When the library might as well be on the Moon

24th May 1996 at 01:00
Janet Brennan (TES, May 10) suggests that teachers are making reading too comfortable and that we should change parents' expectations about "hearing readers" every day.

No doubt many parents do have these expectations, but it seems that Janet Brennan, Gillian Shephard and OFSTED inspectors live in a world where parents are universally supportive.

They have no idea of the largely non-literate culture in most inner-city or overspill areas. These are areas where there are few, if any, books in the home, few adults are seen to read and, for example, suggestions about visits to the library are greeted with stunned silence as if I'd suggested a trip to the Moon.

Children in these environments arrive at nursery having spent their pre-school years with a dummy as a permanent fixture and the television as a babysitter.

Consequently, they have little language, a short concentration span and minimal experience of books and rhymes. The parents want their children to read, but with no effort from themselves. The reading books are lost, forgotten, scribbled on by the baby or chewed by the dog.

Against this background, we try to provide a rich literate environment which the children do enjoy - but they have a lot of catching up to do.

We teach phonics, spelling and word skills. We make individual books, whole-class books and pop-up books, and share stories, poems, rhymes and riddles. But it is to my frustration as well as Gillian Shephard's concern that some of my Year 2 children will be going to junior school unable to read independently.

Is this really because I am a "weak" teacher? I have an honours degree in English and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education and I have attended a postgraduate course in teaching reading, and courses on the Kickstart programme (similar to Reading Recovery).

I have a supportive head who organises meetings for parents to explain how we teach reading and courses (with cr che) on how they can help their children. Both are poorly attended.

We need more support in areas like this to persuade the parents that they can make the difference in this cycle of under-achievement.

Teachers mostly do know how to teach reading, but it is a co-operative venture involving home as well as school, and we need all parents, not just those in comfortable areas, to support us in achieving the full potential of their children.

Gillian Barraclough 21 Southern Road Sale, Cheshire

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