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On target to help literacy

Pupil progress is the simple aim of new course that is also used with stroke victims. Dorothy Lepkowska reports.

A year ago, 11-year-old William Rossouw was frustrated and disruptive at school.

Although he is intelligent and able, according to his teachers, William is dyslexic and found it difficult to cope with lessons.

Now a scheme used to help stroke victims to speak, read and write again has helped William, a pupil at Holymead junior school in Brislington, Bristol, to catch up with his classmates.

"I had to come out of lessons and I minded at first because I was worried about missing something," he said. "But after a while I realised it was helping me a lot.

"Before, I felt I was slow and everyone was looking at me. Now I feel I can keep up with everyone."

The turnaround for William came through a programme called Aural Read Respond Oral Write (Arrow), which is also being used by all 350 pupils at the school to raise standards at key stage 2.

The 10-hour course, run in conjunction with Bridgwater college, takes place for an hour every day for two weeks.

Children read out loud a text displayed on a computer screen, recording their voices and using their recording as dictation to write down what they hear.

The text they have just read usually remains on the screen so they can check spellings.

Last September, William had a writing age of six years and 10 months. Now, that has risen to 10 years and two months.

The scheme was devised 30 years ago as a crude reel-to-reel tape recorder aid to help hearing- impaired children to read and write. Since then, it has evolved into sophisticated software which has helped stroke victims and been used for language learning. About 100 UK primaries have trained staff in its use.

Colin Lane, who developed the programme, said: "It is very simple. Research shows that children like the sound of their own voices best, and the voice they listen to most effectively is their own.

"It is like an adult reading something they find difficult to understand several times, and eventually doing it slowly and out loud so that they listen to what they are saying, until the penny drops.

"This scheme works because when children read out loud and listen to the recording, they internalise what they are learning. As they listen, they are looking at the words on the screen and writing down what they hear.

"It is a multi-sensory approach, which has been found also to improve comprehension, listening skills and concentration."

Last year, key stage 2 pupils at Holymead displayed discrepancies in their literacy scores. Although 95 per cent of the cohort achieved at least level 4 in reading, only 24 per cent gained similar marks in writing and spelling.

Debbie Quinn, Holymead's headteacher, said that teachers had previously used methods which did not work well.

"For example, the spelling list pupils were expected to master contained words such as 'cemetery' which, while difficult to spell, is not a word that children would need to use every day," she said.

"Now we try things and if they don't work, then we drop them.

"When we tested the pupils before the Arrow scheme began, some were two years behind their chronological writing age.

"We have seen real progress not only in writing and spelling, but also in attention, concentration and behaviour. Children who were struggling previously now find they can join in.

"We expect our Sats results to improve significantly this year," she said.


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