Time to Read Some Nonsense!

Some pedagogical approaches consider our teaching of formal reading at such a young age with varying degrees of disapproval. If we are able to put learning theories aside, and experience the process from one individual child’s point of view, what would we imagine trying to learn to read at age 5 was really like if we experienced it in 3D, without the formatting glasses? Each letter might have a life of its own: it might jump out of the page, drop into the background, or only make any impact when represented as a CAPITAL LETTER. Imagine how it might feel to see your peers coping well in school and not be able to understand why you are still on beginner’s books. Your peers are way ahead in the classroom and yet you’re smart enough to hold your own in peer conversation, and might even excel with your ideas and in many other alternative ways. Would you feel confused?

Preschool Education

This is how many people describe dyslexia. This is reality for both of my children, recently compounded with the new and ill-conceived phonics screening test. As this year’s guinea pig, my son failed this test spectacularly. No surprise given that the stats suggest that with a father and older sister already diagnosed with dyslexia he has over a 90% chance of having similar difficulties. Too young for any specific intervention recognized (financially supported) by state school education, but not too young to be considered way below expected national levels in phonic decoding. For this age group being asked to read a list of random words out of context to test only one aspect of reading skill is quite ridiculous in itself. Even more so, when one considers the nature of the English language (which is not exactly phonetically straight forward anyway). Then there is the inclusion of testing the conceptual reading of ‘alien’ words. Words that do not even exist in the English language! This could undoubtedly fox even the most adept of young readers!

Arguably this may be valid when one has a firmly established vocabulary and is able to discern the real from creative interpretation, but when one is still at the stage of deciphering the real from nonsense, to add nonsense is….well…nonsense! Even my dyslexic 6 year old could tell you that! “What are alien words for mummy?” Of course theoretically you could coach specifically for the test but wouldn’t this be …well, nonsense too?

I am aware that many school teachers feel exactly the same about this situation, but why aren’t they, and the schools they teach in standing up to this farcical test?

The result? As my son failed, he will be tested again next year. What has this achieved? What I have been telling the school way before the test was even implemented is that my son is likely to be dyslexic and needs a suitable intervention. This is not likely to happen. Where is the sense in all of this?

Whatever pedagogical approach we adopt we need to keep in mind that in the early years:

Learning is essentially experiential; and strong and continuous narrative structures with an element of personification are used to enhance direct experience. Imagination is the key quality, and pictorial imagery is a vital factor in making learning a personal inner experience. Art and music play an important role in engaging the child’s feelings.

(Rawson and Ritcher., 2005, p. 17)

Reading nonsense can be engaging and can make sense if it’s in the context of a story or a poem but giving this list of words to our young readers…I say buncombe!

Further Reading

Related Article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22783399
One person’s perspective: http://henryflint.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/my-dyslexia/

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