Tag Archive | reading

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.

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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.

Read; for your children’s sake!

The best thing ever on a summer afternoon is to take a book outside and read. 20150806_134010

Notebooks inevitably go with me and I inevitably end up writing – often inspired by the reading whether it’s a novel, non-fiction, whatever! But to have an afternoon devoted to reading outside in the breeze and sunshine is my favourite summer delight. I can spend hours reading, when I probably wouldn’t if I was still inside.

Funny how we can spend hours watching telly or web surfing, yet seldom devote that amount of time immersed in a good book. Soon as I get outside that changes – I can relax and lose time to it.

And apparently we get a double dose of benefit if we do so. Not only do we get the important benefits of natural light, but reading itself also improves wellbeing and has other benefits on society too, like increased empathy and reduced stress. (See this research from The Reading Agency)

And, as if you needed another excuse, your children need to see you reading.

As parents we’re always keen that our children read. It’s an essential part of their development, education and lifeskills. And the biggest influence on children’s connection to reading is whether and how much we read. If they see you reading regularly, they’ll be drawn to it too, especially when you appear to be getting so much pleasure from it.

It doesn’t matter what format you choose to read in. Just as long as you’re reading.

There are so many little moments in a day we could be reading; on journeys, in a queue, waiting room, on the bus, trips out with picnics, waiting for the dinner to cook, with your lunch. The more you read, the more they’ll want to.

The effect may not be immediate or apparent. But by reading, you’re establishing a valuable attitude to it and that’s what counts. They might want to run about and build dens, that’s fine, but you can read whilst they do so. Then they’ll have that image of you – their most important adult – attaching importance to the activity of reading. That lays the foundations of what they’ll attach importance to in times to come.

So take a regular afternoon reading. Take things to read on your family picnics, outings, journeys and holidays. Or just slope off into the garden on a sunny afternoon and take a moment out just for yourself to have a home holiday with a good book.

See if you don’t feel the benefits too!

(If you haven’t read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ it’s a sweet, funny, family story just right for an outdoors read to move your mind and emotions!)

Just a bit excited…

Who’s Not At School? Illustrations by James Robinson

I’m just a smidgen excited! Okay – maybe that’s a bit of an understatement, but I’m not big on dramatic announcements.

It’s just that a new project is about to come to fruition next month.

I’ve long wanted to write something for children. For something I loved best of all when mine were small was having them curled in that perfect space between lap and arms sharing a picture book together. It is the most delightful experience to hug a child on your knee and absorb a story together. And that’s where readers are made as I said in a recent post.

The best kind of stories of all are those you can identify with, those that make you suddenly think; this is just like us!

That rarely happens when you’re a home educating family, just like with other minority groups. Nearly all stories feature children going to school as if home education didn’t exist, wasn’t real, or the families weren’t living real and proper lives that were as important as any other family lives.

Time for that to change and hopefully ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ is helping. This was a story so mums and dads would have something fun to read that was perhaps a little bit like them, as well as raise awareness.

But the children need one too. So a publisher, illustrator and I have got together to produce one….maybe more than one, who knows!

And I’m excited to tell you it will be available in May. So come those times when your child wants you to read them a story there’ll be one out there which has an inquisitive, curious and adventurous little home educator just like them! But I think many a family will recognise themselves in there however they are educated, most of all I hope it’ll raise a smile and plenty to talk about.

I got my daughter to read it as some of her antics were what inspired it. She twigged…and it made her giggle. She’s grown up now but that doesn’t stop her perching on my lap – also with a giggle!

If you pop over to the publisher; Bird’s Nest Books you can find out more and sign up for the newsletter to get the publication date first hand.

And I’ll try and keep you posted through the excitement!