Rage against the dying of the light

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Who remembers the overhead projector?

When I was still teaching it was the pinnacle of technology in the school where I last worked. We used to hear rumours about these wonders called Smartboards in schools more budget-rich than ours, but I had never actually seen one, let alone used one in any of my lessons. So – OHP it was. And it worked, too: like moths, children were drawn to the light (actually, aren’t we all?). But what has prompted this blog is the fact that I was taken back ten years to those days at the dyslexia conference where we had an exhibition stand last Friday. The keynote speaker was a children’s author, and his impassioned plea to the gathered teachers was that they should be teaching children to love reading, rather than train them to pass phonics tests. And he was no power-point monkey: no bullet-points for his presentation. For his visuals he used an overhead projector.

I thought about his presentation- and technology – when I saw a couple of articles in the newspaper yesterday. One referred to a statement from one “expert” (I don’t know if this person had ever taught children) who said that the thousands of parents who came into schools on a voluntary basis to listen to children read were not sufficiently qualified to do the job properly; and that it should be left to trained teachers. The other was discussing the decline in standards of children’s literacy since the year 2000, when UK was about 7th in the world, to the present times where it is lower than 20th (25th in 2009, although it may have gone up a bit since then) What struck me is that the decline in standards pretty well tracks the demise of the OHP: as technology has improved, learning has diminished. And the more we measure, the more we fail. The more children drill, the less they read. Listening to a child read aloud doesn’t produce a measurable outcome that can tick an Ofsted box: what it does is give that child a sense of audience, and the opportunity to feel words and enjoy the sound of them with all the multisensory feedback that entails.

Interestingly enough, I went ot a conference on Saturday as well, and the keynote there was “beyond phonics”. Is something changing (I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the NFER recognising that children need “a variety of approaches” to learn to read)? I hope so. Because the question is –  are these two articles connected? Is the decline precisely because the light has gone out of literacy learning? Children are being taught to segment words, but not to love them . But “without Love, I am nothing…”    I very much doubt if the person who wants to withdraw the army of parent volunteers from schools would use an OHP to present her arguments.

Dylan Thomas loved words: he served them up like a gourmet dinner. The title of this article is from one of his most famous poems:

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”

Bob Hext

One thought on “Rage against the dying of the light

  1. Totally agree with this! We see too many targets and the system is designed to measure the system not the holistic teaching of children. As tech becomes more and more dominant in both society and schools so the need to *manage* without it grows. It does not take a genius to work out this correlation!
    When I taught and encouraged parent volunteers to hear readers each one was *hooked* and trained to be a TA.

    What we need are story tellers, orators who spread the love of the art of story as a legitimate event…This is one way to promote the love of story and therefore the art of reading to feed one’s own need to *hear* the tale.

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