Is there an 'r' in February?

17th February 2006 at 00:00
George is a lifelong learner. He must be one of my oldest students and he is determined to keep the depredations of age at bay by coming to the basic skills class once a week. In the meantime, he is keeping up with current affairs.

He always tells me what he has heard on the news, and one day he announced:

"They've shot him, you know."

"Who?" I asked.

"You know, the one they was looking for."

I wait for further details. "That Al Kyder," he says.

I try to explain to George that Al-Qaeda is not a man but a movement, loosely affiliated by anti-Western sentiments. George hears me out and then says: "Well, they've shot him anyway."

Last week George's opening remark was: "They're getting rid of the tenants."

Now I know George lives in sheltered accommodation, so I was quite alarmed.

"Why are they getting rid of them?" I asked.

"They're too old," said George. "They're replacing them with new ones."

"But what will happen to the old ones"?" I cried, indignantly.

"They'll all be burned," George declared.

This was terrible news, but George did not seem upset. "I've asked for Pounds 100-worth," he says.

Slowly it dawns on me: George is talking about pound;10 notes.

I do not know why but George never learned to read, despite years of coming to basic skills. I hoped I might get some more insight from a training day on dyslexia.

It was really interesting and the materials were of high quality. I enjoyed the first session by two presenters doing a slick double act (the Department for Education and Skills's Ant and Dec, perhaps) with PowerPoint slides and video clips. But then they asked us to work together to build up a picture of all the different learning difficulties by completing a big jigsaw on the floor.

That's good, isn't it? I mean, how many times do you go on a course where you are lectured from the front about learning styles? So, after the audio-visual stuff, it was great to have a chance to do some kinaesthetic learning. The jigsaw activity was very grown up, but somehow I still felt like a child.

It did not help that I have got hopeless spatial awareness. I'm the sort of person who pushes at a door marked pull, and if I have to read it backwards through the glass, I'm likely to smack myself in the face. I'm an auditory learner. So when we did the jigsaw exercise, I could immediately spot the differences between dysphasia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dyslexia, but I could not get my bits of the puzzle to fit. The others in the group had to help me turn them round.

As a result, I know more about dyslexia, I've experienced being a kinaesthetic learner (and felt childish), and I've been supported in my learning (and felt like a prat). All this made the course really useful.

The only thing I did not think much of was the lunch. Sure, the sandwiches were fresh and they were free, and there was fruit. But where were the deep-fried finger wotsits and wedges of cheesecake? Healthy eating may be OK for the students but I need some carbs and sugar to get through the afternoon session.

After the introductory day came the distance-learning modules. They are all on CD-Rom and the assignments will have to be emailed to the assessor. But although the rest of the programme was streamlined, the information and learning technology bit wasn't ready in time.

Eventually the disc flopped through the door just as my keyboard started to play up. However hard I thumped the keys, some of the letters failed to appear on the screen. Could the disc be programming my keyboard to behave as if it was dyslexic? Or was it was something to do with spilling coffee over it?

Whatever the cause, I had to spend ages checking my work to pick up all the odd spellings. So I've had my day out, and I've sent off my assignments.

Now it is back to base, or at least flitting between bases in community centres, daycare venues and schools, and thus doubling the challenge of finding somewhere to park.

It makes basic skills lecturing feel like a repertory company on fast-forward. In the morning a tragedy played out in a church hall; in the afternoon, a farce in a lecture room - and every performance worth an Oscar.

No two classes are the same but in every group there are always some who cannot spell February. And they cannot believe they have got through life without noticing that first "r". I get them to cross-check against their diaries but they are still sceptical. Nor are they prepared to take it on trust from me.

Of course I know how to spell it, I say, I've done the course.

Gill Moore is a basic skills lecturer

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