In the early years, That Reading Thing was used mostly with young people who had some connection to the local youth offending team, either in the YOS system or at risk of being on their books at some point. “I don’t do education” was a common statement at the first session. That sentiment was echoed by a woman from the Basic Skills Agency who actually said “You can’t sit a young offender down at a table and teach them to read.” It was echoed by classroom assistants who did preschool alphabet puzzles as “reading lessons”. It was echoed by every teacher who insisted that the first step to literacy was learning that impossible list of high frequency sight words. It was echoed by a world that had labelled them “unteachable”.
Think about that. You’ve got a thought in your head that reading isn’t for you – and the lack of expectation from the experts in your life echoes that sentiment. You’re doomed to illiteracy.
Only you’re not – because, in the first session of That Reading Thing, the tutor hands you all the materials you need to become literate and has you spelling and reading things that you never thought you could. For the first time ever, you have control of this thing called education.
In the first session you figure out that if you can read and spell five of the Level 2 words, you can read and spell all of them.
You learn that you were wrong to assume you could read short words but not long ones.
You spell “fantastic” and your face cracks into the biggest smile ever.
You learn to trust “The Deal”: you don’t have to know anything you haven’t learned with your TRT tutor.
You learn that you can make a mistake and not feel like a failure.
You learn to listen for words when you’re reading and to ask yourself, “Does that make sense?”
You learn a bunch of words you didn’t know the meaning of – because no one knows all the words.
You have a laugh as you crack the English code and see how it all fits together.
You realise you don’t have to memorise whole words by shape – because words have sounds and you already know a lot of the symbols that represent those sounds in writing.
You build puzzles and write and read and remember. You work so hard, but it feels good, like discovering muscles you never knew you had.
You learn that you know a lot more than you or anyone else thought you did.
Then you do it all again in the sessions that follow and you’re able to read thousands of words in a few hours – not just the same old “most frequent”.
One of my favourite memories was walking to the TRT room and seeing that my young man had a friend with him. I automatically assumed he was there to say he couldn’t do his lesson.
Me: “Are you just here to say you’re not coming?”
Him: “NO! I want to show my friend what I’m doing.”
And he did. At one point the friend was laughing as my student was puzzling away, saying sounds and writing. I said it was a bit mean to laugh when he was trying so hard.
“I’m not laughing at him. I’m laughing cause I never seen him concentrate like that before.”
Life changing stuff which, to be effective, has to be done by people, not programmes.
A person can explain “The Deal” and make sure it’s applied all through every lesson.
A person can “see” a lack of comprehension even when the word is decoded correctly.
A person knows when to ask, “Do you know what that means? and offer an instant answer.
A person can see specifically what kind of mistake is being made. Do they mix up vowels, reverse b & d? Are they reading the beginning and the end but guessing the middle of the word? Are they guessing meaning rather than checking meaning from context? Correcting specific errors is key to fast improvement.
A person can read with a young person and help them apply all the strategies from the lessons but also talk about plot and character and meaning – all the delicious aspects of reading beyond boring comprehension exercises.
A person can see when it’s time to take a break and chat about life. Vocabulary grows in conversation.Thinking about family, community, the world, history, justice – the important things – happens in conversation.
One hour per week of That Reading Thing can change a life forever by offering reading, spelling and communication skills to those young people who thought they didn’t “do education”. And what a joy it is to prove them wrong.