It still pains me and brings the tears. 50 years on, and I can remember it like it was yesterday. And 17 years of academic study, haven’t washed them away. The same question, ‘Why did no one realise that in spite of being a very poor reader, I was intelligent?’ I know being a poor reader is a disadvantage, but top in maths and algebra; didn’t that raise any questions?
No! I was ‘Thick’!
I couldn’t read effectively and, therefore, I was ‘thick’. And that is how I was treated, by those around me: patronised and ‘patted on the head’. And I can still feel the sense of failure. My Father’s love, tinged with disappointment, because I lacked concentration; my mother’s endless question, ‘Why don’t you read?’ Why wouldn’t she ask? She loved reading so much. But like my teachers, she just didn’t understand that I might not be able to read.
And I am not alone in being a Poor Reader!
But this isn’t just about me. I want you to have an insight into what it is like to fail at school, as a bright, but poor reader. Bearing in mind the prediction for the UK in 2025, of 1.5 million non-reading 11yr olds (Independent 24 Aug 2015), this still feels very relevant.
Being a Poor Reader Can Make School an unhappy place!
I hated school and I was terrified of my teachers. Fortunately, their style of teaching has largely disappeared from our schools. However, sadly, some of their attitudes linger.
We were tested each week, and seated according to the test results. Anyone who entered the classroom knew of my ‘limited ability’ because I languished at the back of the end row of desks. And of course, I had no doubts about my progress: the seat was cold, hard and judgemental and spoke to me of my failure, as did the children on the other side of the room.
And so every Sunday night I cried myself to sleep, knowing that I would have to face it all again the next day: the endless criticism; red marks across my work; ‘redo’ commands at the end (like that would help), and endless comments implying I had written nothing. I couldn’t even illustrate my nothingness.
That was all a long time ago wasn’t it?
Surely things have changed, haven’t they? After training to be a teacher, I worked in a Comprehensive school for 15 years and discovered otherwise. While academics argued about the merits of phonics or whole words, (neither of which take account of research on how children think and learn), and teachers take issue with each other about which reading method is best, children go on ‘crying on a Sunday night’, hating school and failing.
Worst of all, poor readers grow up with a strong sense of failure.
The Joy when we do Learn to Read!
When children come to me in my Private Practise, I tell them that I couldn’t read until age 14, and that I know how it feels to struggle. The reaction is instant: a huge weight lifted from their shoulders.
I promise them that I will teach them to read very quickly, if they will work with me. Their facial expressions are my reward. And they attend, week by week, skipping up my path, after a long day at school. They do so, because my methods are easy, structured and effective.
Children really do want to Succeed, even Poor Readers!
Contrary to what many might think, children want to do well at school. I know that because they tell me so, and I still remember how much I wanted it. But it isn’t possible for children who don’t get reading. ‘Look and Say’, that was the in-reading method when I was at school. But for me it was ‘Look and don’t say’!
Would you put a child in front of sheet music and ask her to read it, without any preparation? And then would you judge her intelligence on this basis?
Well why do we do just that? Teachers and reading tutors do it all the time and demand similar action from parents: put your child in front of this book of text and ask her to read it, without preparation, even though you know she cannot read.
No wonder there will be 1.5m million 11 yr olds unable to read in less than 10 years time. The real tragedy is that most of them will feel an utter sense of failure, and some will populate our overcrowded prisons and young offenders institutions.