Literacy: start making sense

CHRISTINE RICE (Letters, August 30) may have written with her tongue in her cheek. On the other hand, she may just as easily have been writing with her nose in the air.

She certainly displays little, probably no, knowledge of the range of assessment techniques that is used to arrive at conclusions on the success of literacy initiatives - the Burt 1974 revised test being only part of this process. The range of tests includes, unsurprisingly, concepts of print and phonological awareness as well as the sight-reading that is measured by the Burt test.

She apparently feels that children from the second most socially deprived authority in Scotland (West Dunbartonshire) have no right of access to a more refined vocabulary.

It would appear that living in certain postcode areas should deny one the right to be able to read Jane Austen, or anything else for that matter. It seems that elegant use of language, or simply being articulate, ought to be restricted to those who reside in the leafy suburbs and lanes that are the domain of the economically advantaged. It is just as well that D H Lawrence had not read that particular script.

For a long time now, good teachers have known that children's literacy is dependent on a whole range of experiences - many, perhaps even most, out of school. It would be rank arrogance of the school system to presume that it alone has influence over children's learning. Children can and do experience reading in the environment every day.

In general, children know much, much more than that which is "taught" in schools. Good teachers know this and are always aware of children's prior and out-of-school learning.

Learning is much more complex and interesting than the oversimplified notion that many people embrace.

Schools, however, do make a difference and it would seem that those in West Dunbartonshire are doing just that. Well done to them. For too long schools have borne the brunt of statistics that seemed to indicate atrophy in progress in literacy and now that they have seriously begun addressing the issues they find themselves criticised for doing so. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

A final word to Ms Rice. Good writing is not only about using words whose meaning is understood by the writer. It is first and foremost about making sense.

Michael McLaughlin


(Full address supplied)

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