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The Challenge of Literacy in Schools

Education is all incredibly important, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

I’m sure that you’ll also agree that the delivery of education brings up issues that are sometimes apparently unsolvable. The answer to these things is always going to be more attention, rather than less.

If I understand things correctly, these are the things that schools are running into:

a) Some of the materials they are required to teach are too difficult for some children.It sounds obvious, but is worth a close look: taking in required data and contributing to it in some way, as a definition of ‘education’, is more difficult for some than for others. This is doubly a problem due to the natural literacy levels of young children.

b) It appears that the standard application of common sense means that a whole year's curriculum cannot be covered in one year. This seems self-evident. Some children will quickly grasp some aspects of what they are being taught; others won’t. The clock is ticking, the days go by and there are only so many hours in each day.

What to do?

One absolutely spot-on solution is to aim to increase literacy level through introducing Phonics a little earlier, intensifying its delivery as early as possible and making sure that teachers are familiar with everything to do with it. I would highly recommend that all teachers re-study phonics and be mentored through re-training if appropriate. This should include receiving precise coaching on it under someone who knows what he or she is doing.

Asking teachers from Reception class level up to increase the amount of time each day spent on phonics, numbers and writing is also a correct move. This doesn’t even have to be much time. I am familiar with a school where the procedures around registering children at the start of the day were just slightly tightened up, yielding half an hour a week of education time which was previously being wasted. Schools don’t have to turn Reception and Infants into some kind of ‘sweatshop’ to see improvements here - all that’s needed is slightly better control and planning. Even young children can feel the benefits of slightly increased production levels if this is handled correctly with lots of validation and rewards and so forth.

Reading work at Reception and Infants level can also be modified to increase vocabulary by making sure that any words not fully understood aren’t casually skipped. This can be done sensitively, gaining the child’s cooperation with understanding so that the child doesn’t position knowing more words with ‘grinding to a halt in the middle of an interesting story’ which is definitely not a positioning schools want. A lot depends here on the attitude of the teacher. If it’s done as a ‘Stop everything and let’s pull out a dictionary and clear the twelve definitions of “sock”’, then schools will have a problem - the child will begin to lose interest in stories and think of comprehending more words as a road-block. But if the teacher says, ‘Hey, I wonder what that actually means? Getting that one word wrong might change the whole story! Let’s quickly make sure we know what it actually means!’ then the child is more likely to become interested not only in the story but in words themselves. That’s what we want.

Making sure that key words are fully understood before study begins can be effectively done in classes. Obviously, the key is having really good definitions to hand. Again, done right, the child can become interested in words and not think of words as some kind of chore, which is definitely something that we don’t want.

Obviously if teachers were applying these kinds of steps across the boards, schools would do better and save time.

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