Tag: boys and reading
I used to worry about repeating myself but, when writing stories for very young readers, I love repeating words and phrases, twisting them gently to create new, surprising meanings with the same jumble of words and letters. It helps increase word recognition and the decoding of meaning.
Repetition is the essence of learning, making strong connections and pathways that form the foundations on which new connections are built. Repetition in physical activity is a given – press-ups, shooting at goal, exercises at the barre.
Reading is the the most difficult skill most of us will ever set out to master. But somehow, we have come to underestimate the difficulty and assume that it’s the job of schools to sort it out. But schools can’t cope with all they are asked to do, especially the way the curriculum continues to be fiddled about with.
Every time there is a crisis, the same voices wail in the media, “Schools should be teaching this!” And so more gets dumped on schools and they are expected to cope.
Schoolchildren now work at conceptual levels that are so much higher than they were in my childhood. Don’t believe the dumbing down stories. Children these days have to learn a breadth of information and life skills that hardly existed for my generation.
Once, Literacy meant the ability to read and write. Now it seems to have been redefined as the ability to write and decode text. And yet, for all the expense and effort, reading and writing levels fail to improve – arguably they have decreased.
I’ll repeat myself:
Reading is the the most difficult skill most of us will ever set out to master.
Phonics are great as a help when children are learning to read, but that is not the end of it. They need books, and most importantly they need stories. Stories with a beginning and a middle and a satisfying end, not an extract full of adverbs.
Children need to read bucket loads of books, and to get them to read books they need great stories. Children are hard-wired to listen to and learn from stories. Once they know that between the covers of a book lie multiple, parallel universes in which they can reside and become the heroes and heroines, they become addicted and want more. But they need to know those stories are there in the first place.
If there is no time for reading at school, how will they find it at home, where they are barraged by the cheap, unsatisfying pulp of the TV, internet, games and texting? If reading is not promoted or cherished at school or at home why should they bother? If they are never read to, how do they know what lies between the covers and why should they care? Why should they be bothered to read the books when they can wait and watch it on DVD?
If you want to improve your children’s writing skills it’s easy… let them read books – lot and lots of them. How are they ever supposed to learn the skill if they never practice? Want to be a great footballer? Watch Beckham or Ronaldo. Want to make great movies? Go watch a lot of movies. Want to be a Blue Peter presenter? Try watching Blue Peter!
How can children possibly hope to learn to write and improve their writing skills if they rarely see it being done and have no idea what it is they are trying to achieve?
Want to be able to write, understand particle physics or just do well in SATS? Then learn to read. All human knowledge is wrapped up in books. To be able to access that knowledge you need to be a fluent reader, and to become a fluent reader you need to do the work and read a lot of books.
Repetition, reading the words again and again, in new combinations until you can read anything with out thinking, allows the brain to get on with the business of learning what it is that the words have to say.
We all know how repetition is boring – doing the same press-ups every day, we soon give up and go flabby.
But the wonder of stories is that the repetition is wrapped up and served differently every time. Each new story somehow leads to another. Stories make the hard work of learning to read a pleasure. Stories should be at the core of education, cherished and repeated. Every school day should end with story-time, yes – even in secondary school. Stories – read aloud, just for the joy of it.
Not everything in life needs to have a measurable outcome. But reading stories, just for the joy of it, reading lots of stories, again and again, has the most immeasurable outcome of all: Literacy – the ability to read and find out independently, to understand, add to and pass on the learned knowledge.
This all comes from the core skill – reading. I hope you won’t mind if I repeat myself again.
Reading is the the most difficult skill most of us will ever set out to master.
If you want to improve your children’s writing skills it’s easy… let them read books – lot and lots of them.
There is no contest. The ipad provides the best apps, books, (there is a kindle reader for iPad so it is a kindle too) and the best operating system by far. When I hear schools discussing the choice staffrooms, the same argument comes up, “Well, iPads are so expensive, and we can get so many more android tablets for our money.”
So you can, and with them you buy so many more headaches down the line. Android is the new Windows. A loose operating system that is changed and mucked about with at the whim of Google and the manufacturers of the hardware. One Android tablet is not like another. Each machine has it’s own quirks. They all have different capabilities and idiosyncrasies, just like windows pcs.
An ipad is an iPad is an iPad. They just work, and Apple make sure the apps that go on them work too. As with all technology, both iPad and Android tablets will have their off moments and frustrations, but you will have far fewer moments and lesser frustrations with iPad.
When it comes to illustrated children’s ebooks, iPad is the only game in town. I don’t mean singing and dancing animated app books, I mean books where the text stays still on the page waiting to be read. You can’t learn to read when the text is dancing up and down and reading itself to you – that’s entertainment.
eBooks for children with pictures in the right place, with video and interactive elements for learning are only readily available on the iPad.
If you want to get on and do stuff, get an iPad. If you want to spend your time asking for help from IT support staff, get Android. If you want to save time and money down the line and have the best apps available to you, iPad is your choice every time.
It has always amazed me that those who don’t use Apple products wonder why Apple users are so fanatical about their support for Apple products. Those who use Apple products are the kind of people who try other systems and are always amazed that anyone would want to use anything else.
The Summer is here and that means that over the next few months hundreds of thousands of children will be visiting libraries up and down the land, borrowing books, reading them and getting small prizes for their effort. I remember the long summer holidays going on for ever. By the time I got back to school, I’d forgotten everything I’d learned the year before. The Summer reading challenge helps to keep up the habit of reading – the most important skill and person can learn in this world. Not analysis of text – reading – that means books and stories that make you laugh or cry or hyperventilate with fear.
I’m very proud to have been a part of the start of the Summer reading challenge. Andrea Reece was a brilliant Marketing Director at Hodder Children’s Books, whom I’d worked with previously, when she worked at Harper Collins. She came up with the idea of selling a “Leap into Reading” summer reading scheme to bookshop. He idea inadvertently pioneered the format of the Summer Reading Challenge we have all come to know and love. Dump Bins full of early readers were sold to bookshops. With each dump bin full of books came pencils, badges, posters and erasers, which were prizes for reading a book each week of the holidays. There was a passport that had to filled in to gain the next prize. Some libraries spotted the possibilities and bought the bins too. They started their own, individual summer reading schemes.
What were they to do the next year – well somewhere along over the next year, the Summer Reading Challenge got started and has carried on ever since.
I remember all this because my character, The Ginger Ninja, was leaping over the top of the dump bin and all the gifts had his smiling face all over them.
My readers will know that the Ginger Ninja has moved onto the 21st century, gracing the iPad with a built in video drawing lesson!and you can get a free story by joining my mailing list.
Good luck to all involved in the Summer Reading Challenge – I know it’s a lot of hard work, but I know that many Librarians look forward to those happy, smiling faces coming for the next book each week through the summer – and in many areas it has a quite profound effect in inspiring and maintaining reading proficiency through the long, long holiday.
But take a look at the picture of one of the students featured in the Evening Standard Movie in this article, and you will see that nothing of the sort was going on at all. The children weren’t reading books, they were shuffling a few photocopied pages around.
This perfectly explains the appalling reading standards ushered in by the National curriculum, and the Literacy Strategy in particular. Children don’t read books any more – they analyse texts.
There is no time or need to read books in school. Education is arranged for the sake of accountants, who need boxes to be ticked so they can analyse progress and massage figures more easily. Reading books doesn’t fit into that structure. Books take too long to read and – heaven forbid! – the children might make up their own minds about the message and meaning in the book. There may not be an appropriate box for them to tick!
The sooner the Literacy strategy is abandoned, the sooner British children can get back to the very difficult job of learning to read – that requires real books with a beginning a middle and an end, with a great story filled with life’s funny, sad and awkward truths.
It is time to put an end to the nonsense of Literacy. Why? Because it has not worked and our nation’s children are suffering from it’s imposition by swivel-eyed fanatics at the end of the last century.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s university english departments were taken over by Deconstructionism. What does that mean? It means forget the story, forget the entertainment value, forget the book, let’s analyse the text for hidden meanings to prove how clever we are. It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes in action. “If you don’t think deconstructionism is the greatest thing since sliced bread, you are a philistine and know nothing about literature,” students were told. Empires were built on this premise. Academic careers built on the sand that is now beginning to shift.
The students of this new way of thinking came out into the world ready to impose their new ideas on education. What they came up with was Literacy.
The half-witted Tony Blair, having promised Education, Education, Education in the 1997 election, fell prey to all the new experts who were desperate to prove their new ideas. I met one or two of them at the time. Dead-eyed, cold fish they were too. They spoke like totalitarian dictators. “We are right. This is the new system. All will change and you will believe what we say.”
We now have almost two generations of teachers, who have been brought up with this mush. Teachers who have been told what to teach and when. I know things have been softening a bit recently, but I feel the icy winds of Conservative dogma blowing in the wings that will probably put things back a another fifteen years.
Two generations of Literacy teachers have been taught nothing about books!
How are children ever going to learn to read to expected standards and beyond, if teachers don’t know about children’s books. Do you know that Literacy Co-odinators have admitted to me that they don’t read books at home!
I come across schools where great emphasis is placed on books. Usually the school is run by a charismatic head who pushes book reading regardless, and finds funds to buy books from somewhere. When they employ new, young teachers, they have to explain to them about books and the school’s belief in their use in the learning of teaching in a process of re-education not too dissimilar to the de-progamming cult members.
Is it important to get children to read?
Duh! I have to ask myself this question all the time, because I don’t think the education system believes it is important. I have to keep reaffirming the truth to myself. Individual teachers know it’s incredibly important but they have to struggle against the dictats of the system. Teachers are not allowed to teach. They are there to promote current political ideologies, and a whole new raft of them are coming along any day now – all change, once again.
We live in a knowledge society. As a country we will come to rely on our children being bright, clever, inventive and imaginative. There is no room for factory fodder anymore – we don’t have the factories for education’s failures to work in. If we are to survive as a great country, it will be because we come up with great ideas, follow them through and sell them to the rest of the world. This is not done by analysing text.
Books allow the imagination to roam free. A page of text to be analysed does not. How can a child engage with an extract without knowing who the characters are and where they have come from? Is preposition counting really going to bring us out of the recession?
For God’s sake – give children books to read. Whole books with real stories that engage children and make them want to read more. let them discuss stories not pronouns. The only way to learn to read is to get on and do it. Like any other skill it takes practice and to get good at it requires thousands of hours of practice. While practicing, readers see how how writing is done and all that reading practice flows into their own writing.
How often do I get asked, “How can we get our boys to write?” ‘Get them to read!” I say. It’s something that has never seemed to occur to the questioners.
It’s such a shame. Just before Blair got in to power, Glennis Kinnock was leading “The Real Books Movement”, which poured real books into schools. Books and stories that children could relate to. In my experience, schools that adopt this approach, that make reading – and more importantly, the fun of reading – the centre of their school day, leap forward in all areas, because children become confident with books and so become confident with new ideas, where to find them and how to research for themselves. There is an extraordinary confidence in the children you meet in a book-centric school that you don’t find elsewhere.
What can be done?
Well for a start, put education in charge of teachers and not politicians. In the same way the Bank of England took control of monetary policy, the Bank of Education should take over education policy for the sake of the country and not for the sake of crackpot politicians who have only a couple of years to make their mark.
Then say goodbye to Literacy. Find out about children’s books and promote them to children. Find the right books for the right child. Encourage children to discuss their favourite books with each other – swap them with each other. make them read ebooks or motorcycle magazines if you have to, but get them engaged in the act of sustained reading. It is THE ONLY WAY to improve reading and writing skills.
Allow children to read whole stories – that means from beginning to end.
Make it a rule that the last half hour of every school day is story time, even in secondary school. Teachers must read stories out aloud. It is a primal way of teaching and sharing information that children relate to instantly. Storytelling and sharing stories is at the heart of learning to read
Books are about stories. We learn to read so that we can read stories. That is how humans relate to each other. Let children read stories and throw away all those photocopied abstracts for analysis.
In the meantime – all you english students of the 1980s, get down on your knees, say sorry and beg for the forgiveness of the nation you have so badly served, then scurry away to enjoy your retirement and let the rest of us get on with the job of getting this country back off it’s knees.
Boys are made to sit still and do boring stuff when they’d much rather be running around.
Boys are shown a bit of the story and told to analyse it. They never get told the whole story. Stories are the one thing boys will settle down and listen to. Boys learn through stories – this is hard-wired. Boys don’t get the stories that they need at school. They rely on TV and video games to give them what they need and TV is more than happy to fill that gap.
Boys will learn under threat of punishment. That threat has disappeared from education.
Boys will learn if it is fun. Fun usually means risk and risk has been eradicated from education. (Blame the lawyers!)
Boys learn from men, but boys have very little contact with men. (Blame the lawyers again – and the wages.)
At the age when boys begin to knuckle down naturally, they’ve been written off as failures by the system that does not understand or cater for them.
Boys are taught and looked after by women. Women prefer to tame boys. Boys do not like to be tamed!
You wouldn’t expect a child to make a movie if they had never watched TV or visited the cinema. You’d never expect a child to make something if they’d never seen the tools being used or had never encountered the raw materials before, so why, oh why do we expect children to be able to write when they don’t read and aren’t encouraged to by the primary Literacy Strategy?
In the last ten years or so, the Literacy Strategy, which has supposedly been raising literacy standards, has failed dismally. Standards rose slightly at the beginning, but you would expect that as teachers taught to the test. After that, nothing happened. Why? Because reading was not part of the Literacy Strategy.
Endless comprehension of selected texts – yes, but reading – no. A whole generation of primary teachers have been brought up with this nonsense. Surely they must be beginning to suspect that they were sold a pup?
A whole generation of children have been brought up not reading books for pleasure. Their teachers were not taught about children’s books or how to read them to class. At one Literacy Coordinator’s conference I went to, that was all about “talking”, I actually heard two teachers in conversation at my lunch table, discussing what an amazing idea it was to read stories aloud to children in class. They seemed baffled about where and when in the busy curriculum they would be able to fit in such a new concept and how they would do it!
Do you know, I’ve been to some schools where they ask me if I have any tips to help the children improve their writing. I looked around their bare, empty classrooms, where not one book was on display, and suggested they get the children to read books. They’d honestly not thought of that. If you don’t celebrate books and tell stories, how are children ever going to know about them and how are they ever going to know that they are important, if teachers aren’t bothered? Some teachers don’t read for pleasure themselves and are certainly unaware of the latest trends and bestsellers in children’s literature.
Writing is a difficult skill but we seem to think that if we throw enough phonemes and pronouns at it, somehow children will learn to write amazing, imaginative stories.
Writing comes from three sources: Firstly experience – how can children write about stuff if they haven’t experienced anything in their lives, if risk assessments stop museum visits and weekends away? Secondly, writing comes from seeing it being done, and that means reading books – whole books- long books with beginnings and middles and satisfying ends, that grip the child’s imagination, making them laugh and cry and want to seek out more – to find out what lies over the horizon. And thirdly, there is grammar and style. This can and should be taught, Grammar is important, it’s how we make sense of writing, but it is not how we write. Grammar is merely a tool, Experience and reading are the raw materials.
I wrote a story for Barrington Stoke, who publish for Dyslexics. The manuscript of Craig Mnure was sent out to a large test group and came back covered with suggestions for making the text easier to read. Interestingly, the further into the book, the fewer the comments – this was because the children “got my voice” after a while. The voice takes over from the difficulties of reading. The voice carries the story along, gripping the reader who, only caring about the story, is not aware that they are also working on their reading skills. Who cares about comprehension and split infinitives – they want to know what happens. The skill comes as a by-product of the enjoyment. Yes, learning really can be fun – just read a good book!
When you read and engage with a book, you see the writing being done, like an apprentice at his master’s elbow, learning the skills of the trade. You see how the writer puts the words and ideas together, and by reading the whole story, by a process of osmosis, the writing skills improve and the imagination begins to grow as writers present new horizons for children to aim for.
Maybe reading for pleasure sounds like too much fun? It can’t be educational if you are having fun! Surely literacy must have great dollops of misery to make it stick?
We take reading for granted these days. It’s something that is done to you and your supposed to be able to do it by the end of year six, when reading finishes and secondary education begins.
But reading is an incredibly complex skill and like all skills, it needs to be worked on to improve, and it needs to be kept up to maintain the skill level you are at. You will never improve your writing unless you read and see how it is done by others. You need to read good and bad writing to become a discerning reader and competent writer.
I visit many primary schools. There is something about the schools that put a great emphasis on reading – an atmosphere the moment you walk over the threshold. They tend to be run by old-fashioned head teachers, (not managers, but teachers), who tell me that they have to explain the idea of reading for pleasure to new, young teachers and let them know that reading for pleasure is their school’s priority. It doesn’t matter where the school is or what kind of catchment area it has, the emphasis on reading infuses the school, the curriculum and the results with excitement, success and achievement.
Children who are proficient readers become self-starters, confident in their ability to read, research and find out on their own.
It is not a teacher’s job to cram stuff into children. Teacher’s are there to open children’s eyes and raise their sights, to facilitate the quest for knowledge, to create young people who can stand on their own two legs and and find things out for themselves. This is achieved by teaching the one and only really necessary skill – READING – every other school discipline comes seconadary to reading, most are unteachable without the ability to read.
If you want to raise your children’s writing standards, let them read books – hundreds of them. Blow the school budget, build a library, make it the heart of the school, have a branch library in every class room.
Put books and reading for pleasure first, stand back and watch your children grow and blossom like fireworks going off. I’ve seen it happen in many schools, then the head leaves and the grey miasma of Literacy descends once again as the vision leaves the building.
Want to improve your children’s writing standards? Let them read books!
More particularly, make them read books. Of course, as a children’s author, I’m bound to say that, aren’t I? (In fact I want you to click the picture or this link here and go to Amazon and buy a copy of my Axel Storm series for boys, right now!) But there is another reason you should get your son reading books.
Books wire the brain up in a particular way. Nothing else does it the same way. Radio encourages pictures in the mind. The TV and internet increase general knowledge.
A book is linear. It requires effort to go from one end to the other. Along the way the author reveals a plan, a story or an argument, in a carefully constructed and considered way. The effort exerted in following the line of a book actively wires the brain – it makes connections that are strong and remain. TV and computers flash and zip about, with no time for contemplating the story thread or the knowledge gained. Other media are desperate to hold your attention and so scream for your attention.
How many times have you been so absorbed in a film or TV programme that you have been moved to tears, happiness or wonder at the end. With not a moment’s hesitation, the announcer jumps in, yelling at you not to miss a soap next tuesday – the spell is broken – the moment is gone for ever. Once upon a time they used to wait for the credits to finish, now they start flashing messages up before the credits have even begun to roll!
When your son reads a book, they are one to one with the mind of the author. Authors are real people. The author imparts all their time, knowledge and experience in a moment of personal connection. I know this from the things kids tell me. Their eyes defocus as they remember the book of mine they’ve read. In their minds they are transported to the cozy place where they read it, remembering all the characters they met and befriended in the book.
Just this morning, as I was walking in the woods, I saw a pile of sticks and was reminded of my old, curmudgeonly friend Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh
stories – he’s been locked in my mind, as real as any other friend I had forty something years ago, and I can recall him just like that, in all his gloriously grumpy detail, while walking in the woods. I don’t remember TV stuff as well from those days.
So, do yourself a favour and get your son books to read. (Do me a favour and buy books from my own online store!) Read to him, every night before he goes to bed. Talk and discuss the books he reads, make him realise how special books are, and in ten years time, you’ll find he’s learned how to learn stuff from books – and all those books will have filled his head with knowledge and will have wired brain brain up so that he will be ready and hungry to go to University and excel. Go to it – now!