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No wonder employers complain about literacy levels

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 12, 2012

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Over the past two months we have had a feast of sports, and people's reactions have been interesting.

Most have found something inspirational; some have been taken aback by the degrees of disability; and a few have regretted the posturing before, and the triumphalism at the end of a race. So major events in our lives can produce differing responses.

In my own case, a significant occurrence was being diagnosed with stomach cancer.

After a full gastrectomy, I now have no stomach, just a thin tube. With such limited storage space and processing capability I need six small meals or substantial snacks each day.

The food has to be highly nutritious and easily digestible, with no room for fancy or exotic offerings, no white bread, shellfish, fruit skins, should I peel those grapes ?

Weight loss can be problematical. Checking one's weight every morning gives an indication of the relative value of various foodstuffs. After five years without ever feeling hungry, eating becomes a discipline, a routine duty, and it has given me a heightened awareness of life for the pupils I used to teach.

For 30 years I taught non-readers, that is, they did not read for either information or pleasure. After two or three years in primary school, they had shown no inclination to read, write, spell or count.

In terms of learning, they had limited storage space and processing capability, and no appetite for school work. Most were not interested in art, music, drama or poetry, so we tried swimming and gardening, which got them out of the classroom and did not require reading.

The repetitious physical movements in these gave them more control of hand and finger activities, so they could practice individual letter shapes, leading to simple words.

Those pupils who persevered in these worthwhile and whole-life activities generally improved at all-round literacy, usually by learning to spell short everyday words at the average rate of 30 to 50 a term.

A graduated spelling test each term, with 100 words, 20 of each length from two up to six letters, shows the progress made towards phonic awareness, cheaper and more effective than annual reading tests.

Nowadays the main programme for teaching literacy is Synthetic Phonics. Whenever I ask anyone what "synthetic" means, the reply is "artificial". So children who need help with reading are now encouraged to read letter combinations like "voo" and "bim". The shortest words that I can make from them would be "voodoo" and "bimbo", and I never heard either used by primary school pupils in all my career. To make matters worse, the early teaching materials are in joined writing. None of my books or newspapers have joined writing in them.

No wonder employers complain that too many school leavers are unable to read and write.

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