My poor innocent daughter posted the old ghoti = fish thing on my facebook wall and unwittingly got a mother on a soapbox rather than an lol.
Then my dear friend andGet into Reading facilitator, Helen, commented that she used it often- and she got even less lol. (sorry, Helen)
Better explain myself.
If we’re being honest about the English language, we have to admit that it comes with a complex written code. There are an awful lot of ways to represent the sounds that we say. However – and this is a big big deal in my world – the code is limited and learnable and NOT adequately represented by GBS’s old chestnut.
But that’s not what this is really about. This is about unwittingly creating higher barriers to reading when we should be tearing them down.
Helen and I share two key things:
- a commitment to the educationally vulnerable and
- a desire for our vulnerable learners to experience some of the riches that reading can bring to one’s life.
Because of this, I am desperate not to alienate people who struggle with reading by suggesting that the English code is beyond their grasp. In fact, in my experience, there are very few people who can’t master the skills and knowledge required for decoding. If they struggle, it’s because they haven’t had a chance to discover these things for themselves in a safe and structured educational environment.
This week the government published an update of the 2003 Skills for Life Survey. Jonathon Douglas blogs about it on the National Literacy Trust Policy Blog and I’ve highlighted a bit of that post here.
…there are still 15% of adults at or below entry level 3 (the equivalent of the level expected in the National Curriculum of11 year olds). Worryingly, the number with entry level 1 (the equivalent of the National Curriculum’s 5-7 year old) has grown slightly between 2003 and 2011, from 3.4% to 5%. The research estimates this group to be 1.7 million.
“Low hanging fruit” is an ugly term, but the statistics do suggest that the approaches of the last decade have been successful in improving the literacy skills of adults who have already mastered the basics, whilst not impacting significantly on the 1 in 6 for whom the issues are more complex.
In the past 10 years I’ve met a few older strugglers who will always find decoding difficult due to a learning difficulty. However, many of those “1 in 6″, with or without a diagnosed learning difficulty, simply don’t know that the squiggles on the page represent the sounds that we say out loud. Instead, they have memorised loads of little words by sight and they guess (badly) at the longer content words.
During the first few hours of That Reading Thing, they learn to read from left to right through the big words and listen for a word they know. The goal is to get them from reading words like fax and plug to words like conditioning and instructions in 5 hours or less. Most will be able to spell accomplishment in hour 3.
Generally, learning to decode is not a huge challenge but a joyful ride. The biggest barrier to reading at this stage is a tiny vocabulary. I can get almost anyone to read the following in a few lessons:
The instructions were simple but the desk was difficult to assemble.
However, this will be meaningless if the learner doesn’t know what it means to assemble something. That’s where Get Into Reading comes in. It’s marvellous, amazing and I wish I’d thought of it.
I find myself dreaming of literacy instruction (you know, in the Land of Abundant Time & Funding) where adult struggling readers get one-to-one time where they practice blending and segmenting and discover the ins and outs of the English code and then spend time in a group discovering wonderful literature and increasing their vocabularies. It’s the element of discovery in both situations that make them so compatible and so appropriate for older learners.
So what’s a better way to explain the complexity of the code? Here’s a little PowerPoint which can be borrowed. Just let me know if you’d like to use it. Why Phonics for Adults?