Forget writing and arithmetic – Reading is the one and only core skill

boyreadingReading is the the most difficult skill most of us will ever set out to master.

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.