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    What’s the most important success factor in education?

    March 25th, 2010

    Research shows that parental interest in their child’s education is the single most powerful predictor of achievement at age 16.
    Tony Richardson, Executive Director, Strategy and Communications, Becta

    Tomorrow the South African school holidays will start.  How can you encourage parents to play a more active role in the lives of their children over the coming weeks? 

    Here are ten ideas to get you started:

    1. Go to the beach or dam or climb a mountain or go for a long walk in a beautiful place.  This won’t cost much, it’s healthy and it gives time for meandering conversations.  You will learn what’s on your child’s mind and have unpressured time to share thoughts and ideas.
    2. Visit your local library together, each take out a book and read it!  It’s important for children to see their parents reading as this provides a model for them to follow.
    3. Switch the TV off for one evening.  Let your child choose how to spend the time together.
    4. Play a board game or a card game together. 
    5. Draw or paint a picture at the same time as your child is drawing or painting.  Sit at a table together.  This is surprisingly relaxing and fun!
    6. Cook or bake together or plant some seeds together.
    7. Go to the local park and kick a ball around or play on the swings!  Buy an ice cream.
    8. Use your cell phone to have a text conversation with your child.  You may be surprised at how different this is from a normal conversation.  Children  and teenagers often use text messaging confidently and express themselves better using this medium.
    9. If you have bicycles, don’t leave them rusting away… Go for a bike ride together.
    10. Have a treasure hunt.  Hide a small item and then write lots of little clues that will have your child scurrying from one place to the next before finally finding the treasure.

    What else can parents do this holiday?  Add your own ideas.  Print these suggestions and send them home with your end-of-term letter or school reports.

    Seven years in school and still can’t read!

    February 21st, 2010

     A few days ago I was asked to visit a South African high school to help teachers with some strategies to improve reading levels.  I was shocked to discover that between 10 and 20% of children entering that high school cannot read a single word.  A further 60% of these learners were reading at a very weak level.  This is an ordinary school.  I had just spent 15 minutes chatting with a lively class of Grade 10s – ordinary, intelligent kids.  How is this possible?

    We cannot blame the poor teachers for all the ills of society.  Socio-economic status and parental involvement are the two greatest indicators for academic performance in learners.  But this should spur us on to do whatever we can to help these kids overcome barriers and difficult circumstances.  Every child matters!

    So let’s start in the Foundation Phase.  I have heard and read about many different methods of teaching children to read and write.  There is no shortage of experts telling us how to do it!  Sometimes it can get quite confusing trying to apply different methods or follow the latest trend.

    Essentially, teaching someone to read is not difficult!  For a moment, just think about how you would teach reading if you were on a desert island without resources.  Where would you start?  What would you do next?  Sometimes we get so caught up with our methods and documentation that we can overlook the obvious…

    Start with the alphabet…. sounding the letters, not naming them (‘a’ as in ‘pan’ not ‘pane’).  Then build small words with these letters.  Let children have a go at building some of their own words – writing them down.  Then let them try a sentence on their own.  To begin with they will probably just write the intiial sound in each word… with a few extra sounds here and there. e.g. ‘I w t the pk.’ (I went to the park.)  Then you can write the sentence out for them to copy correctly and draw a picture.  It’s that simple!  Done regularly, together with the learning of key words (and lots of other reading activities) children WILL make progress in reading and writing.

    Which key words should you teach children?  In any language there are some words that are used more often than others.  We call these high-frequency words.  If you want a child to be able to read story books independently, then clearly you should teach them these words first - so they will recognise more words on the pages of story books!

    I have selected and sorted all the high-frequency words for you in the Talking Stories package.  I’m introducing them week by week on this blog.  First your children must have mastered the alphabet.   Then you can teach them to read the words in the lists I have given you. 

    It may seem a bit boring doing a letter sound each day and following it up with the same kind of worksheet or practice at writing the letter.  Similarly, it may sound tedious doing a list of key words each week and using them for a simple spelling test on Friday…  But this is EXACTLY the sort of repetition and reinforcement that is needed at this stage.  You can use easy games (I spy; guess which word I’m thinking of; find the matching words…) to liven things up a bit.  But please don’t give up!  Keep at it day after day; week after week. 

    The most important thing of all is that your heart is in what you’re doing.  Do you walk into your classroom with a spring in your step and expectancy in your heart?  Do you believe that your children will learn something new today?  Do you look at each one with love and compassion?  If you can answer “Yes” to these questions, then I am confident you have what it takes to get your children reading fluently!