Friday, 2 March 2012

Poetry out. Word lists in.

Dear readers, I wish to announce tonight that I am giving up writing books.

Let me explain. When I was a boy, one key part of our learning to read were what were known as Fred Schonell's lists. These were particularly exciting books made up of words that we were supposed to know how to read. Having had some lessons of some sort or another, we would go out to the front of the class and read the lists to the teacher. Depending on where you got in the list (it was supposedly graded from easy to hard) you got a mark. Some quick-witted parents would send off for a copy of Fred Schonell's lists and coach their children in reading the words on the list. Fred Schonell, it was rumoured, made stacks and stacks of'writing'...these lists. Technically, these were books. I mean, they had pages, which were full of words. They were books.

For some years, these lists have been allowed to lie fallow. Old Fred is long gone. I think his name lasts on a few road names in his native Australia. There were rumours that the authors of 'Dick and Jane' nicked the idea for their books from Fred's other great enterprise, writing reading schemes.

Now, lists are back. Standby, all ye littl'uns. At the end of Year One, you'll get a list-of-words test. This time, though, you will have been taught how to say the words from learning synthetic phonics. Now SP people, when they're being honest, call what they do 'decoding'. I don't have a big argument with that. So, if this word-list test is a synthetic phonics test (ie have the children learned how to make the right sound when they see this or that letter or sequence of letters?) then why is everyone calling it a 'reading' test?

Reading, as far as I know is a complex process involving many processes including understanding. I can 'read' Italian but it is utterly worthless because I can't understand it. I'm not 'reading' it, I'm reciting it, or blabbing it. or, if you like 'decoding' it.

But hang on, I'm missing the point. What the bloody hell am I doing writing books. Clearly, barking at single words is the big goer of the day. What I should be doing is 'writing' SP word lists for parents to coach their children with. Long lists of little words. Then parents wouldn't have to sit and read bloody Bear Hunt over and over again. They could just hand the little blighter my synthetic phonic word list book and say to the kid, 'Read that, sunshine!' and then sit there while the child said, 'Top, bit, sit, fat, pop, nip, lap...'

Bloomin eck,I could be good at that.

And then at the back, I put the nonsense SP words that are in the Year one test coming this June: 'lub, snig, freck...' Again, I'm good at inventing those.

In fact, much of year one could be spent reading SP word lists. This is the only way we can make sure that all the children can pass the 'Reading' [not-reading] test'.

So, you'll excuse me if you don't see any more stories or poems coming out from my pen anymore. I'm in the  cellar writing lists.