Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why kids can’t read

Every few years educationalists start arguing about whether or not children should learn reading by rote, by being taught their letters, by phonics, by whole word, or any of a dozen other methods. Each method has wonderful success stories and appalling failures. It seems that reading is most definitely a situation with no “one size fits all” solution.

A new Australian study has shown that children who are lagging behind at reading don’t speak “school English”, or Standard Australian English, at home. They may speak a language other than English, or Aboriginal English, or a creole, or “bogan” English – the kind where words like “youse” feature. I expect this is the same in America, the United Kingdom and many other places as well.

But it’s not school English; it isn’t how the teacher speaks and it certainly isn’t what international tests or NAPLAN (National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy tests) reward. So, it is the school’s job to teach school English to ensure everyone gets equal access to the learning that happens at school.

The number of non-Standard Australian English speakers in schools has grown over the years, and Australia’s education system doesn’t cope well with “non-standard”. I expect most overseas programs don’t either.

Teachers who grew up speaking and reading school English fluently are less effective with the students who write “I seen that at the movies”, or “My sister go to shopping on a car”. All teachers can correct those errors but far fewer can explain why they’re wrong to the students. Students who hear the language being spoken all around them exactly like that all the time.

What these learners need is good literature, and teachers who have a strong understanding of how the English language works which they can convert to meaningful teaching.

You can read about the study at:

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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