TES letters

4th April 2014 at 01:00

To break the rules, first we must spell them out

Sir Ken Robinson is right to claim that over-concentration on reading, maths and science narrows the curriculum ("How Pisa's narrow focus `squeezes out' creativity", 28 March). But he fails to appreciate why Finland can allow its children to be more creative than any English-speaking school.

The most essential prerequisite for academic learning - and for the development of most forms of creativity, too - is the ability to read and write. With the exceptionally simple Finnish spelling system, which uses just 38 spellings for the language's 38 sounds, the acquisition of those crucial skills takes very little time, freeing students up for other learning.

Because the 43 English sounds are spelled with 205 graphemes, 69 of which are used for more than one sound (for example, on and once), anglophone primary and secondary schools inevitably have to devote far more time to literacy teaching. The greater learning burden results in higher levels of functional illiteracy and clearly leaves much less room for creativity. The mind-numbing effect of rote-learning spellings (speak, speech, seize, siege, supersede, concede and so on) also impedes the development of the logical thinking needed for maths. But creativity suffers most of all.

Anyone seriously interested in improving and broadening children's learning should campaign for a modernisation of English spelling.

Masha Bell

Author, Wareham, Dorset

History of art appreciation

Sarah Brown was fortunate to attend the North London comprehensive school where Joe Kusner taught her art (My best teacher, 28 March). As a Holocaust survivor, Mr Kusner obviously understood the value of life and the precious nature of education; a gift that must not to be squandered by the living.

I know of many state school teachers who, like Mr Kusner, inspire children with a love of their subject and are always available to offer help, advice and even sanctuary. Most share his vision of a rounded education that involves exposing children to the civilising effect of cultural oases such as the National Theatre and the arts in general. Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown is lucky to have married such a comprehensively well-educated woman as Sarah.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

Token effort boosts independent learning

After reading your article on the report Everyone Starts With an A ("When every child is a straight-A student", 14 March), I was inspired to use a similar behavioural technique in a computer programming lesson.

I have issues with students being overly dependent on teacher input, mainly because they have learned reliance at an early age instead of being encouraged to use independent learning strategies. To remedy this, I gave students five notional "tokens" that they could cash in for help from myself or other students.

I started the experiment with a low-ability group of 11- and 12-year-olds. One child was so determined to keep the tokens that he didn't ask any questions and failed to complete the task. This proved the notion of "loss aversion" but did not work to improve learning. For the next group, a high-ability class two years older, I changed the introduction, explaining that they had five credits but would need to spend them wisely.

The end result was that the students did use some of their tokens but were satisfied with the outcome. For me, it saved lots of wasted time as the children had to stop and think about whether they really needed help.

With the new emphasis on computer science in the curriculum in England, this is one strategy that will be coming out of the bag more frequently in my lessons.

Kelly Lycett

Teacher of computing

A new philosophy of religion

Tom Bennett's defence of religious education (Feature, 21 March) received deserved praise in last week's letters ("Religious education: a blessing or a curse?"). The skills of critical enquiry, logical argument and free thinking are all of vital importance in education. But Mr Bennett was not arguing for what he thought he was. Exploring "the role of reason and the senses in appreciating truth" is philosophy's domain, and it is striking that this subject was not mentioned once in the article.

RE constrains the subject matter to be dealt with, whereas philosophy is largely topic-neutral. If RE's greatest appeal is its ability to deal with the big questions, both inside and outside a narrow selection of religions, then its greatest appeal derives from its philosophical nature. Is it time, then, to call a spade a spade and replace RE with philosophy?

Jon Brunskill

Primary school teacher

The best of times, the worst of times

UKEdChat, which organises teacher collaboration via Twitter, recently asked what the best and worst things about teaching were. My suggestion? The best: the kids. The worst: the kids.

Jill Berry

Former headteacher

A heavy burden for young shoulders

The government is going to introduce testing of four- and five-year-olds in England through a "baseline check". Those children will be among the youngest in the world to undergo academic assessment. I wonder when newspapers will carry the first advertisements offering parents help in preparing their children for the test - for a fee, of course.

Colin Richards

Spark Bridge, Cumbria

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