RRF Conference, 3rd November 2006 SYNTHETIC PHONICS IN YOUTH OFFENDER INSTITUTIONS AND SCHOOLS - Fiona Nevola
Children make sense of the world by sorting and ordering, matching and comparing, moving logically and in simple steps from concrete to abstract. Activities that are ‘brain friendly’ are needed. ‘Random muddled thinking is a sort of torture to the brain.’ Fiona had taught many children at primary and junior school who had problems with reading and spelling but did not really know how to help them.
Then, in 1998, she had read Diane McGuinness’s book Why Children Can’t Read, and she now teaches reading using Diane’s research and her understanding of the English alphabet code. She discovered that teaching a child of any age to read is quite easy – ‘hard work, but quite simple’. ‘A young person handicapped by illiteracy and imprisoned in a Young Offenders’ Institution can learn to read in a few weeks.’ ‘For us to be arguing the toss when about 30% of our children are failing to learn to read by current mixed methods is not just scandalous – it is criminal.’
In July 2004, Fiona had trained teachers and teaching assistants in a village school outside Gateshead. A newly qualified teacher who had not been taught how to teach reading during her initial teacher training implemented Fiona’s Sound Reading System – it was then found that the Reception children were at least a year ahead of the Year 1 children (taught by the NLS) by the end of the year. After another year, the head teacher (also a schools inspector), said that he had ‘never seen anything like it…all the children could access the curriculum and the best thing of all was their evident enjoyment of books and of learning’.
Teachers in Special Schools and Special Education often do not expect children to reach their potential. In one such school, however, a head teacher working with children with severe learning difficulties (SLD) discovered that it was possible, even where speech was very limited, to learn the rudiments of reading and spelling, through one hour of support a week in small groups. ‘Darren’, a 15-year-old, had thought (together with his parents and teachers) that he would never learn to read because of his SLD, but his reading ability had improved from 5-year-old to 7-year-old level in five terms. Chloe, also with SLD, had very poor speech production, but systematic phonic work helped her to say new words for the first time and to read simple texts after five terms. Rob, another 15-year-old with SLD, learnt to read at a 10-year-old level.
Diane Oliver, a Special Education teacher from Morpeth, discovered Fiona’s Sound Reading and found that results exceeded her expectations: ‘comprehension, writing and spelling all showed consistent progress. This formed only part of the package: self-esteem, confidence, behaviour all improved’. Diane is now working tirelessly in the north of England to promote the system in Special Education.
Another anecdote concerned Dave. He had been in Young Offenders’ Institutions three times and, as he would soon be 18, his next port of call would be adult prison. He could read simple two-syllable words but had never read a book. He had not attended school since he was eleven and had found previous literacy teaching c**p. After being introduced to Sound Reading, he asked ‘Why the f**k wasn’t I shown this before?’ He was interested in the Second World War and was soon coping well with a simple information book about it, reading multisyllabic words and learning to spell Czechoslovakia.
The Probationary Service has started to use the programme. A probationer wrote:
‘I am writing to thank you for your reading programme. I went to school for eleven years and could not read and spell fluently, now I am capable at both.
I have learnt more in the last six months than I ever did at school. I have now passed my Level 1 literacy certificate.’
The Thames Valley Probationary Service is planning to take the programme out across the region.
Fiona finished by speaking about Ryan. Ryan is nine and has serious behaviour problems. He has a reading age of 5.06. His teachers report that after five weeks of Fiona’s teaching his behaviour has completely changed – he is much calmer, has been seen with a book in front of him, is making more effort with his writing, and is attempting to read signposts and cereal packets. His mother has been attending the lessons, and she, too, has been empowered – she can now help Ryan.
‘Our teachers are amongst the most hard-working of all professionals. In the name of their sanity and the children’s progress it is time to give them the tools to teach the most important skill in today’s world – bar none.’
Transcripts and Reports of Talks given at past RRF Conferences.
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