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The School That Got Teens Reading

One by Sarah Crosslan

I finally got to watch the BBC2 programme, “The School That Got Teens Reading” (on iPlayer until Nov 27th).
Most of the show was about encouraging a group of year 10 teens, who can but don’t read, to engage in the wonderful prose poem, One by Sarah Crossan. That’s not the remit of That Reading Thing, but the one student who did spark my interest was Olivia.

Olivia is in year 10 and diagnosed as dyslexic. It was hard to watch her being put on the spot to read out loud to the group. She clearly struggled and later she talks briefly about really wanting to read but not being able to. Listen to this little clip:

I’ll read it, like you know, simple words and then, like, a word that I don’t understand,
like that I can’t read, but if somebody read it out loud I could see it again and know it.

It was that last bit of the audio clip that made me sit on the edge of my seat.

In That Reading Thing, those few words are considered a self-assessment. Regardless of Olivia’s official diagnosis of dyslexia, the description of her reading experience indicates that she doesn’t know what to do when she looks at text and doesn’t automatically recognise the words. She knows words when she hears them but can’t read the very same words when she looks at them. Why? Because she’s missing an entire stage in the reading process, the bit where you turn the letters and groups of letters into sounds which form meaningful words that you “hear” in your head.

She is representative of so many teenagers we encounter in secondary schools.

  • They know lots of little words so no one would ever call them illiterate.
  • They think reading involves being told a word then memorising it by sight.
  • They make no connection between what they see and what they hear.
  • Because these teens aren’t technically illiterate, no one seems to notice that they’re missing a whole step in the reading process.

An effective reading intervention will take all that prior knowledge into account and focus on acquiring and practicing the missing skills – all in the context of meaningful age-appropriate words and text in an environment where it’s safe to make mistakes.

There are too many secondary students suffering daily because every foray into reading leaves them demoralised.

Let’s change that. Listen to what your Olivias are saying about their own reading.

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