What was Christopher Middleton at the Telegraph thinking when he called what Dianne Murphy is doing a ‘literacy revolution’? He evidently has never read Marx’s 18th Brumaire of Louise Napoleon, which, prompted Marx to remark famously that history repeats itself, ‘first as tragedy, then as farce’. Far from being a revolution, this kind of methodology – flash card/sight word drill – is both tragic and farcical. And, far from being revolutionary, it is, in literacy terms, profoundly reactionary.
The principal reason for the failure of many of these kids at secondary school to learn to read and spell properly is precisely because the approach used to teach them throughout their primary years was whole language. So, what do they do when these children arrive at secondary school unable to cope with the demands of the curriculum? Throw more of the same at them!
‘Whole language,’ as Diane McGuinness has said, ‘is based on faith, promising everything and delivering nothing.’ Of course, if you drill a pupil for half an hour, three times a week, you can expect some progress. But, for how long? Set up some independent testing of word reading a year down the line and then see if the effects wash out. Of course, some children will ‘crack the code’, as some of their peers have already done in primary school. Most won’t!
Teaching children to link hundreds and hundreds of words (paired associate learning) to abstract symbols is something that humans find every difficult to do. And then what about all the thousands upon thousands of words that haven’t been taught.
Unless, pupils are taught explicitly how the writing system works (conceptual understanding), are taught the spellings for all the sounds in the language (factual knowledge) and the skills needed to use the aforesaid conceptual and factual knowledge, they will continue to struggle.
And, Chris, if you don’t understand what you’re writing about, don’t write it!