Tag Archive | reading

Rescue us from norms!

It must have taken a lot of courage for Richard Macer to make the documentary about his son’s Dyslexia. (Hoping it will become available again soon) Especially at a time of his learning life when his future seemed to hang in jeopardy upon his SATs results. (A ridiculous practice I’ve condemned before – and which some schools and teachers are beginning to boycott) The family’s feelings were hinged on it. My heart went out to them.

Richard and son

In the programme they described some of what it’s like for a dyslexic in school, how inhibiting it can be in terms of academic progress, how their son’s brain seemed to work differently to others, as did dad’s, how this could be perceived either as a set back or a potential gift.

And I was screaming at the screen; ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’! No one’s future should be the result of performance in one moment of time at 11 years of age. It’s preposterous. And preposterous that the system has been set up like this and causes so many families so much distress. particularly families of dyslexic children for whom schooling fails so miserably.

Towards the end of the programme, after tears and relief that the son did okay in his SATs, dad made a comment about his son’s ‘faulty’ brain and I was really saddened to hear that. Because dyslexic brains are not ‘faulty’. And no one seems to be saying what’s glaringly obvious to me: That they are only ‘faulty’ within the context of schooling. Take the dyslexic out of school, take away the label Special Educational Needs, and meet the child’s individual needs in alternative ways (which should be open to everyone instead of the single track approach of academic practise that schools use) and the child can learn and achieve. Those dyslexics within the home educating community are proof of that.

The trouble with the system is that it measures to norms. It proposes a pattern of normal and then tries to make each child fit. Those that don’t fit are deemed as ‘behind’ or ‘failing’ or SEN. But what the heck is normal? And heaven preserve us from fitting it, for it is often those who don’t who go on to do great things; invent things, find cures, have ideas, create solutions. In fact a wonderful piece towards the end of the programme looked at a body of research to uphold the idea that our survival as a species is dependent on those abnormalities, dependent on those who can see beyond the norms and continue to diversify. It’s diversification we need for perpetuation – not normal!

So rescue us from norms, I say, celebrate those who are different – dyslexics among them, and see the limited schooling system for what it really is – the cloning of diverse intelligences into sad souless sameness.

And all the best to father and family.

 

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‘Let Them Play’

A little while ago fellow home educator Alice Griffin posted a piece about her home education journey and how their learning can be integrated into everything they do – even sewing. She’s writing on a new topic this time which I’m sure you’ll find inspiring. It’s that difficult feeling we all experience about allowing the kids to learn through play.

Here’s what she says about it in her own words:

“Honestly, let her play, she will learn so much” was the advice offered during my first ever interaction with a home-educating parent “But what about reading and writing?” I questioned, “well, I know my daughter is ready for numbers now as when we take the goats out she says ‘look Mummy, two plus two is four’” said this woman to me about her daughter, who at that point was seven.

Had I been drinking a cup of tea I probably would have spat it out and in my mind all I could think was ‘whaatttt?’ Every traditional thing I had ever known (including being taught to read, write and do sums at age 4) was blown out of the water in that conversation on a Portuguese hillside and I was left wondering, but what does ‘they learn so much through play’ actually mean?

Now, nine years on, it tickles me that I am now that person.

It’s not that I harbour negativity towards my own traditional upbringing, it’s just that I now know there are other ways to learn and my daughter, now not far off 12, is proof of that. Everything she has achieved she has come to with no forcing and with our utmost respect for letting her play and thus, has moved naturally onto next steps.

But it wasn’t always that way… at age 5 when we were new to home-ed and believed we must recreate school, we tried hard to get her to do maths. She would cry and scream and despite buying numerous pretty workbooks, it would always end in nothing but frustration, tears and fallings out. At 6 we decided it was time to ride a bicycle and duly removed the stabilisers, encouraging her to take to her bike and peddle. She stomped her feet, we shouted and agonised before, exasperated we decided that we would put the stabilisers back on and leave it. In fact… during that conversation we pretty much decided to leave off forcing anything, and we have never looked back.

At 8 she came to us – came to us! – asking to do maths. It seems that once she recognised the benefit of being able to work out what you could afford to buy at the shop when with friends, maths became infinitely more appealing. It was around the same time that, when playing in a friend’s garden, she turned to me and said: “you know, I think I’m ready to ride a bike now” and promptly hopped on her friend’s bike and cycled off, leaving me open-mouthed and laughing. All that pressure and heartache and there she was, cycling around as if she’d always done it.

Earlier this year she announced she was going to write a book. Even in my now fairly relaxed knowledge of her coming to things when it’s the right time, I’d been secretly worrying about when she might start writing and spelling a bit more. “I just feel I want to write now so I’m going to just put the words down and then you can correct them” and together, we have watched her love for the written word blossom. Right now it’s requests for science workbooks and Portuguese courses so that she can work towards her current dream of being a wildlife biologist studying wolves… and that’s after years of letting her run around with a tail on just being a wolf.

So, if I could say something to myself seven years ago it would be, ‘let her play, shower her with love and support, surround her with books and look at everything as a learning opportunity… and please don’t worry’ and if your child works in a different way (which they will!), I would say ‘trust your instinct and know that when you spend time with your children and really know them, you will see the route to take’ and if, on that journey, you meet a home-educating parent who extols the value of learning through play; please listen… and try to not spit out your tea.

Alice Griffin is a home-educating mum and writer living between the UK and open road.

www.alicegriffin.co.uk

www.facebook.com/alicegriffinwrites

 

The teacher who couldn’t read

A little while ago I read the most amazing story on the BBC news by John Corcoran. He was a teacher for 17 years who had hidden the fact that he couldn’t read.

The teacher John Corcoran who kept it secret that he couldn’t read or write. Read his moving story

A teacher who couldn’t read? How shocking is that?

Or is it? Is it more shocking that someone who was so devoted to trying to better himself, despite his inability to pick up this skill, should be so ashamed of it that he had to keep it secret.

But perhaps the real shocker is the fact that our so-called inclusive society so looks down on people who cannot read that they feel compelled to do so?

Read his amazing story here.

The subject of his story is something that often bugs me; that we make judgements about people’s intelligence and about them as people just because they are different from us and cannot develop the skills required for reading in the same way we might.

Reading is a skill – a multitude of skills combined together – just like driving, for example. The ability to drive is also a set of skills that some people never manage to acquire, despite persistently trying. Reading is the same; a set of skills that because of the differences in people, some are unable to develop the same way as others.

We are all different. What works for some doesn’t work for others. Do we acknowledge that? For some things we do. For reading we seem to forget it.

Some learners need very different approaches, need very different time frames, in order to get to grips with reading.

But this is not an indication of low intelligence or ignorance or a defect. It’s just how some people are.

The readers among us are not superior to the non-readers. Just as the drivers are not superior to the non-drivers.

We’re just different.

Let’s take away the snobbery, the pressure, and the judgement people like John and others like him have felt over the years and let’s support everyone in their differences, whatever they are.

Let’s live up to our claim of being an all-inclusive society and stop the shocking judgements that exist about those who do not read in the same way as others so that there’s no shame or secret surrounding it. And so that more can tell their story and get the proper support they need without feeling as bad as he did.

There’s nothing wrong with our children

I feel so sorry when I hear parents desperately worrying over their children not being able to achieve certain things at certain times. So I thought I’d post this chapter from my ‘Home Education Notebook’ in the hope it may bring comfort and reassurance if you’re one of them:

I want to reassure you all of something: there’s nothing wrong with your children.

I say this because there are folks who would make out that there is. They make out that there must be something wrong if a child who doesn’t thrive in school, for example, or doesn’t read easily, or can’t run as fast as others, or who is shy.

It’s just that people like to make out that others who are not the same as them must have something wrong with them. But the real truth is that; everyone is different.

It took a while for this to really sink in with me – particularly the implications.

Take gardening as an example.  I just never took to it, even worse my plants seemed to die when everyone else’s flourished. There must be something wrong with me surely, for this to happen.

I did try. My mother was a great gardener. Her roses yielded abundant blooms, her cuttings thrived, her shrubs grew enormous.

Mine didn’t.

All mine did was whither. I planted plants she bought me and they died. I even managed to kill houseplants. I’m sure all I ever did was look at them and they shrivelled.

This soon led me to believe there definitely must be something wrong with me.

I’d watch my mother in raptures round the garden centre and I’d look at my watch and think; how much longer? I’d listen to my friends going on about their plants and their gardens and I’d feel there must be a gaping hole in my emotional development because I just couldn’t feel what they did. I used to visit my friend who had a creeping fig right over her living room ceiling yet all my attempts at growing one had failed. I was useless.

It took a while for this to change.

Firstly, I do actually like gardening now. It’s something I’ve grown into – pardon the pun. Now that I have a little more time I enjoy it more. Now, also, that I have had time to mature my skills and accept that a slower turnover of success is just as fulfilling as a quick fix.

So I began to feel a little better, a little less like I’d got this major inability.

I also learnt two important things; however hard I might have tried at the time I just wasn’t ready for the delights of gardening. I just couldn’t apply myself enough to hone the necessary skills and patience. And I don’t think that whatever I did, at that time, I could have made any difference.

But, secondly, there was nothing wrong with me because of that. It wasn’t an inability, a learning difficulty, or anything else you want to call it. It was just the way it was and I shouldn’t sweat it.

So what about the skills that are pressed on kids in the form of their education? Isn’t it the same thing?

The way I see it, many, many skills are pressed on kids as a means to educate them. Knowledge is forced into them. Subjects are heaped upon them. Achievements are expected from them. None of which children particularly choose. Few of which they particularly like. Even fewer bearing any relation to the children’s lives at all.

And then schools make out there’s something wrong with those kids who don’t achieve.

Yet I can’t see the difference between this and the gardening really. It seems the same problem to me. It seems we expect children to acquire the skills we think they need, regardless of whether they think they need them, and then suggest there’s something wrong with them when they don’t succeed. Isn’t that a bit bizarre?

A love of gardening was something I matured into. I acquired the skills to do it when I became ready. There was nothing wrong with me before I was ready, or before I had those skills.

Many of the things we ask children to do as a way of educating them they are simply not ready for, or able to do, or interested in. But it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with our children. That’s just the way children are.

I find it quite extraordinary that we set a curriculum of subjects that are as important to children as rheumatism and then expect them to enjoy studying them.

We set them tasks to do that are as appealing to them as cleaning out toilets is to me and expect them to do them willingly.

We expect them to practice skills that are as irrelevant to them at that stage in their lives as training to be an astronaut is to me as a parent.

And then, when they don’t succeed (surprise, surprise!) we call them failures. We make out there’s something wrong with them. Extraordinary!

It takes a long time to mature into things. Like wine and good cheese, Shakespeare and advanced maths. And some of us never do. But that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong in that. There are other nutritious things besides wine and cheese to enjoy, other subjects to get to grips with. We have to be at a certain stage to see the benefits of certain tasks (like cleaning the toilets – or writing perhaps). And some may never reach enjoyment of them. (Definitely me with the toilets). But there’s nothing wrong in that either. Some skills will never, ever be for us, however hard we push and practice. It’s just the way we are – it’s called individualism. There’ll be other skills we’re good at.

Just because your child can’t write, or can’t read, can’t do maths, doesn’t take to sitting down doing any kind of school work, or didn’t thrive or achieve in school, does not mean that there is anything wrong with them. We must make sure we avoid thinking about our children in that way.

Allow the individual to be the way they are

What we must do is allow each individual to be the way they are without thinking there’s something wrong with them if they’re not the same as other children.

Some kids mature into reading late. Some kids mature into writing late. Some take ages to understand the intricacies of maths. Some take ages to understand the value of perhaps doing things they can’t see any immediate relevance to. Some kids never get it at all. Some kids have very special other skills that are harder for us to appreciate and value. It doesn’t make them wrong for being like that. Some dyslexic children have very special skills that those of us who are not dyslexic will never have but it doesn’t make anyone wrong.

One skill is not more valuable than the other – even though advocates of the National Curriculum would have us believe otherwise. It’s hard in our current educational climate to keep faith. To value all the diverse things our children can do rather than only notice what they can’t. It is hard to truly believe in our wonderfully individual children and the special talents they have, particularly when those talents don’t match those required to succeed in schools.

But if we want our children to grow with confidence – and confidence is the very best tool they can have – if we want our children to succeed in life, we must never begin to act as if there’s something wrong with them when they don’t achieve the same as others. They will achieve other things that are equally as valuable to them. We must support them for who they are and what they can do.

I hear stories of children having to see an educational psychologist because they’re not achieving at school. That to me is the same thing as dragging me to see an educational psychologist just because I couldn’t achieve at gardening.

I didn’t need to see an educational psychologist; I needed to do something different.

I appreciate there are rare and specific problems, but generally children don’t need to see an educational psychologist either; they need to do something different. They need a different kind of education. That’s all. There’s nothing else wrong.

I know adults who can’t drive and have never managed to learn. I don’t tell them they need to see an educational psychologist because of it.

Everyone is different. Each child has different learning strengths. We need to change our attitude not the children. It’s only when we try and make everyone the same that problems arise.

No, there is nothing wrong with our children. Nothing wrong, if they don’t fit in school. Nothing wrong if they don’t like academic stuff. Nothing wrong if they take a long time maturing into certain skills. And we must guard against being talked into believing that there is.

Read the book for more stories to comfort and support. See the My Books page.

Please pay your writers!

I was so happy to read in an article last month that folks are still turning to books – the physical kind. It seems there are still people who want to hold, to own, to turn pages and browse through a paper book.

I’m not saying the ebook doesn’t have a place. It equally has advantages. But the downside of it is that it can be easily pirated which means people can access all your hard work without paying for it.

I happily accept that books get passed around and shared – I do the same with mine. But at least I buy one in the first place and it has a life. And although we may think ebooks are more environmentally friendly I wonder if they are in the long run, I wonder what will happen to the planet when it’s buried under discarded technology, whilst books are more recyclable.

As a generalisation it takes about a year to write a book. A year of unpaid work basically – for it is work – and very few writers get paid in the realms of the six figure numbers bandied about the press. Many of us write about minority issues that would never be published by a commercial publisher only interested in big bucks. And earn minority pay – far less than minimum wage. So it comes doubly hard when our ebooks are pirated. And saddening to think that there are people who think that if they can get something for nothing then they’ve got one up on the system. But whilst they get one up – the writers lose out. I wonder if those people would like to do their job without being paid for it?

Without niche market writers writing about minorities as many of us do, without Indie publishers (like Bird’s Nest Books) who struggle against the big publishing giants, we would never get to read some really important stuff. Home educators for example would never get the support I’m offering through the books I write.

So, if you enjoy books, please consider buying them, in whatever format – and I don’t mean just mine, I mean any subject. Books mostly cost little more than a magazine, less than a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine and are better for the waistline!

But far more importantly it means the writer (and the publisher and illustrator) get paid! Perhaps you could consider this when you next need a book to support you.

I thank you!

🙂

There’s no magic strategy to ‘teach’ your child to read

Bit of a shock/horror title I know. But further to my last week’s post on reading when I was talking about the book ‘Rethinking Learning to Read’ there was something else I wanted to tell you. Something most people don’t know.

Create a relaxed approach to enjoying books

We don’t know because we’re led to believe the opposite. We’re led to believe that there is a specific strategy for teaching reading that professionals know but parents don’t.

The real truth is – brace yourself – there isn’t!

There is no one single magic approach to reading that will guarantee that your child will read.

This is what Harriet Pattison shows in her book. And I was talking to another academic about this recently, a professional who is engaged in teacher training, and he confirmed that there is no strategy that training teachers are taught in order to get kids reading. They are in exactly the same position as parents!

Okay, so teachers learn a bit about the psychology of learning (soon forgotten) and about various schemes, and graded readers and devices like phonics or whatever the latest fad is. But nothing is fool proof, will work for all, because everyone is different and responds differently. But those differences don’t have to be difficulties – only if you’re in school.

There are a multitude of activities that parents can encourage that will help their child to read; games for example, reading aloud to them, shared reading and stories, providing material for their reading, allowing them to use computers and computer games and similar, texting included, encouraging any reading material comics included, providing a reading happy climate, reading themselves, reading signs when out etc.

What is more important and something that parents can do easily, is provide a reading rich environment and encourage – without pressure – a relaxed approach to enjoying books and print. When home educating, it doesn’t matter when a child reads fluently – there are all sorts of ways to learn (films for example). It’s only in school, where learning is print based, that anxieties mount and ‘difficulties’ are created. Out of school, there doesn’t have to be a difficulty.

It’s important to acknowledge and encourage your child’s own personal relationship with reading, which means you might have to keep out of it sometimes! Something teachers can’t do. Perhaps the only ‘difficulty’ is keeping our anxieties under control.

Children are inquisitive about what we do, about stuff online, about phones and words and stories. Your encouragement of that interest will be what eventually leads them towards reading.

And that is something that all parents can do. No magic strategy involved!

A word of thanks & to whet your appetite for Monday

Thank you so much to all those who supported my blog tour. It has meant so much. Thank you also to the wonderful host blogs; I’m so grateful to you for letting me gab on over on your blogs about education from all different angles! And to Bird’s Nest Books for organising it.

If you haven’t discovered these brilliant blogs yet click the links on my previous post. They’re worth a visit; it’s always inspiring to explore new ideas. Did you check any of them out – do let me know? Today (Thurs) is your last chance to win my latest book over at the Home Education Podcast. 

Meanwhile, another thought provoking book; ‘Rethinking Learning To Read’ has just come my way, which the author is going to talk about on Monday’s blog. Even its introduction got my educational juices going. It tells us how there is historical evidence to show that people learnt to read quite successfully through informal approaches long before schemes and schools came on the scene! (Just like many home educators do!)

Can’t wait to read the rest. Pop by Monday and listen to what the author has to say.