Waiting For Superman

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yvonne meyer
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Mon Nov 08, 2010 8:48 pm

Jim,

School was only compulsory up to Year 6. I'm not sure if that is still the case although I haven't heard that it has changed. If you failed the exam twice, you were out of the school system and looking for a job. There is almost no social welfare but very high employment and low taxes.

Very, very few failed the Year 6 exam even once. A few years ago, a friend of mine's daughter failed (by one point) and even though the mother went to the school and pleaded for her daughter to be allowed to continue, the school insisted she repeat the year. The daughter cam top of the class the following year and went on to obtain a University degree with Honours from a UK University.

By comparision, the geniuses in charge of education in Australia are trying to make 18 the compulsory school leaving age. However, 55% of school leavers have literacy & numeracy skills too weak for everyday activities (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008 report) so students are just being babysat and kept out of the workforce for as long as possible.

yvonne meyer
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Mon Nov 08, 2010 8:52 pm

I've just checked and the school leaving age in Singapore is now 16, following quote form Wikipedia.

(Singapore) "Primary school is compulsory, followed by secondary school. 16 is the school leaving age; one may leave only after the release of Singaporean GCE 'O' Level results for admission to polytechnics, junior colleges, Institute of Technical Education, or work. 15 is the minimum employment age."

By 'junior college' I assume they mean Years 11 & 12 which are still referred to as 'Pre-U'.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Mon Nov 08, 2010 9:39 pm

The Singapore Year 6 exam is critically important because "... high scores in the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) -- arguably the most dreaded acronym among Singaporean parents -- can clear the path all the way to university.

Those who don't get into university settle for polytechnics and vocational schools, which will likely lead to lower-paying jobs, or cost their families a small fortune in overseas education."

The PSLE exam is very interesting because it is so demanding. Students are tested in English, Mother Tongue, Science and Maths. For a detailed description of each exam, see

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_Sc ... xamination

Failing the PSLE means the student repeats Year 6 but I haven't found any information about what now happens if a student fails the second time. I assume they go on to secondary school but as there is competition for places in the 'best' secondary schools, and students are sent to the school of their choice based on their PSLE results, I assume that there are schools that are full of low-performing students, ie, secondary is streamed first by PSLE results and then again by academic or non-academic streams.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by JIM CURRAN » Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:27 pm

Thanks Yvonne.

yvonne meyer
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Tue Nov 09, 2010 4:41 am

I've just spoken to a Singapore friend and I am told that if a child fails the PSLE twice, they go to a 'special' school where they are taught a trade. These schools are not specialised in dealing with children with mild to moderate learning difficulties/ cognitive delay and/or behavioural problems, but will take the kids that none of the other schools want. While there are a small number of specialised schools for severely disabled children, there is nothing for 'borderline' kids.

I spoke to my Singapore friend (married to an Australian & has lived here for 20 years but still has all her family back in Singapore) today to get the answer to Jim's question. In the course of our chat, she told me that she has just discovered that her bright, well-behaved 15 year old who has always attended 'good' schools here in Australia can't read! Her son told her that he would be happy to stay at school if he could do the work but since he can't do the work, he is refusing to attend. For all the criticism that the Singapore system cops for being too competative, I think I would prefer that to what we currently have in Australia.

chew8
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by chew8 » Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:32 pm

Yvonne wrote:I spoke to my Singapore friend (married to an Australian & has lived here for 20 years but still has all her family back in Singapore) today to get the answer to Jim's question. In the course of our chat, she told me that she has just discovered that her bright, well-behaved 15 year old who has always attended 'good' schools here in Australia can't read!
It puzzles me that a child can get to the age of 15 without his parents realising that he can't read.

Jenny C.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Tue Nov 09, 2010 9:35 pm

Jenny,

The mother has known there was a problem and has changed schools 3 times and spoken to teachers on countless occasions. The teachers have all reassured her that her son is fine, there is no problem, just wait for it to click, and the teachers have never sent home a bad report.

It is only now that the boy is old enough to speak for himself that he has announced that he can't read and will no longer attend school.

I know for someone on your side of the education process, it seems unbelievable that a parent would not know but from the parents side, it is almost impossible to argue against a good report, and impossible to argue against teachers who gang up on a parent. The kid gets through primary school with a small bank of sight memorised words but avoids reading at home because they want to play sport or whatever. In secondary when things start to really fall apart, the parent has little access to what is going on except for what the now-teenaged son is prepared to tell which is usually as little as possible. This is how 55% of school leavers in Australia get through the system with basic literacy & numeracy skills too weak for everyday activities yet no-one in authority 'knows' or does anything about it.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by chew8 » Wed Nov 10, 2010 9:36 am

I would certainly regard the boy's schools as culpable for sending home reports auggesting that all was well, but even if the parents had never thought it necessary to make their own checks, I still find it odd that they had apparently never seen him in everyday situations where a bit of reading was required and it became clear that he couldn't do it.

Jenny C.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Thu Nov 11, 2010 3:18 am

I had another chat with this mother and she tells that the more she tried to help her son with reading, the more angry and resentful he became. It got to the point that whenever she suggested they read together, he would say something, "you think I'm stupid" and storm off. She would then speak to his teachers who would tell her that his schoolwork was fine but she should stop pushing him.

It is very difficult for a parent who does not have much understanding about the process of learning to read to be able to work their way through the maze of contradictions. When the kids are in early primary, everything seems OK. As the kids progress through the years, warning signs appear but when parents try and discuss their concerns with teachers, the usual response is that everything is fine at school so the problem must be do to with the parent's relationship with the child at home. In other words, this kid is doing well at school so if he won't read at home, it must be the parents fault for being 'helicopter' parents.

The next warning is often school refusal. Even then, it is often not possible to work out the root cause because by this stage, the kid is very, very good are faking reading. The kids themselves will come up with all sorts of reasons why they don't want to attend school - its boring, the teachers are mean, the other kids are bullies and so on. The parent is then faced with trying to work through all possible reasons for school refusal from laziness, to being bullied.

Often, the last thing that occurs to the parent is to check basic literacy & numeracy skills. Again, this is very difficult for parents wihtout access to formal testing tools beause the kid can often give the impression that they can read, but they are just choosing not to. For example, they can 'read' the menu at Macdonalds. In the case of my friend, she changed schools twice because she did not think her son was making process in reading. His current school has him in a remedial class and they keep assuring the Mum that everything is fine although they give almost no information about what they think 'fine' is. The only testing is our Year 9 NAPLAN test results in which the student meets the Benchmark.

What parents are not told is that the Benchmark is so low that a kid can do the test blindfolded and still 'meet the Benchmark".

It would be very useful if all parents had access to a test they could implement to check their children's progress in reading. However, even if such a test was readily available for parents, I'm not sure they could assess if their children are decoding vs memorising/guessing without a goodly amount of training in the process of beginning reading.

I am often approached by parents who are concerned about their children's lack of progress at school and I will always tell them to check if the kid can read properly but then I am stumped because this is not something that most parents can do themselves, even fewer teachers know how to do this, and the parent ends up either with a very expensive psycholgist/education consultant who will run tests for every obscure condition ever suspected but not test reading until everything else has been exhausted, or they end up in the clutches of something like Dore.

If you can suggest something to help parents in these circumstances, it would be greatly appreciated.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Nov 11, 2010 11:24 am

I have some experience of this with two of my own children.

When I say 'of this', I mean being a parent with no true idea or understanding of my own children's reading ability.

This included total ignorance of the signs to look out for - such as a refusal, or reluctance, to 'read' the school's reading book aloud to me in the evening.

My interpretation of this reading-event being that my child/children were deliberately stubborn and 'slow' at the reading as a form of defiance - an attempt to 'scupper' the occasion.

At no point did it occur to me that they were actually struggling to read the words on the page.

Of course, it is all as clear as a bell to me in hindsight. For example, the child actually desperately doing that 'reading ahead' to try to make sense of words that were too difficult. The painfully slow pace. The reluctance to read.

Can you imagine how I feel about this? It is not, however, what has driven me on to learn about reading instruction - that was driven on mainly from my years of actual supply and part-time teaching followed by longer term infant teaching. I had a professional 'dawning' from what I observed of children's behaviour changing whenever they were asked to 'write' having been perfectly well-behaved and 'interested' before having to commit to paper.

I remember one parents evening being shown my child's writing book (child age 7) where every single word had an 'xyz' at the end of it.

The handwriting was joined and exquisite. The story content was incredible. There was lots of the writing.

The infant teacher and I shared incredulity at the strange spellings. Neither of us had a clue as to the lack of understanding of the child's link of sounds to letter shapes. But then, clearly this child had not been taught through an oral segmenting and 'knowing the graphemes' approach.

Another event which should have been a clue was the teacher of the other child (in Year 3) telling me that the child was the only one in the whole class who had not managed to get to the next 'reading level'. Interestingly, my child was from a different feeder school from the other children. That may, or may not, have made a difference.

At that point, neither the class teacher, nor I (as a trained primary teacher) had a clue as to why this child had not made progress. The inference, I suspect looking back, was that I had not heard this child read enough at home. That may well be the case because I was certainly struggling to get cooperation. I also had a younger child at home to see to at night. Not an uncommon thing for mothers!

Skip along then, the next sign for the first child I mentioned was a parents' evening of that child in Year 3. I looked at the 'Word Attack' spelling book. This child had a WHOLE book full of words spelled marked with a red cross. Not a single spelling was correct. No teacher nowadays would let that situation occur - a book full of hundreds of wrong spellings!

If a child was struggling to that extent, the parent should have been alerted long before the parents' evening - and the teacher should have provided something alternative or sought advice.

As it was, the teacher was clearly embarrassed and just said that perhaps he ought to be in the 'other' spelling group.

At no time did it occur to me that this child had 'dyslexia' or 'dyslexic tendencies' - and do you know why? Because I had no clue about any such thing, or any such description EVEN AS A TRAINED TEACHER.

I am someone who suspects we 'cause' dyslexia (as in, 'difficulty with word level') in many cases. I also know that all people are on a spectrum of 'capacity to learn', 'capacity to deduce code for themselves', 'propensity to muddlement', 'different capacities to concentrate', 'different motivation' and so on.

Perhaps these children had particular propensities for muddlement, but, if so, these were definitely exacerbated by the teaching approaches of their teachers. I remember only too well the painful nighttime ritual of getting out the tobacco tin of whole words of 'Roger Red Hat' to be taught at home so that the children could then get the reading book to read consisting of those words.

Not much phonics in sight, then. Not at school, and not at home. I knew no different.

Skip on a bit. BOTH of these children got level 5 for their end of key stage two national tests. This is the highest level you can get for these tests in case anyone reading this message does not know the English system. One of the children got level 3 for spelling, however. But the way the tests are marked still enabled the overall literacy mark to be level 5. Do you see how little regard is paid to spelling?

Anyway, you can imagine that them getting a level 5 was reassuring, and I just thought they were fine and able and fully literate.

Not so. YEARS later, one of these children told me that on going to secondary school and taking the school's reading tests, that the score achieved was SO LOW that this child 'should have gone' into a remedial group. Clearly this confused the teachers because this child was not placed in a remedial group - AND NO TEACHER EVER TOLD ME ABOUT THIS READING RESULT.

My parent's 'understanding' was that this child had achieved really well in literacy at the end of primary school - to all intents and purposes in the top 'ability' group for literacy. The secondary school's results showed otherwise.

Then, years later, this child handed over to me the novel 'The Da Vinci Code' with the little comment, I can read better now mummy, and I enjoyed reading this book - you might enjoy it too'. I was flabbergasted at her 'aside' comment.

Then, to my horror, this child happened to be in the office when my husband queried me about the so-called 'Cambridge Research' which I believe is bogus but which provides a paragraph of writing where all the medial letters are jumbled up to make the point that the words are still readable.

My child, however, sheepishly said, 'Mum, when I looked at that writing, I couldn't see that it was jumbled up.'

It was like a bombshell. I cannot describe how shocked I was. To someone like me who reads print in a code-based way, I can see so clearly when something is jumbled. This child could not and was a young adult by this time.

Neither of these children chose to go to university. They were never pushed and never brought up under the presumption that they would, or should. They had the choice. I believe/suspect, however, that young people like this exist in huge numbers and we are not fully aware of the scale of this problem.

One child (now as a young adult) said in a group conversation that, 'I could not face a ten thousand word dissertation'. Once again, it was a dawning for me of the implications of further academic study for people who simply struggle to read the words on a page and who struggle to spell reasonaby well.

I have always felt that we have not looked into the scenarios at secondary schools well enough. I think there is far more difficulty than we fully appreciate. Students who start to drop out of the education system do so from many backgrounds and we do not fully know why. To all intents and purposes, these young people are very able and achieved GCSEs and A- levels - but this does not fully reflect the difficulties they faced over the years.

Ultimately, I believe that both of these children could read well enough and write well enough to get by well enough - but, I suspect, that it was quite a long personal struggle for them - and they did not feel equipped enough to proceed further in terms of academic study.

The horror of all of this is that I never, never fully understood the full picture - that rarely did teachers alert me and when they did, it was a minimal passing comment with no suggestions made by the teachers as to 'why' there was a difficulty with reading or spelling.

So, I can understand TOTALLY how a parent can be 'unknowing' about the full extent of difficulties. I have experience as both a parent and a teacher of not understanding these things myself.

I am passionate that parents - indeed 'the public domain' - have good knowledge and information about the alphabetic code and the processes of blending for reading and segmenting for handwriting.

This is why I provide free resources such as the alphabetic code charts - and free information booklets etc. to explain the teaching principles.

I think that the alphabetic code chart along with an explanation of the importance of the THREE core skills - blending, segmenting and handwriting are hugely effective to give people a quick understanding.

That is why I could never understand the lack of interest in a code chart by some people - it is such an effective and simple visual aid for teaching staff and for parents and students themselves.

I would have given ANYTHING to have had this information and understanding as both a teacher and a parent - but it has been too late for me as a parent of my first three children - and I just began to learn about phonics through 'Jolly Phonics' (The Phonics Handbook) when my fourth child was three and a half. He virtually taught himself from the Jolly Phonics videos and a few conversations with me - and could blend and segment short and long words after four weeks at the age of three and a half.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Nov 11, 2010 11:38 am

By the way, my four year old grandchild is coming home with repetitive and predictable text reading books with no phonics information and no 'sounds book' in evidence. She memorises the words and uses the first letter or so for a trigger if necessary. She may well be getting phonics in her reception class and she certainly had a good start in her pre-school and therefore knows quite a few letters and sounds.

The point is that the school is certainly not matching any phonics teaching with its reading-at-home book system. I waited a few weeks to see if phonics would get started and, finally, made a comment in the reading record book asking if a 'sounds book' would be sent home and that the child could not apply blending to many of the words in her reading books.

It is very easy to get complacent in our country because there is a huge rise in knowledge and understanding of reception and infant teachers - 'phonics' is well and truly 'on the map'.

But there is not a guarantee as to quality, quantity, application of phonics to reading books - or anything like that. We still have 'pot luck' as to what these little INNOCENT children receive.

My grandchild is very able with a mum and grandmum who can make up for school by teaching at home.

I am not happy about this scenario. I fully believe that ALL schools should be teaching the alphabetic code well along with the three core skills and that inspection should be focused on this.

As it is, no matter how much our government promotes the need for synthetic phonics teaching, there will still be many schools who do not do the greatest job and many universities still indicating that the jury is out on the evidence.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks for these littlies. My grandchild now has the idea that you memorise the words and just substitute the word that changes in the predictable and repetitive text. The minute she reaches a new chapter in her book (like 'circus' in her book last night) she switches off from reading and her reluctance kicks in and she won't read further.

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maizie
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by maizie » Thu Nov 11, 2010 12:45 pm

Yvonne said:
If you can suggest something to help parents in these circumstances, it would be greatly appreciated.
I would suggest the Ruth Miskin nonsense word test, which is available on the RRF website. This tells immediately if a child cannot decode and blend (so, cannot read) I would, personally, follow this by checking that the child knows most of the simple code (which, in my experience, practially all children do) and assume that their knowledge of the 'advanced' code is patchy or non-existent.

After that I would suggest that the parent makes a careful study of Debbie's Phonics International site, http://www.phonicsinternational.com , or Susan's http://www.dyslexics.org.uk and familiarise themselves with the theory and practice of SP teaching. It isn't really that difficult. Then they explain how reading 'works' to their child, make it very clear that it is not their child's fault that they haven't learned to read, and work together through a good SP programme, there are plenty available.

Failing that, they have to find a good tutor, though I appreciate that this might be difficlut in Oz. However, we have a number of 'down under' posters on this board who may be able to help.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by JIM CURRAN » Thu Nov 11, 2010 3:03 pm

It is interesting to read Yvonne and Debbie’s posts. Recently I was talking to a parent who told me that when she had a concern about her nine year old daughter’s reading, which she raised with the school, she was told that the child’s reading was ok. When she persisted in her enquiries she was asked were there any problems at home because the child was doing all right at school.

From my own experience in Secondary school I know that far too many children leave primary unable to cope with the demands of the Secondary curriculum because of weak literacy skills.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Nov 11, 2010 4:41 pm

From my own experience in Secondary school I know that far too many children leave primary unable to cope with the demands of the Secondary curriculum because of weak literacy skills.
And this is the worry - that this is not really understood enough.

People like John Coe, for example, are blaming the secondary teachers for not practising reading enough, and allowing the children's skills to atrophy. This is not my point of view at all.

All the children leaving primary schools should be very knowledgeable about the alphabetic code - and have well-honed blending, segmenting and writing skills.

Sadly, we're still at the point of trying to educate the teacher-training profession and the teachers themselves - so where does that leave the children?

chew8
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by chew8 » Thu Nov 11, 2010 4:54 pm

I can see that in practice it may be difficult for parents to realise that there are problems when the school says that all is well. I can also see that it can be difficult for parents to hear their children's reading if the children dig their heels in. I would still expect there to be everyday situations which might arouse parents' suspicions, however - situations where it would be natural for a child to read something (shop signs, bus destinations, TV subtitles etc.) and the child doesn't. In particular I would expect parents to see warning signs if children have enjoyed having stories read to them but then apparently turn against books when they are of an age to start reading to themselves.

Jenny C..

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