Friday, March 27, 2009

Rote Learning?

The Rose Review of Key Stage 2 was reported in ‘The Guardian’. The use of selected papers to leak information has been standard practice under New Labour. Apparently, the education organisations that specialise in certain subject areas were only given three days for consultation on the final draft and the unions were ignored completely.

The primary curriculum is completely cluttered with so many subjects that some are not adequately covered, History only accounts for 4% of teaching time in primary schools.

As for the emphasis on rote learning, yes, it’s true that in some aspects of knowledge you can’t escape it, you just have to memorise French verb tables, German grammar or Chinese characters. There aren’t any short cuts. The old saying that genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration is valid in many ways. David Beckham spent hours refining the art of bending the ball around a wall of players at free kicks.

However, I’ve taught children who memorised their times tables. The only problem was that they couldn’t apply them. Ask them 12 x 7, or to use it as an inverse in division and they were stumped. There was the infamous occasion in 1997 when the junior education minister Stephen Byers claimed that schools were falling down in the task of teaching children times tables. He was subsequently door-stepped by a reporter, ‘Minister what is 8 x 7?’, ‘Er… 54?’

Times tables are best taught through strategies 8 x 7? 2 x 7 is 14, double it and double it again.

I’ve got a similar problem with phonics, yes they are one important strategy in the process of learning to read, but our language is not phonetically consistent, you need other skills like reading in context and sight memory. In my experience the poor readers in upper juniors were the ones who could only use phonic strategies. As for whole class teaching, in Year One there are children who can already read fluently, they must be bored to death sitting in phonics lessons. Lastly, what about the joy of reading? Phonics reduces reading to a mechanical de-coding exercise.

Finally it’s good to see the some of the obsessive posters on the TES Forum are beginning to make a few comments that relate to the subject matter. Here are a few tips –

· Try to advance your own ideas rather than just carping and criticising. Keep to the high ground!
· Don’t use personal insults, it’s undignified, shows a total lack of class and you wouldn’t expect it from your pupils.
· Concentrate on quality rather than quantity.
· I’d like to see use of alliteration, metaphor and simile. Most of the writing is, to be frank, dull, repetitive and boring.

Good to see that there is, at last, progress. Some of you have a long, long way to go but keep trying; there are signs of improvement!

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I agree about the phonics. My little boy (year 2) really struggles with reading and his spelling is dreadful. I find it hard supporting him as I also get confused about the different sounds and how they work (I'm not boasting but I'm bright enough to achieve a 1st class honours degree) so if I find it confusing, it must be awful for a 6 year old. I'm very worried, not because I want him to be a genius, but because I don't want him to feel stupid or to not feel confident. Interesting to read a teachers view!
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