Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jackie French - Teaching Kids To Read

On Tuesday I had the privilege of attending a talk given by Jackie French. She came to the kid's school to speak about teaching children to read.  Her talk, for me, was life-changing. Jackie has been a huge influence for a long time, her books on homemaking and sustainable living have put me on the path I am now treading.  But, it was what she had to say about learning to read, children who have difficulty learning to read and her own journey with dyslexia that meant so much to me.
You see I'm dyslexic.  I never had trouble reading, though I have problems with the order of the letters of the alphabet, and I had a lot of trouble writing.  For the first two years of school I wrote backwards, and my mother still has childish paintings with YROT scrawled across the bottom.  I also had a lot of trouble with mathematics and to this day cannot fathom times tables.  
To hear Jackie talking about the issues she'd had with the manifestations of her dyslexia was, for the first time in my life, to hear someone talking seriously about dyslexia.  I had always been told my dyslexia was something of an idiosyncrasy, and that if I tried hard enough I could overcome it.  Which has been true, to a degree.  But Jackie's approach was to work with the areas that cause the problems, instead of battling away at them until they're overcome.  It was a lightbulb moment for me, and the concept is one that I'm still digesting. 
So, here are my notes from Jackie's talk.


  • We are all told that ‘reading is good for you’ but that’s not why we do it.  We read because we love it, and storytelling is a basic human instinct
  • Books are not broccoli
  • JF is a skim reader – she usually reads the end of a book first and rarely gets 2/3 through it before moving onto another one.  Also has 6 books on the go and 20 in reserve
  • No short books for reluctant readers – giving them shorter books, or ‘funny’ books often doesn’t work.
    • You need to find what the person loves and then get them to read about it.  
    • Tale of boy who wouldn’t read, but was given books like ‘day my bum exploded.’  Then got his hands on the Australian Book of Poultry disease, complete with gross photos, read it from cover to cover and has yet to give it back 15 years later.  He loved non-fiction – the rest just bored him
    • Boys often get girly books – horses, ballerinas
  • Kids can handle big books – if they’re interested they’ll read it.
  • Publishers good at putting relevant covers on books – so kids can judge a book by its cover – if they want to read it (no matter what you think) then let them
  • Don’t make them finish the book
  • Teach them how to ‘taste’ a book, have a sample of what’s in it, if they don’t like it they can ‘spit it out’
  • Kids sometimes don’t read in the same way as other kids. 
    • No one size fits all.  
    • Jackie talked about her own dyslexia.  How reading big font books slowly, made her feel physically ill (tracking issues) but the tiny text of a Black Beauty book read quickly was no problem at all
    • She has seen kids with similar problems to her – specialist ophthalmologist can diagnose
  • Parents know best, usually if they think there’s a problem then there probably is
  • Look at a kid's peer group –they’ll find other kids with similar problems – kids with learning difficulties stick together
  • JF still cannot focus on numbers
  • Writing
    • writing should not be taught in conjunction with reading.  Different skills. Kids don’t have motor skills to write well until 7 or older. However, 3yo can comprehend keyboards and use them to write
    • Writing-wise, laptops are the best thing ever.  
    • Also many kids having trouble reading books are making better progress with kindles/e-readers
    • Story of teenage girl who could not write.  When persuaded to write, she could, but was all in one continuous line all over the page – didn’t know where to put the pen on the page – got her on a computer and she hasn’t looked back
    • Another girl who ‘couldn’t write’ showed Jackie her work. Jackie read it fine – but they realized she had read it phonetically, which was how it was written.  
    • These people are labeled ‘stupid’ and that label never leaves them.
  • Stupid is one of the worst words in the world
  • Once a person in labelled stupid it stays with them for life
  • In houses where the tv is constantly on in the background children can have difficulty hearing how words are enunciated – this then leads to difficulty spelling
  • Keyboards are wonderful – on a laptop handwriting and spelling don’t matter (txt language and spellchecker).  Small kids don’t have the coordination to write, are able to write on a keyboard
  • Reading and writing are two different things, shouldn’t be taught together
  • Reading out loud is very important, but if kids have difficulty with it, don’t make them do it – making them feel humiliated isn’t going to achieve anything
  • Children with reading and writing disabilities often do better with computers, yet the government cuts back and cuts back on funding for computers in schools.  She asked for all of us to lobby the government to get this changed.

4 people love me:

greenfumb said...

I would so love to have been there. I teach kids with learning difficulties to read and everything she said rang true. Also thanks to you her book about backyard sustainability has become my bible, I read it all the time. You lucky lucky thing.

Luqman Michel said...

You wrote:But Jackie's approach was to work with the areas that cause the problems.

I have been successfully teaching dyslexic children for more than 5 years. All my students learn to read in 2 languages and some in 3. They learn to read in Malay, romanised Mandarin and English.They can all read fluently in Malay and Romanised Mandarin. However they find it difficult to read in English.

I find that the areas that cause them problem in reading in English is the inconsistency in English orthography. They need to be told to not make sense of the grapheme and phoneme of most of the words in English. This is simply because English is an orthographically inconsistent language.
Luqman Michel
http://www.parentingdyslexia.com

Caitlyn Nicholas said...

Oh Greenfumb, I wish you'd been there as well. It was so great and you'd probably have appreciated what she had to say more than I.

Hey Luqman, that's a really interesting point and not one I'd ever thought of. Thanks for your comment. :)

greenfumb said...

I would so love to have been there. I teach kids with learning difficulties to read and everything she said rang true. Also thanks to you her book about backyard sustainability has become my bible, I read it all the time. You lucky lucky thing.