kids whose future would otherwise be down the pit or in the pot bank or steel works. What (Wat!) we need is a parents' revolt!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Above all, do no harm. And, if you are a primary teacher, teach the children to read!

In the year's last issue of the Sunday Times, Minette Marrin has some timely advice for us. Did I say, 'for us'? I meant 'on our behalf'. It addresses a number of important issues – get out of Afghanistan and Iraq - and a variety of people: to Peter Mandelson - 'Stop talking'; to Harriet Harman 'Shut up'; and so on.
But it was her advice to primary school teachers that particularly caught my eye. Amongst her recommendations, she counsels:
Stop worrying about everything except one thing – do you know how to teach children to read? Were you taught how to? Can all the children in your class read (after age seven) and if not, why not? Forget all the other stuff that's imposed on you.

She might also have asked whether or not they could also teach basic numeracy. No matter! The most important job the primary school should do is to teach children to read. If they haven't done that, they've failed.
If you are a teacher or a parent and you want to learn how to teach a child to read, do a course with Sounds-Write, or with Fiona Nevola’s Sound Reading System.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Newsnight review on BBC2: lets hear it for the kidults!

In case you missed the BBC2 Newsnight programme last night (Friday 11th December), the guests were Anthony Horowitz, Michael Bywater, David Schneider and Bidisha (Mukherjee). Newly released films under discussion were Where the Wild Things Are and The Fantastic Mr Fox, and the adaptation of Terry Pratchett's novel Nation at the National. There were reviews of a colouring-in book Girls Are Not Chicks and Chris Ryan's Battleground. Thomas the Tank Engine, described by one reviewer as 'conservative' and 'anti-feminist', also figured.
There's an interesting, though brief, discussion about infantalisation and crossover fiction. Bidisha said that "many, many stories which are ostensibly for children are really, in the same way that fairy stories are, they're really about everything and we never lose our interest in family, and faith, and love and death and how to prove ourselves." Jack Zipes, editor of The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, would approve, I'm sure.
The programme also touched on the girl/boy divide in children's fiction, which is where the guests fell to talking about the merits (or not) of Girls Are Not Chicks, which promotes the view that girls are 'thinkers, creators, fighters, healers and superheroes', and Chris Ryan's adventure yarn set in Afghanistan Battleground.
The guests - particularly David Schneider - are a lively bunch and it's good knockabout stuff. You can see it at:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/newsnight_review

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Further decline in SATs scores evidence that this government has run out of ideas.

What did yesterday's SATs news tell us that we didn't already know? The results show a decline in performance, with more than 1400 primary schools falling below the government’s so-called 'floor target' for attainment in maths and English.
What's the government's response? According to the BBC's education correspondent, Gary Eason, it wants 'local authorities to pressurise head teachers to improve'. And how, I’d like to ask, are the local authorities going to do that when they haven't made any substantial progress in either of those areas in the past ten years? In fact, we seem to be going backwards.
The truth is that local authorities are full of people giving contradictory or inept advice to teachers in schools. Ever slavish to the edicts of the DCSF, the local advisers press schools into adopting an untried and untested programme for teaching children to read and spell: Letters and Sounds. Not only is this programme incoherently structured but the training (where there is any training at all!) is derisory, delivered in many instances by people who don't understand how the writing system works.
At the time of the Rose Review, we were promised by government officials that schools would be allowed to choose which phonics programme they wanted to use. In practice, we hear all the time of bullying tactics being used on teachers in order to force them to use L&S.
This charade has gone on long enough! Look at the league tables of schools in which huge numbers of children cannot even attain the basic standards set by the government. The blame does not lie with the struggling pupils; it lies squarely with the teacher training institutions and a government obsessed with imposing its half-baked programmes on an education system yearning for change.
The bottom line is that parents need to know that their children are leaving primary school able to read, spell and handle basic arithmetic.
STOP PRESS:
Sounds-Write have just published their six-year study on 1607 pupils who have been taught using Sounds-Write for the first three years of their schooling. Read the Report.