Saturday, 5 May 2012
My latest for Guardian Teach
Last year I wrote an article called could we wave goodbye to reading schemes? in which I chatted to one school about their journey which involved doing just that - and how they've never looked back.
The school have given children with a passion for books, a knowledge of different authors and genres and don't miss Wellington Square and the likes one bit!
I needed no persuasion on this, needed no convincing that their decision to drench the children at their school in good quality "real" books was the right one. I didn't for one moment feel pity for these children who might never learn of the (tedious) exploits in the (repetitive) tales of Biff, Chip and Kipper.
It's only this year though, when my own child's "learning to read" experience has gone from one of de-coding text to wanting to read the story for story's sake, that I've become so deeply in-trenched in this feeling of near-resentment towards schemes.
I'll preface this argument by saying that my daughter is at a fantastic school, one which values literacy enormously, one that inspires them to be readers and passionate about books. I'm encouraged to write down books we read at home, and not just the school ones, in her diary because they recognise that all reading is valid and significant… and great! And I understand too that financial constraints often leave schools feeling that schemes are the way to go. The only way to go. They're clearly levelled (grrrrrr!) too, which I know is useful (she writes, all too aware of the emphasis on levels that saturates education) so I can see the point.
My problem though, my major beef with the whole scheme culture, is that for some children this is what reading is. For many, too many children, their only experience of reading at home with a parent is these books. Many of the scheme books aren't even written by authors; have you read a novel by a non-author recently? No, thought not. Some of them lack richness in plot, some don't even have one – they've just got a pure focus on the mechanics of what that child, at that level, should be reading in order to move them on (to the next level – and on and on).
The poetry books disturb me the most, especially when they're read just before we dip into Now We Are Six by AA Milne (which we do as a reward for completing the school poems that my daughter reads). She'll often look at me, baffled, for an explanation. "Hmmm, sorry love, can't help you there," I think, just as perplexed as she. Then we relax into Now We Are Six and the rhythm carries her, the words pull her in and I could listen to her forever.
The school I chatted to for the feature last year had spent a great deal of time levelling "real" books. This became easier over time, with them instinctively knowing where each book might sit, so reading progression is taken care of. They, as a staff, have got to know authors and know what each brings. It's a time consuming approach for sure, and a costly one too, but what can be more important than this?
If you're still needing more persuasion, think of the self-esteem issue. Children aren't stupid, they know where they sit among their peers in terms of ability – but do we really need overt colours to clarify these matters?
Children learn to read at such different rates; I know I could hardly read at six but leapt on sometime after and am not bad now! It's all transient and changeable so let's not tell a child what colour/level/stage they on and put them in a box from this early, impressionable age. Also, think of the reduction in parental anxiety (and competition) if all they see is good quality literature in their book bags.
So, could you wave goodbye?
• Phoebe Doyle is a former primary teacher who now writes on education, parenting and health issues. She's a parent of two young children and blogs and tweets @tremendously2.
Read on The Guardian site here.
On the subjects of engaging books, these Fudgy Bear ones are fab. They come with your very own bear too. Young children can hold the bear as you read the adventures.