Our much beloved School Minister (and first holder of our Boris Numpty Award), Nick Gibb declared “the debate is over”. He was referring to his decision which meant the all kids in English schools would have to learn reading by phonics. Kids are taught to break words up into parts and then learn individual sound parts. Previously kids were taught with a mix of phonics and the old approach of memorising the whole world.
Interestingly our School Minister who is an expert in all things education has no practical experience of teaching. He is an accountant. Which makes me equally qualified to set school policy….
Yes phonics does work for some kids but not for others. For example many kids with dyslexia or kids on the spectrum struggle to decode words and then struggle to produce the right sounds for each individual part. I’ve tried phonics and I struggle with it. It’s a disaster with son. We could be trying to use phonics for the next 100 years and it will still not help our son to read.
We all must have done this. Set out for a nice walk. In the case of the photos across the stunning North Yorkshire Moors. Then you come to a crossroads. Paths going in all directions. You look vaguely at the map. Try to look like a professional. Fold up the map carefully. Then go Eeny, meeny, miny, moe and randomly guess the right path. In my case it is usually unerringly wrong. After several miles you get that sinking feeling – wrong path.
Actually wrong path is not the best description. It will be the right path for many. It will take them to their desired location. But for some (like me) we could go down this path for years and it will never ever get us to our desired location. So what I need to do is get off this path and find a path which works for me. That is the sensible thing to do. As a I am not that sensible I won’t retrace my steps back to the crossroads. I will try to break trail in a different direction in the hope that I will find the path for me.
Now according to our Schools Minister all kids should go down the same reading path. Unfortunately doing that will guarantee that some kids never do arrive at their destination. Endlessly walking down this path, getting lost, getting disillusioned. That’s what happened to us. We blindly went down the phonics path and basically got no where.
But then we stopped and said stuff you Nick Gibb. And we broke a new trail.
- We started learning some of the most common words the traditional way. Son would memorise the whole word.
- We started playing around with various learning to read games on the internet.
- Using trial and error son would try to use app’s like YouTube, Google Search or games like FIFA by himself.
- Son would watch TV shows with the subtitles on. Movies like the Avengers were perfect. He knew them virtually off by heart. So he could focus on the subtitles and start to make links.
- He would relentlessly work on his coordination. He would read a grid of letters while clapping his hands. He would bounce a ball while trying to learn and read words.
- We would jointly read books. Normally Mr Men books. They were just the right length and fun. He would join in when he wanted to. I would never correct a mistake. He would process that himself.
The new trail has started to work. We haven’t reached our son’s destination but it feels like we are heading in the right direction at last. Enough for son to call himself now – a reader.
So I hope our Schools Minister finds his own path. Preferably takes him a million miles away from this countries classrooms. Then we can get back to trusting parents, teachers and kids to pick the education path which best suits them.