Is Phonics the wrong path

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.

FIFA

While driving back from work I was listening to a radio phone in with the following phrases repeatedly hurled about

  • Brainwashing
  • Fostering violence
  • Casual link to crime
  • Fuelling drugs
  • Breakdown of relationships
  • Death of books
  • Mind numbing
  • Addiction
  • Causing depression
  • School failings
  • Antisocial
  • Evil

The target of this torrent of abuse – Computer Games. Lots of people phoning in demanding that gaming is banned. Many of the callers from the sound of it have never used a computer, never mind have and clue about important stuff like a Donkey Kong.

So let’s balance out the argument a tad.

One of the best ways our son has found to unwind and release some of his anxieties is through a bit of gaming. Games like FIFA, Clash Of Clans, Fortnite, Roadblock, Minecraft and Crossy Roads. Just an hour now and then really makes a difference.

On top of helping him relax it offers other positive elements

  • Helps develop his hand eye coordination
  • Works on his fine motor skills
  • Teaches patience and the benefits of practice
  • Helps with recognising common gaming words – helps with dyslexia
  • Provides a common and interesting subject he can discuss with other kids
  • Provides a fun way of learning how to cope with time pressures.

And above all it helps build confidence and a sense of achievement. The smile on his face when he gets to a new level or succeeds in a task tells you everything. He’s still glowing after winning the Champions League with Inter Milan.

So yes gaming does have its pitfalls but let’s not forget that it can be a shed load of fun and if moderated can be really beneficial.

So while he’s not looking let’s see if I can get Newcastle United to win something. Just like in real life that’s not going to happen. Maybe if I get Mario, Sonic, Pac-man and Lara Croft on my team……

Spelling….

Some roads are straight and easy to navigate. Other roads are not….

A few years ago the U.K. Government changed the way children were taught and tested. To ensure that ‘children are better equipped for jobs a greater emphasis should be placed on spelling, grammar and punctuation’. As a result marks are now specifically set aside for these factor in exams. Labelled SPaG marking. It was argued that the previous inclusive educational approach was wrong.

The Government approach is to focus on a limited number of correctly spelt words. Let’s produce kids who can spell one word perfectly rather than have kids who can use an extended comprehension.

Where does this leave kids with dyslexia.?

Teaching Groups, Charities, Dyslexia Associations, Parenting Associations and Health Bodies objected. But what do they know….

Dyslexic Kids can apply for extra time in exams. They can apply for a scribe. They can apply to use a reading pen. They can apply to use a keyboard rather than pen. BUT.

They have to demonstrate a level of independence to gain access to the spelling, the grammar or the punctuation marks. If they can’t then the marks are not available to them.

Looking at our son’s case it probably means that when he takes his final exams if he opts for reasonable levels of assistance (as required under Equality Legislation) he will at best be able to access only 33% of the total SPaG marks available.

In my eyes this is wrong. But this is modern U.K. education policy.

Sadly it doesn’t stop there.

The Government decided to change the course content for Computing. Computing underpins everything now. The range of potential computing skills are endless. So many of our kids have passions and untapped skills here. The opportunities are boundless. Let kids tap into this. NO. The Government decided that the course should now focus on coding and structured programming.

Not often can I talk about a subject with anything other than guesswork, but computing I can get to amateur level. This is way beyond the dogmatic ideological buffoonery that underpins Government thinking. Why in God’s name have they picked the most uninspiring and regimented area to focus on. The approach seems to be let’s push out kids who can code rather than develop kids who can utilise the potential computers offer. Yes let kids have a basic grasp of coding then allow those who want to take it further the option to do so. I remember training in 3 programming languages – all becoming obsolete within 5 years.

AND yet again the Government – The Government which is on our side – have penalised kids with dyslexia. Coding and programming is built around specific commands and symbol patterns. Dyslexics struggle with this. So our son is stuck in a weekly computing lesson which focuses on programming. He flounders as he can’t spell the commands. His confidence gets battered. His struggles with spelling are cruelly exposed. His love for computing is fading. The school knows this but cannot change because it’s the set teaching method. Madness.

Sadly I could go on about other subjects and more Government interference. But the point has been made.

Education is so vital that it should not be left in the hands of our self absorbed and incompetent politicians. How about the politicians just focusing on screwing up Brexit and leaving education to the teachers, the parents, the area experts, the kids. In today’s language that probably gets me labelled as a dangerous socialist. A Traitor. Frankly I don’t care. What I care about is the kids going through our educational system. Clearly that’s something our leaders clearly can’t comprehend.

Dad sit down

Today was supposed to be a full on work day. But again the Laptop had other ideas. Clearly it was an update day. Luckily my old tablet came to the rescue. A slow rescue but it was a rescue. I did find a use for my laptop. As it updated it got warm and a nice warm thing is too much for a dog to resist. So my laptop is now an expensive comfort blanket to sleep on.

When our son arrived back from school he was smiling. One of those smiles.

“Dad sit down”

No it’s ok

“Dad no I think you should sit down”

Ok I’m sat down, go on hit me with it.

“Well I tried doing the work with my left hand. It was bad. Anyway for the Games Lesson I was sent to a teachers room. I was told that I could do my homework. I told the teacher that I had no homework which needed doing. So she said I should just get a book from the shelf or do something educational on the iPad. I just sat and tried to play Crossy Roads for an hour. I beat your record.”

Well that wasn’t too bad, maybe next time find something rather than a game to do. Certainly don’t beat your dads best score…

That’s not all. During one of the lessons I banged my right hand on the desk. It really hurt. But the teacher just told me to carry on working”

That’s not good. I’m going to speak to the Head about that.

“Not finished yet Dad. They have decided which options all the kids are doing for the next term. I was told that I couldn’t do the option I selected because of my hand so they told me that I have to do another one. They have given me the Book Reading class. Do you think they have forgotten I’m dyslexic.”

The Book Reading Class for a dyslexic. You couldn’t make it up.

Christmas comes early

Another trip to the fracture clinic and our son is super happy. Yes he’s still in pain, yes he can’t use his right hand but the Doctor has said the magic words

“I’m afraid you need a few more rest days so it’s another week off school”.

So it’s no more school until 2019.

To someone who goes through so much anxiety because of school it’s an early festive gift for our son. Does cause problems for me but seeing our son more relaxed – it is a price worth paying. More work can be done at home (updates permitting). The car will have to survive a few more weeks without some much needed and overdue garage TLC. Tonight I will desperately check out which food stores can home deliver this week. Like many kids with Aspergers a visit to a busy supermarket is hell on Earth.

So I sit down with a cup of tea and the laptop. One eye keeps checking out the Harry Potter movie on the TV. The pets come to join me on the sofa. Then it’s return of Windows update madness again. Surely we can find a more convenient way of maintaining our Computers. One which doesn’t stop the world turning. So so thankful my ancient tablet is not Windows based.

I am reminded of a recent conversation with our son. He was convinced that computers should be completely redesigned and remodelled taking lessons from nature. Namely the shark. Some sharks that live at the depths of oceans and seas, for example the Nurse shark, can drop to the ocean floor and enter into something equivalent to our deep sleep. But other sharks like the Great White can’t do this – they need to keep swimming. Our Son reliably informed me that much evidence suggests that they effectively reduce brain activity down to a minimum in one part of the brain while the other part of the brain continues normally. It could be that the spine which is responsible for swimming may have some operational independence. In effect part of the brain shuts down to sleep and the shark continues to swim. So we should redesign the computer processor so that part of it can be updated while the other half continues to work. Dual processors should easily facilitate this. Sounds good to me sat here with laptop displaying an “out to lunch” message on the screen. But it does raise the question how much of our lives would be transformed if we let kids with a different take on life start designing our world.

Anyway let’s watch Harry find the Chamber of Secrets. Maybe at the end of the movie my laptop will grant me a couple of hours operating time.

Early morning

I decided to get up really early this morning to try and do a bit of work catch up. But the work gods are still against me. In my half asleep state I somehow found a way of opening up the laptop and switching it on.

“Configuring Windows Update. Do not turn off your computer”

Stumbled off to make a cup of tea (as Velma Dinkley would say – Jinkys) why did I choose this week to give up coffee.

“Configuring Windows Update. Do not turn off your computer”

Stumbled back into the kitchen to make a bit of breakfast.

“Configuring Windows Update. Do not turn off your computer”

Stumbled back into the kitchen to make another cup of tea. Clearly the last one didn’t wake me up.

“Configuring Windows Update. Do not turn off your computer”

Better sort out the smelly cat litter, like smelling salts, that’s woke me up.

“Configuring Windows Update. Do not turn off your computer”

And on and on and on. Two hours later it’s still in configuration meltdown.

So I can’t turn off the computer but it doesn’t say anything about using it as the new cat litter tray,

“Configuring Windows Update. For gods sake don’t let that cat pee on your computer”

So zero work done but I did get to see a sunrise and hear the stunning 🦅 dawn chorus. I had forgotten how magical this time of day can be.