Sunday, November 11, 2012

Every child a reader

On Friday Dylan came home with a note from school. His teacher would like every child to bring in a photo of themselves reading in a cool or whacky place. They could try reading in bed, the letter suggested, or the bath, or the park; anywhere unusual to enjoy a book.

So we've been carrying The Sand Horse round West Wales as part of our weekend pottering. And Dylan's been reading on the beach, at the castle, in the antique shop... He's as much motivated by winning a prize for best location than a desire to bury his head, but it's fabulous he's taking an interest at all.

Dylan has struggled with books. At first, we thought it was a boy thing - more interested in trains than words - but it gradually became clear he didn't fully grasp the concept. Or perhaps more accurately,  he couldn't follow how it worked - spelling in particular would fox him. Early in his second year, his teacher commented on the gap between his above average vocabulary and below average reading skills.

We were lucky. His school was a pilot for the Every Child A Reader scheme and, with the help of a specialist, they brought him back to the expected standard.  It took three months of a very different approach to learning - which as an aside, helps take the pressure off anxious parents - but I can't think of a better investment in a child's future. I'm immensely grateful and Dyan will be too in time.

At the moment he's not fully aware of his good fortune. Not only was he blessed with a school that had extra resources for literacy, he also has intelligent parents who care deeply and take the time to work with him - though interestingly, in his case it wasn't quite enough. In the bigger scheme of things (and this isn't meant as any sort of boast) he'll benefit too from his social upbringing - three generations of education and encouragement will shape his future if not exactly define it.

It saddens me when I see some kids - or rather when I see their parents. 'A poverty of expectation', was how someone once described it. We all know reading is an essential life skill - nobody in their right mind thinks otherwise. But I'd go further and say children have a Right to Read, and I'd like that idea to be more deeply embedded in both law and attitudes. It's very probable Dylan would have caught up anyway, but I'm glad it wasn't left to chance - and it seems to entirely right that it wasn't.

You might think as a writer that I've always loved words. It isn't so. I struggled with reading, and still find spelling an illogical chore. Unfortunately, my teachers didn't spot my potential quite so young! I could rant for pages on the damage done by the pedants who value correctness but are blind to creativity. But that's for another time.

This weekend we had some fun; we listened to CDs in the car; we played Dylan's imaginary 'talking game'; we spent hours on the computer and the Kindle... So many ways to read and tell stories - and amazingly, we even managed an old-fashioned page or two.


  1. Hello Mark:
    Literacy is such a vital life skill. As you say, it is wonderful that your son's school has both the resources and the desire to see that every child achieves their potential in this regard. Sadly, it is not always so and all too often parents do not show any particular interest either.

    The competition seems to us to be a great idea to bring the fun into reading. This is so badly needed when the written word can be seen more of a hindrance than a help. With any luck one of these photographs will be a winner!!

  2. So which one will he be entering?

    Not only a right to read...but a duty of parents and educators to see that they do.

    I do sometimes wonder whether the children in street gangs would have avoided this life if reading, losing themselves in the life of a book, had been open to them.

    Our society is failing children - and not only children from the bottom of the heap.

    Dylan is lucky in his parents.

  3. So glad Dylan got the help he needed at the right time, Mark. Literacy is crucial and far too many children still lack the skills they need to succeed.

    All the photos are super but I love the one with the tide coming in around his feet. :-)

  4. Reading standing in the sea - that has to be a winner. There will be the extra pleasures of the feel and sounds of it to add to the memory of the reading. And it was fun! I'm sure Dylan will remember that!

  5. Unfortunately, the importance of creatvity has been used as an excuse for ignoring grammar. They are both important.

    1. You're right Mark. In truth it's the spelling pedants that really get my goat. Spelling has little logic and relies on many cases on rote learning - that's fine but we therefore shouldn't confuse good spelling with intelligence or writing ability. Take for example, tough, through, though and thought - all use 'ough' but all sound different. And then of course we have through and threw - different spelling but same sound - aghhh! In some ways is more intelligent to rebel.

    2. You make a good point regarding spelling. There is so much, maybe too much irregularity, even though written English is, at base, phonetic. I tend to view bad spelling as indicative of lack of care, rather than lack of intelligence, but these days it's just as likely to be down to bad typing and poor proofing (I'm just as guilty here as anyone else).

      However, the grammar pedants also have a point, especially when a misunderstanding of the rules can lead to sentences meaning completely different things from that which is intended. And when things like apostrophes are used incorrectly, this also makes for confusion.

      Then of course, the English and American meanings of the word "sanction" are opposite. You have to hear the accent to know what "I'd sanction that" means :)

    3. I see a lot of children who struggle with spelling because they have become overly reliant on phonics, and do not have the flexibility to make the step up to orthographic spelling. So they are constantly juggling different phonic possibilities without a strategy for judging which is the right one this time. That is one of the strengths of Every Child a Reader, it teaches children how to make decisions which enables them to be flexible in their learning.

  6. Great to see Dylan is getting the support he needs both at home and in the classroom.

    I was the last to learn to read in my class, I can remember that struggle so clearly. I ended up nicking my best friend's Janet and John book out of jealousy and frustration and taking it home. 'I can read mum', I declared when I got home. 'Come on then, show me' she said. I nervously opened the book and found I could!

    I ended up helping out all the slow readers instead of doing any other English lessons when I reached Junior school. My primary school education was a very strange one, which is a conversation for another time...

  7. PS Interesting point re creativity. I was asked to study English A Level, but declined because my other subjects were sciences and I hated the focus on reading and critique over language and story telling at that level. Had the mooted Creative Writing A Level been around (or AS for that matter), I might have decided differently and perhaps my writing style we discussed on Thursday might be different too!

  8. Good post Mark. What gets me is kids who become adults and still think that mobile phone txt language is good enough. Too often in work I came across people who wrote reports/documents on behalf of a public body for public consumption with no initial capitals, fullstops or commas, words spelled phonetically with double or ambiguous meanings. If you are writing on your own behalf rather than on behalf of a public body then crux of of the matter is that the meaning which people take from it is what you intended.

  9. Reading is an essential skill that, even when we take if for granted, can still bring us amazement and awe. My 5 year is learning to read for the first time and seems to be taking to it like a starving person at a feast. He can't get enough. It bodes well.

  10. Your son is indeed lucky. Like some here, I could relate the horrors of ignorance in my early school life . Hopefully, your son will be spared those things and is being taught by committed, caring professionals who understand how to help.

  11. I'm so pleased your family got to experience the great opportunity of a Reading Recovery Teacher. I am a trained reading recovery teacher but due to funding cuts I have no job and have recently had to sign onto a supply agency.

    So many children would benefit from extra time and help that a teacher with 30 children to teach just doesn't have the time to. I wish your son continued pleasure from his reading.