I once had a call from a TRT trained teacher who told me it was going well, but the boys were getting through all of the TRT Levels without making much improvement in their reading. That’s not the most thrilling news I’d ever heard so thought I’d see if the problem was with TRT or with the way it was being delivered.
How much time are you spending reading in each session?
Oh I’m just going through the programme with them; I’m not doing any extra reading.
I think I can identify the problem.
Here’s what I think is happening: people have come to desire not programmes that work, but programmes that do the work. I’ve certainly encountered it with struggling readers who don’t look at text between sessions and then wonder why they still can’t read the newspaper. Interestingly, it’s experienced teachers rather than volunteers with no teaching background who are most likely to be seeking the magic wand.
It’s true that, during the first few hours of That Reading Thing, the student is learning so much about the language and gaining so much confidence with multi-syllable words that it all seems a bit magic. But, (hard truth), that all has to change when you get to the Advanced Levels. The reason we talk so much about doing “a bit of TRT and a LOT of reading” at the Advanced Levels is because this is where the work happens. It’s also where the “real magic” happens.The new strategies are in place and now it’s time to use them over and over again with real age-appropriate text. It’s not optional and it’s hard work for both the tutor and the young person.
I’ve spent over 14 years now trying to “hear” the unexpressed thoughts of older struggling readers and here’s what I’ve learnt: they think that something illusive and intangible called “reading” happens inside the heads of good readers – something that isn’t happening inside their own heads. They don’t understand that reading is an activity with skills that can be learned and practiced.
In fact, it reminds of my son when he was about four being asked if he liked ice skating. His answer:
I don’t skate yet. I’m waiting for my balance.
I don’t read yet. I’m waiting for that thing that happens in my head.
You get balance while you skate (and fall down and get up and fall down and get up) and you “get reading” while you read – in a safe environment, with helpful error corrections, plenty of good humour and all the skills and knowledge you need to plough on through that text and come out the other side with understanding and enjoyment.
The last thing I want to produce is a crop of struggling readers who are really good at That Reading Thing. I want them to be good at reading, and TRT should fade into the background well before the 20 hour mark.