An alarmed appeal;Letter

1st October 1999 at 01:00
I am no expert in reading and writing, and so have hesitated for some time to enter the debate on early intervention literacy programmes. But I have become increasingly concerned about the apparent conflict between some aspects of these programmes and recent research on brain development.

Your report on the HMI early intervention project (September 24) finally alarmed me sufficiently to write to appeal for more detailed investigation and public discussion of all the relevant issues, before more resources are diverted into what might well be counter-productive activities.

I must emphasise that I strongly support early intervention language experiences which respect developmental readiness of children's brains.

But the part of the brain responsible for formal reading and writing operations typically does not start to mature until about seven years. Up to that point it is more natural for it to deal with whole pictures, rhythm and emotion rather than detailed linear processing.

This may well explain why the Edinburgh University study on early literacy found that high achievers (with more mature brains) gain most from formal early language experiences.

It also explains why countries such as Denmark and Ireland, where language programmes respect natural brain development, have notably high rates of literacy.

It's surely inappropriate, to say the least, to emphasise a target such as "making good attempts at accurate spelling and punctuation" for children whose brains are not yet ready for these activities.

It seems a bit like trying to get babies to stand and walk before they've learnt to sit and crawl!

Colin Weatherley Quality Learning Consultancy Gullane, East Lothian

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