Have government policies failed to teach our nation to read?

19 March 2010

I spoke at WAVES — the Reading Reform Foundation Conference — today, giving my views on twenty years of teaching — and sometimes failing — to teach reading. I spoke about the changing times: how when I first taught there was no internet, no mobile phones, no social networking sites, and how the class reader was all the rage. A more technical approach has happened, but still too many pupils are slipping through the net. Above all, we are not encouraging independent reading, not fostering a love of reading, but focussing too much upon pushing pupils through exams. I spoke about my audio files where I explain poems to my children and attempt to foster a love of reading by giving my pupils the time and space to listen at their own pace.

I was fascinated to listen to Fiona Nevola (the Sound Reading System organisation) and hearing about how she teaches young offenders to read quite quickly in an interactive, systematic fashion, giving hope back to them. Every parent and teacher should be trained in her techniques. They are vital.

We need to give much more thought to reading. My key message was that we should enable all pupils to leave school able to read long, complex texts by themselves and understand them. This should be the simple criteria upon which we should test our children; not all the complex dross that we have now. The failure to teach our children to read is a national scandal and much under-reported. Fortunately, I met Miriam Gross, formerly the Literary Editor at the Telegraph, who is an adviser to Boris Johnson: hopefully she will bring this to his attention. I also met Lisa Tweedie who is running an interesting storyboard project, linking the internet to reading.

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