Peter Warner, an American teaching in Japan, contributed this anecdote on the RRF message-board three days after the publication of Jim Rose’s interim report.
I teach Japanese school children to read and write as much as possible, by synthetic phonics. A lot of my colleagues rave about extensive reading, and rave about some graded reading series or other. All the ones I’ve seen were loaded with difficult words, and the kids had to be read to, and remember the lines by sight or memory. I’ve seen this in other teachers’ classes (chanting out lines in unison, until the kids could ‘read’ the text) and the whole charade repelled me.
I’ve put Dr Seuss out for my students to look at if they arrive early for class, but they always went for the coloured comics. When I heard about the ‘Jelly and Bean’ series, I jumped at it and ordered the first several units, but hadn’t figured out how to introduce them. Last week, I put the ‘B’ unit (the second series) out on the counter and watched.
Cut to the chase: yesterday, two kids arrived early and sat on the couch, waiting while the earlier class was finishing up. I walked over and put a copy into each of their hands, then went back to the current class without a word. At first, there was the familiar ‘Ahhh, not some more English…’ kind of response. Then they opened the books and looked inside.
I wish I had filmed what happened next. In five seconds, their initial lack of interest was transformed into shock, then delight. They could read this! In ten seconds the two girls were laughing and reading their stories out loud to each other. As other children arrived, they were soon all going through the short books (there are ten in that series), and they complained when I called them to the table for their class to start.
I hope this episode repeats all week, and I want to build on it – man, do I want to build on it! With synthetic-phonics training, children can read and write by themselves, and once they have that experience, no one can take it away from them. Of course my classes are mostly in the CVC stage, but by golly it’s a solid-foundation CVC stage.
The formal teaching of English in Japan is in the look-and-say mode (or rather, the look-and-say-in-Japanese-English mode), and I take great encouragement from the success celebrated by the RRF in the week in which Jim Rose’s interim report was published.