Literacy stirs up a lot of passion on twitter, lots of conflicting views, the odd spat, the odd bout of verbal fisticuffs. I don’t really understand why. I don’t really understand why “reading & writing” should be controversial at all, to be honest. Then again, there are loads of things in Eduworld that seem to whip up a storm when, to me, the answers seem blindingly obvious.
So, here’s my take on “reading & writing stuff”. My perspective is heavily influenced by my subject, French, and by the fact that, I believe, given half a chance, most people are lazy buggers who’ll give up and do something more palatable when faced with the prospect of work. I also believe that lots of kids actively attempt to sabotage lessons to avoid effort. It’s our job to prevent their sabotage attempts.
- “Right people some dead simple rules in this class when we’re reading. The same rules for everybody, so are fair to everybody. First things first, we always read with our books flat on the desk. See, I reckon some of you are pretending to read when you hold your book up to your face. I want to know you’re reading. If you’re not looking where you should be looking, you’re not reading. Simple!”
- “Second thing. When we read stuff,we always follow line by line with a ruler. And I’ll tell you why. Some people pretend to read when they’re not. Sly! Some people try to “skim and scan”. Well, I think that’s a daft idea. I want you to be patient and look at every single letter and every single word. It’s French! I can’t skim and scan French properly and I’ve been learning it for a million years and I’m brilliant! So you certainly can’t… well not yet!”
- “I’m not saying “books flat and rulers out” because I think you’re a bunch of numpties, by the way! I know that if you slow down and think carefully about what you’re reading you remember stuff much, much better. You’re actually saving yourself time. No point busting a gut is there? Make your life easier! Read slowly and carefully. Remember stuff!”
- “Again, ‘cos I see where your ruler is, I know you’re looking where you should be looking. You’re gonna love French. You’re gonna learn loads. You’re gonna leave this lesson scratching your little heads going, “You never stop in that lesson. You can’t hide. I’ve learnt loads. I’m really good at French.” Remember there are no hiding places in this lesson and there are no passengers. I’d be a pretty useless teacher if I let you hide , wouldn’t I?””
- “Everything I tell you to do is for a purpose. I’ll never waste your time and I’ll never let you waste your time. Does that mean I’m a bit tight? Probably, yes! But, guaranteed, you’ll learn loads in these lessons. We’re a team remember. I can show you dead easy ways to be really good at French. I can show you dead easy ways to kick examiner butt! That’s our job!”
- “You know who the examiners are don’t you? Just bored teachers doing it for the money! They want to give you marks. They’re searching to give you marks. I’m going to show you how to make the examiners job dead easy. So all the brilliant mark winners you use leap out at them. Subtle as a brick! Give it some welly! Mr Examiner…bring it on!”
- “I’m going to make you read lots. I’m going to show you entire pages full of text. A4 sheets crammed with French. Bursting with it! You’ve got nothing to worry about. You can only read one letter at a time, one word at a time, one sentence, one paragraph. I won’t be using pretty pictures and crazy fonts. You’re not daft. You don’t need decoration getting in the way. When you leave this school you’ll be reading proper books, proper newspapers.”
- “To help you focus, and read line by line, you’ll notice that I number every line of text for all the stuff I create. If I photocopy something, like a past exam paper, I’ll scribble the line numbers on it too. Not a thing of beauty but dead easy to follow. So you read line by line, with your ruler and your book flat and if we’re talking about a particular line of the text or a particular paragraph – you’re straight to it. No faffing around. No staring off into space. No time wasted.”
- “Look at the comprehension questions I’ve given you. Number 1: Where does Pierre live? Look at the brackets after every question. If they say (L1 – 6) you know the answer is between lines 1 and 6. So don’t give me, “Can’t find it!” Rubbish! You read lines one to six very carefully. One, two, three times – if necessary. But you’re not going to faff around or pretend you can’t do it. If you’re stuck I can help but no hiding, no passengers.”
- “Sometimes I might give you a question like Number 2: What sports does Gilles like? (P3) You know to read Paragraph 3 line by line with your ruler. No hiding. Dead simple.”
- “I’m going to give you 20 questions to do. I’ll give you about 10 minutes to have a go at them. We always read and write in absolute silence – unless I tell you differently.”
- “Some of you will finish all 20 questions in about 10 minutes. Some of you might not. But all of you will be working like Billio! I’ll be circulating, I’ll be watching your little rulers going up and down as you whizz through these questions. The line number clues are there for each question, the text is numbered, your books are flat, I’ve given you rulers, you’ll be working in silence – exam conditions. Could I be any clearer?”
- “Being good at anything is about practising lots. But really focussing and thinking about what you’re doing. So reading and writing tasks are never a race. If some of you only get 10 of the 20 done but you worked carefully and solidly and didn’t waste a millisecond – I’m happy with that. You’ll find that next week you’ll get more done, then the week after that, more again. It’s practising – nothing complicated.”
- “At first, it’ll feel a bit weird for some of you working in silence and following the text with your ruler. I don’t care. That’s how we do it in this class. The first couple of minutes might feel odd, you might be going, “Head hurts! I hates Mr Smith! He does my ‘ead in!” The first few questions might be hard, the next few will be a bit easier for you, the next few a bit easier again and, by the end, you’ll be begging me for more work, you’ll be loving it so much! I promise! I’d never lie to you! Trust me! I’m a teacher!”
So, ladies and gents of Eduworld, that’s my take on “reading, writing & preventing sabotage”. There’s an awful lot more I could, and will, say on the subject. Some of you will think my rules are draconian, I’m a martinet, I’m just a crap teacher. I don’t care! No, I really don’t care!
I know this approach works brilliantly well. I know that kids who, otherwise, are often allowed to flounder or faff or chit chat and generally fritter their time away, those kids really, really excel with this approach. I also know that the keen, willing kids, the kids that often just aren’t stretched, they too feel massively accomplished with this approach.
There’s lots more to say on reading and writing and spelling and MFL and all manner of things. I will be pontificating, as only I know how, with more highly personal ramblings that to me always boil down to the essentials of teaching:
Be a grown-up, lead kids, protect them from their own laziness, pre-empt their sabotage attempts, never waste their time and make sure, every lesson, that there’s a real sense of momentum so they leave scratching their heads going, “You never stop in those lessons, I’ve learnt loads, You can’t hide, I’m really good at that!”