Failing Literacy

Sir James Pitman – Initial Teaching Alphabet (iltla)
phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

JK Rowling - Harry Potter (image borrowed from The Daily Mail)

phonic tools

phonic tools

Alphabet Jigsaw Mats – a great solution for teaching young children to read.

England’s young adults trail world in literacy and maths

In this article, my personal focus is on literacy – since this is based on my experience and understanding. I cannot speak for maths.

Some years ago I wrote an article entitled:

Trubble with Foniks – a personal tirade against stupidity

This article was based on both my own personal experience of teaching reading and also that of my long-standing friend, Maureen Sheard (deceased) who devoted over 30 years of her life to teaching literacy to foreign children in schools – and writing about her findings.

There are a number of reasons why children fail in reading and writing and some of them include:

1. Phonic systems are employed unnecessarily and at too young an age

2. Most teachers of reading do not understand anything about how children learn to read

3. Not enough parents read nightly bedtime stories to their young children – or in quite the right way

4. Many families do not have books in their homes

5. The wrong sorts of books are often used in the encouragement of reading

Quite simply: If you do not get the early years right – before the age of 7 – you have lost the opportunity to really help children with their literacy.

In my own experience of exploring the way children learn, I discovered that learning to read confidently has a knock-on effect on writing ability, grammar, correct use of punctuation, and compelling content.

I believe it was St. Francis Xavier who said:

“Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man.”

I would say:

“Give me the child from 18 months and I will give you a proficient reader by age 6 and a competent writer by age 9. And I will accomplish this without any reference to any phonic use whatsoever!”

I’d hazard a guess, that if it were not for the take-up of teenagers in reading the Harry Potter works of JK Rowling, we would be at 24 in the country league tables!

To quote from the BBC article:

“The study shows that there are 8.5 million adults in England and Northern Ireland with the numeracy levels of a 10-year-old.”

I would also add here that I completely disagree with the statement:

“These are Labour’s children, educated under a Labour government and force-fed a diet of dumbing down and low expectations.”

I have no interest in taking sides politically, but I would strongly suggest that no political party advocates the right solution to improving literacy!

Quite frankly, you can pour cement onto a shiny plastic wall for as long as you like! It ain’t going to stick! Until education ministers understand how children actually develop reading and writing skills, they are going to be content to follow the mis-guided advice of the overly powerful pro-dyslexia movement.

Unlike my former friend, Maureen, I believe that in some cases dyslexia can exist. However, it is not a blanket to be thrown over normal children who are simply not taught correctly and/or have no access to the best books and parental support in their early literacy development. I was particularly interested to note, from Maureen’s research, that her foreign learners often had a better grasp of the English language than its indigenous population.

Some have asked how we expect children to tackle unfamiliar words. If their expected answer is to rely on a knowledge of phonics, then how would those people be able to decipher words in a foreign language, such as Chinese? To anyone who cannot understand a language – even when it is supposedly their own – then that language is as foreign as any other in the world. You have to hear the word pronounced clearly in context and then see it written in context.

It saddens me to see how current teaching methods, in reading particularly, are destroying both the joy of reading for children and their chances of being competently literate as they move through school and towards work. It is no wonder that children struggle in other subjects as they progress through their education. Being able to read and write is fundamental to our early success in life. If the opportunity to change tack is lost now, we will lose generations of children to wasted adulthood.

– Richard Gentle


phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

phonic tools

Enough – Enow
Plough – Pluff

I rest my case!

“Readers learn to know how to say a word when it is used in context with other writing or imagery. Repetition and familiarity are how all readers of all cultures learn to read” – Richard Gentle

Another example:

minute or minute?

Give me a minute (Context = time)

That is minute (Context = size)

How many letters in the alphabet?

It might surprise you to know, that in terms of learning to read, there are 52 letters in the English alphabet.

aA bB cC dD eE fF gG hH iI jJ kK lL mM nN oO pP qQ rR sS tT uU vV wW xX yY ZZ

The reason being two-fold:

1. Some lower-case letters look very different to their upper-case counterparts
2.Many words are capitalized at the beginning of new sentences, and names are also capitalized

– Richard Gentle

Alphabet Jigsaw Mats – a great addition for teaching young children to read.

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