Jamie’s Dream School (30.03.11)
There was a more inspiring feel to last night’s programme, with several of the students considering their futures in a considered way, and finding out about the options that were open to them, and the subjects that were engaging them. For instance, one boy discovered a love of art, and Rolf Harris worked tirelessly with him to create a painting of which he could be really proud. Another girl was drawn to the world of medicine, although she wasn’t quite sure which field, having viewed an operation in hospital and feeling rather put-off; and a third boy was thrilled to be on the stage of The Globe Theatre, and realised he would love to become an actor. It seems as if, finally, the students are waking up to the world of reality, where dreams can be achieved and finding that there is another alternative to either a life on benefits, or a dead-end job.
However, and this for me is still the crunch line, their behaviour was still unruly when they were all together, and their bad habits of not listening and constantly talking in a lesson continue. It is my opinion that we have to try and sort this out long before the students get to the ages of sixteen. I know I am behaving a bit like King Canute, trying to hold back the waves, but couldn’t we begin, in just small ways, to rescue the children like those on Dream School who do have something to offer society, talents and gifts which are never realised, and which they never even knew they possessed?
How we do this, I’m not sure, but I believe we should begin in primary school, and make sure that all children can read when they leave at Year 6. Statistics just released show that 1 in 5 pupils at Year 7 – the first year in secondary school – cannot read.
Why not? One of the reasons, I believe, is the constant interfering and meddling by those on high in the methods teachers use to teach young children how to read. I well remember, when I was a young teacher, the ridiculous fad of ITA (Initial Teaching Alphabet), where strange combinations of letters were used to represent sounds and words. When a child had mastered that, they then had to go back to TO (Traditional Orthography) and learn to read all over again, using the conventional method. Then we had phonics, followed by Look and Say, followed by Learning to Read by Picture Books, and now we are back to ‘synthetic phonics.’ One of my pupils in Year 6, can read really nicely, and loves to show off his prowess. If I then ask him to tell me about what he has just read, he can’t. He has not understood any of it. He chooses his own books, writes his own comments about them in his reading diary, and takes them back to school, only to choose another one. Looking at his reading diary, he seems to be heard by an adult once a fortnight. His parents have poor English and can’t help, and none of his older siblings is interested in helping him. How will he cope at secondary school? I really don’t know. At the moment, he is still engaged, and thinks he is doing well. How long before he, too, becomes disaffected, and turns to inappropriate behaviours through sheer frustration?
One of my tutors, semi-retired, was the deputy head of a school in South Manchester. Under her experienced and expert lead, all the children in the Infant Dept. were heard to read by their teachers at least four times a week. Teachers gave up their time before school, at break and at lunchtime to make sure this happened. Now she has gone, (but still goes in once a week to continue with her dyslexia tuition) the new headteacher has abandoned the reading scheme, the carefully graded books, colour- coded for easy recognition, and introduced a system of ‘child- centred learning’. Now, the children pick any book that attracts them, regardless of how easy or difficult it is for them, and the structure of hearing the children read has been abolished.
Child-centred learning? Haven’t we been here before, (in the Sixties), along with open-plan classrooms and integrated days? Don’t we ever learn anything from the past?
As a teacher, it has always puzzled me as to why education is so subject to fashionable fads, and why this is allowed. Who are the faceless ones who dictate how our children should be taught, and what they should be taught? One thing I do know, and I shall defend this opinion to the death, is that they do incalculable harm to our young people. They are the ones who are the guinea pigs for these trendy methods, and who suffer as a result. When I was a headteacher, my youngest member of staff, who joined us an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) told me one day that she had no idea how to use punctuation and grammar. When she was at school, it wasn’t deemed important, it was the content of the writing that mattered more than anything. We then had to lend her books and give her a crash course, because how could she teach theses things to her class if she couldn’t do them herself?
[As a student on my final Teaching Practice, I well remember having to take the class for ‘creative writing’. This entailed putting on a piece of music, and getting the children to seek inspiration from it. I can never hear the “fight music” from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet without remembering that lesson. I was sick to death of it by the time we had listened to it over and over again, waiting for the muse to strike!!]