When Did You Learn To Read?

Why do we treat our teachers and schools so badly? I suppose it might be because they are such an easy targets. Everybody has been to school and for many that makes them educational experts. This certainly seems to be the case with newspaper editors and politicians. Politically, education is always good for those vote-winning sound-bites. When things are going well it’s because of the wonderful initiatives that governments have introduced. When there are problems then it’s the fault of schools – but don’t worry, the government will make it all better again. What nonsense!

The latest band wagon that politicians are on and newspapers are supporting is the old issue of boys and reading. So we get ludicrous newspaper headlines like, ‘Boys leaving primaries with reading age of seven’ – what all boys? Or is it lots of boys or just some? How do you know they’ve got a reading age of seven? What does a reading age of seven look like? This is followed by other headlines, ‘Progress tests for younger pupils to tackle shocking standards among 11 year olds.’ Nobody goes on to clearly define what is meant by ‘shocking standards’. Then along comes the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, who has fed the newspapers just enough data to allow them to create these headlines, and says that head teachers whose schools persistently failed would be sacked. I think you are meant to see him as a shining knight on a white charger slaying the wicked dragons and raising reading standards all by himself!

We plan to test young children at the age of six before the majority of children in other countries have even started school and begun any ‘reading lessons’. This will ensure that we label these boys as reading failures from an early age – we will then give them more ‘reading lessons’ (similar to the ones that haven’t worked so far, only more intensive) to ensure that they see reading as a chore and switch off even more. When governments talk about, ‘Boys leaving primaries with reading age of seven’, they fail to mention that these are the boys who have had to suffer a host of expensive, government led, and imposed, reading initiatives, which haven’t worked.

Whether we like it or not learning is not just the responsibility of schools. Though for many, supposedly intelligent people, like to pretend it is. We learn from a wide range of people in a variety of situations – many of them nothing to do with school. When most five-year olds start school they have a tremendous range of skills – they can walk, talk, play, interact with others, ask questions, experiment, problem solve – where did all this learning take place? It is estimated that about 15% of a child’s waking time is spent in school – what’s happening during the other 85%? Who is teaching the child then?

We live in an age where we rightly insist that all children should be able to read. A child with reading difficulties is missing out on so much pleasure and learning opportunities. So how do we learn to read? It will be different for all of us. We do know that it doesn’t happen at the same age for all children. Some, especially boys, have other, more exciting things to do at the age of six than read a book. They’ve got wars to fight, trees to climb, footballs to kick and models to make. What every child needs is time between the wars and the building to relax, for someone to read to them, tell them stories and develop that desire in them to find out for themselves the mystery and excitement to be found in those written pages. Unfortunately we live in a world where many parents are too busy to play their part as ‘teachers’ – and why should they when they are constantly being told it’s not their jobs – it’s what the schools should be doing, and not to worry, because if the schools don’t do it we will close them down.

How did you learn to read? I can’t remember how I did. I remember as a seven-year old in the 1950’s the sheer pleasure I used to get each week when out teacher opened up the ‘library cupboard’ and not only could we choose any book we wanted but were also allowed to spend the next hour reading it and then able to take it home and finish it. The ‘reading lessons’ as such consisted of everyone having the same book and each of us taking it in term to read a section – so tedious and boring (I always got in trouble for losing my place when it came to my turn to read out loud, this was because I had moved on in the book!) In Finland they have some of the best literacy rates in the world and the children don’t start school until they are seven, a full year after we propose to test our children. I wonder how they learnt to read?

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6 Responses to When Did You Learn To Read?

  1. Trevor says:

    I’ve no idea where they get their statistic from or how they arrive at the figures, like you say it is an easy political target.

    I was reading before I started school (I was 5 years old) in the mid 60’s, as were most of the other kids including boys. I really don’t remember who taught me or helped me but I can imagine it was my mother. She was an avid reader and instilled that interest in my sister and me. It has lived with us throughout our lives and I hope I’ve instilled the same magic of reading in my kids.

    I remember well those reading and library lessons, like you I loved them and I was always a couple of pages ahead of the rest of the class by the time it was my turn to read.

    • Mike says:

      I would have loved my surname to have started with a ‘A’ then I could have been the first to read, leaving me the rest of the time to read ahead at my pleasure. With classes of 40+ there wouldn’t have been much chance of getting back to me before the lesson ended!

  2. SethPopowich says:

    Greetings Mike…. Well, I for one take education very seriously. I still am actively involved in our public education system. Teaching and learning does not only happen in school. Education needs to start at home. Ensuring that education begins at home increases the likelihood that it will generalize to the school setting and beyond. Many teachers say they rarely receive information from parents about problems at home. Many parents say they don’t know what the school expects of their child… some say that they don’t even know what their child is doing in school. Sharing information is essential, and both teachers and parents are responsible for making it happen.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Seth, thanks for dropping by.
      I couldn’t agree with you more. As someone who spent all of my working life in education I still feel very passionate about it. That link between school and home is so important. One of the things that schools in the UK have to get better at is having those conversations with parents and keeping them up to date with what is important in education – unfortunately we have a tendency to let politicians do all the talking.

  3. SethPopowich says:

    I love to read, and have since I was just a little tyke, probably because in my mind it was like being with the characters and escaping into their world for a while. I probably had more imaginary characters growing up than anyone had a right to have because I read so very much. You can experience so much in a book that a movie can’t even get close to. Reading is one of life’s great pleasure and I think the people who don’t like reading are people who have never tried.

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