Asking four-year-olds to write ‘does more harm than good’

Applies to England only. The Times reports that according to a literacy expert teaching four-year-olds to write is about as useful as teaching a dog to walk on its hind legs,  as figures showed that one in seven preschool children struggle to write their own name.

The annual assessments of children’s progress during their first year in school found that more than one fifth had problems stringing a coherent written sentence together when they entered their reception year. Nearly a quarter failed to reach the expected levels of emotional development for their age. The findings follow concerns that some of the Government’s early years goals are unrealistic and risk setting back their development.

Sue Palmer, an independent literacy consultant and author of the book Toxic Childhood, said that many under-5s were simply too young to achieve the literacy goals set out for them.

Let pupils abandon spelling rules, says academic

The Times reports that a leading academic will claim this week that children are being held back at school because they are forced to memorise irregular spellings and learn how to use the apostrophe. John Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London and president of the Spelling Society, will use the society’s centenary dinner this week to call for a “freeing up” of English spelling.

He says, “The teaching of literacy in schools is a major worry. It seems highly likely that one of the reasons Britain and other English-speaking countries have problems with literacy is because of our spelling and the burden it places on children…’

Sounds good to me!

More on Modern Foreign Language Learning

‘Anybody can learn’

Let’s adopt the teaching methods of legendary language guru Michel Thomas, a new book pleads. Anthea Lipsett finds out why

There’s a belief that languages either come naturally to a person, or they don’t. But to the late Michel Thomas, the “world’s greatest language master”, there was no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher.

It’s a view that grates with prevailing educational opinion. These days, children’s inability to learn is often blamed on a variety of learning disabilities. If teachers are brought into the equation, it is usually by ministers either claiming the workforce is the best trained it has ever been, or declaring that inadequate teachers must be fired.

Thomas believed his method, applied faithfully, would work with anyone. Students saw him as a magician. Now, in his new book The Language Revolution, the educational psychologist Jonathan Solity reveals how Thomas set about teaching foreign languages and the psychological principles behind his methods. He thinks they could revolutionise teaching, and help schools meet targets.

Modern Languages and Dyslexia

I had an interesting meeting at a high school last week with the parents of a boy who has just started S1. They felt that his dyslexic difficulties meant he should be withdrawn from French and he should receive extra tuition in English language skills. 

I re-read a couple of excellent papers by Margaret Crombie, (Cognition and Learning Difficulties and Foreign Language Learning and Dyslexia), before dipping into LT Scotland’s superb resource, Maximising Potential. I also referred to Moira Thomson’s work for Dyslexia Scotland, Supporting Dyslexic Pupils in the Secondary School.

While all are agreed that foreign language learning presents young people with difficulties unique challenges, it is also the case that they have a right to be exposed to a different language and culture.

The conclusion we came to at the meeting was that the student should be able to access a variety of learning experiences, with a multi-sensory, cumulative focus, with an emphasis on talking and listening. He should have to write in French only rarely. When I have worked with teachers in MFL departments I have often been struck by their ability to make learning fun, to motivate young people with games and technology, to appeal to all different learning styles. They seem to know that variety is the spice of learning!