Friday, December 02, 2005

Emergent Thoughts

Listening to Changes by David Bowie –

- which is so apt it hurts.

ALICE was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"

My wife and I had a lively debate last night regarding the teaching of reading using analytical phonics. So lively in fact, that we may have to explain to the neighbours. I think we finished in broad agreement. I was actually trying to defend the use of a study which has resulted in this turn-around in how reading is taught after my wife (an infants’ teacher) declared that you can get statistics to say anything. What is clear is that a single strategy does not suit every child and that some children require an individual plan which in order to get approval from the inspectors, have to be agreed and documented – you cannot tailor your teaching as and when required. Whether all teachers will be bothered to do this is not knowable – one day they may all give up and just teach using whichever method is flavour of the month with the current government. Did you know that the method requires a child reach a certain level of ability in recognizing words before they are allowed books – how to turn off a generation to reading. The scenario my wife described was sad in the extreme; imagine a poor child who has not managed to reach the set level of word recognition, being sent home with a set of cards with simple words on, while other children in the same class get allowed home with books. Stigma! Stigma! Stigma! What happened to the idea that children should be exposed to books from an early age? They’ll be giving the kids Soma next! Or even Ritalin!

Then there is what I just have to call the Billion Monkey’s method of teaching kids to read. It is called Emergent Reading and from what my wife says it involves kids staring at lots of words until divine inspiration strikes and they know what the word means. “Miss! Miss! Is it ‘anti-dis-est-ab-lish-ment-arism’?”

It is amusing to see the comments regarding the issues of reading on the BBC News site. Loads of “I learnt to read before I left the hospital after I was born and I never did phonics” humbug. One of the posters claimed he read Lord Of The Rings on his Seventh birthday in four hours which as a later detractor pointed out, is approximately one page every 12.5 seconds. This reminds me of Woody Allen’s joke about learning speed reading and getting through War and Peace in his 15 minute morning breaks. He said someone asked him what it was about and he said “Russia”. Another comment (apparently removed now) said that “Most kids are raised by single parents, teen mums and other vermin”. Call me reactionary but I would like to ask for an eighth circle of hell just for this person though I might admit the racist thug who scrawled graffiti in the Park where Anthony Walker was murdered. Is this over the top?

A colleague of mine was convinced that all Governments want to stifle creativity and ability in the people because it makes them question what their leaders are doing. I never believed him because I thought that no one in Government was clever enough to pull off such a strategy but when you see the U-turns and tinkering, you begin to wonder.

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