…not sure whether to take a Lauren Child, “Charlie and Lola” approach to writing this blog, or more of John Boyne’s “Absolutist”, after a week where the sounds of war drums have been beating ever louder, both in the real world and across Twitter and blogs. I am also tempted to reflect on the juxtaposition of the significance of this weekend to Christians and the attempt by some to portray a significant group of teachers as responsible for all the ills of the world. It has, at times, become a little too much and some (many) have chosen to take time out from Twitter “debates”, as they rapidly descend into pantomime.
However, there are also threads where people actually exchange ideas and enable thinking to develop, supporting colleagues with useful blogs or references. A very good example recently was a mass sharing of Primary children’s books, which has developed into a continuous thread, as new titles are found and explored. What was interesting was the response from a small quarter, prepared to argue that, because the books had pictures, they were self-defeating, as far as children learning to read was concerned. Having been schooled in Janet and John and Ladybird, I did learn the difference between the letters, the words and the pictures. I sometimes wonder if the naysayers share books with young children and how they do it?
With a Charlie and Lola hat on, I might seek to argue that it is absolutely essential that children learn about story narrative and this they are likely to do by interacting to the visual narrative that passes them from birth. When they can talk, the retelling of what they have done, or the commentary of what they are doing is a natural part of their lives. Interacting with others, adult or child, alters the dynamics and responsive language is enabled. That most early board books are largely pictures with a small story line, is to encourage exploration of the images, to create a context where broader narrative and specific language linked to image details can be used by the sharer, offering the child access to the world of words within and beyond their current need.
As song and nursery rhyme (hopefully) become a part of a child’s life, they gradually learn to join in with the repetitive elements and slowly are enabled to hold the narrative in their heads, which, in certain situations can be interpreted by proud parents as their child being “able to read”. Equally, children learn the poetry of counting, which can be interpreted as being “good at maths”. When my son was two and a half, on a long ferry ride to France, the stairs offered an opportunity to practice counting. After about two hours of repetition, he could count to 15 in French and English. As it turns out, he also became good at maths, which may just be coincidence.
Any teacher faced with precocious talent in children will need to interrogate and interact with early skills to find out how secure they are. This was bread and butter of my classroom practice for the vast part of my school teaching career, especially the first sixteen years, where no TA support was available, or even dreamt of.
Good knowledge of the available resources, coupled with a developing knowledge of how young children learn to read, further enhanced by a PG Dip Ed in language and reading development, allowed deeper interrogation and understanding of the needs of the disparate groups and individuals who made up each class. It was a case of carefully planned interactions, some individual, some group, with detailed tracking of areas of need, through a variation on miscue analysis. This detail enabled clarity in guidance and support, shared with parents through home-school books or bookmarks.
Order and organisation underpin every aspect of high quality learning. There is no alternative to knowing your stuff, which in reading terms understanding the constituent parts and ensuring that children access these at appropriate times. There is good and often very poor literature available for children. The first step is to know what’s in your school, to spend time reading and thinking how texts could be used and co-opted into your teaching.
Teacher interaction with the learning process of each child is essential, to be able to deploy classroom and home support to good effect.
It is in the building of a learning dynamic, using and applying phonics and a range of language skills that allows children to take some charge of their learning and to become more independent.
During a period as a (full-time teaching) infant Deputy Headteacher, I had a group of boys who were really struggling to read. The “Village with Three Corners” was one of the schemes available, within which, there was a set of books with a castle theme, so, for a short period I developed a topic on castles, with a visit to Portchester Castle as a hook.
Construction material was used on the return to create a classroom castle model, with Playmobile people as the characters. The scheme books were shared together and words found challenging highlighted and explored (phonics application) separately, before rereading the books. The children were give word lists to be used in their draft writing, the 26 common words and topic words extracted from the castle reading. Storyboards and first draft writings became the next layer of interaction, providing personal lists of words on which to concentrate, to be shared at home and used in writing. Over a period of four weeks, the boys who had been finding difficulty were noticeably more confident in their reading, with enhanced fluency and understanding.
Working holistically allowed a broader understanding than would have been available with a weekly guided reading session. It was concentrated, ordered, organised, multi-layered and, while targeted at a small group, the rest of the class gained significantly from the topic as well, as higher achieving readers were challenged to use non-fiction books to extract additional information and developed their own storyboards and high quality writing.
It will be seen, by some, as “progressive”. Many aspects were actually very traditional; there was a lot of what seems to be called direct instruction (talking to children). It always has been thus; making learning accessible to, and work for, all children. That's what I've called teaching since 1971...
I’m saving my “Absolutist” thoughts for another blog…