Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Can’t read, can’t write - episodes one and two

The original post and comments about this Channel 4 programme are now way down the blog (thread started on July 10th). Rather than bury the comments, I am posting the latest comment here (received last night after the second episode of the program was broadcast).

Rachel Simpson writes:

“Hi Maggie! I'm ranting watching the second episode of this programme tonight. Yikes. He should have spent six months with some Lit tutors before spending six months with students. Doesn't he realise that the curriculum is not the recipe book that they have in schools for literacy hour? Does he want to come to my house or yours or anyone else who teaches SfL (and many other folks I'm sure) and see the piles and piles of stuff we have to help people read and write better?

There were moments when it was really obvious that he usually works with children who have no option but to accept his behaviour as they can't easily get up and go home.

There are so many times that I feel that no-one knows what we do or cares what we do other than ourselves and the learners and the bean counters. This programme just confirms that we are invisible :( ”

Before I respond, can I just say that unfortunately I have no time at the moment to reply in huge detail. This will be redressed in mid August when I’ll have more time for blogging and generally letting off steam. In the meantime I hope this new post will provoke others to share their views.

Rachel, thanks so much for your comment. I couldn’t agree more. I feel the same – that no one much knows or cares what we do…

Does PB really think that we (literacy teachers) don’t know about different learning styles and teaching methods? Doesn’t he realise that he can use kinaesthetic methods (for example) without resorting to treating adults like children (and behaving like a child himself).

Here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order, about week 1 of the programme – I'm still so hopping mad (no space-hopper-related pun intended) and speechless about last night’s programme that will have to comment on that later.

True - the Skills for Life literacy materials are not brilliant – although I still think they are better than what we had before from the government (which was nothing!). To be fair to PB, this is, of course, no reason to justify them and I agree that the coverage of phonics (in the free government provided teaching materials) is terrible.

True - the depicted lesson looked more like an ESOL lesson but in that case why did he choose that one to visit / portray on the programme? And I thought showing a lesson where class members were asked to read a piece aloud to the group was again biased and gave the wrong impression of a ‘typical’ adult literacy class.

False – there is copious coverage of phonics in the Adult Literacy Curriculum, indeed the ‘title’ of the entire Word Level - Reading section throughout Entry Level is “Vocabulary, word recognition and phonics”. There is also extensive coverage of phonics in, what was, the Level 4 Certificate of Professional Practice for adult literacy practitioners. I know, from the popularity of phonics resources on my site, that phonics teaching is alive and active in many adult literacy classes. Although from the other perspective, the fact that the phonics resources are so popular is also further proof that there are no decent phonics materials available in the DfES SfL materials.

False - it was unfair to read out and focus solely on the Rt/E1.1 text level element (”Follow a short narrative …”) and to suggest that just because this is the first thing in the curriculum it is the first thing that has to be “done” and in isolation. For all its shortcomings – the curriculum does indeed state that “it is not intended that these three dimensions [text, sentence and word focus] should be taught one after the other; teachers will draw simultaneously on all three….” (page 7)

False – the materials (or the curriculum) are not supposed to be used from beginning to end as implied and we are not compelled by the government to use the learning materials.

I don’t really think it's fair to comment on the students involved but some things just did not ring true and were clearly over-dramatised (so I’m going to comment anyway!).

For example, the ‘can’t find the ham in the shop’ – I find it hard to believe that someone who is clearly very resourceful and has brought up a large family cannot find and recognise a packet of ham in a shop. The bit in the children’s library made me cringe – I suppose because it goes against everything I've been taught and believe about ‘not treating adults as children’. Although others may well look at it from the view that the learner wanted to read to her grandchildren and so it was therefore relevant.

There's a lot more I could say about episode 1 - inappropriate use of paper based intial assessment materials; misguided, inappropriate and insulting use of children's reading ages with adults (with no regard for language development); etc. - but I just don't have time at the moment.

It’s good to see that there has been a response from the Government about the first episode of the programme. John Denham (Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills) had a letter in the Independent on Sunday (July 27, 08) and has also written a piece in the Guardian Education (Monday July 28, 08).



It will be interesting to see what, if anything, results from this programme. If it encourages more adults to get help that can only be a good thing – my fear is that it will have the opposite effect.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Rachel. It was sickening to watch Phil Beadle's 'performance' with the students. One of the few bright spots in this week's programme was when Linda got up and walked out of the class. I suspect she was the one who had the courage to say what everyone else was thinking.
I suggest that as many people as possible send complaints to Channel 4. If you google 'Channel4 complaints' and follow the first link it comes up with, you will get a form which enables you to register an official complaint.
Amy Burgess
Chair, RaPAL www.rapal.org.uk

Anonymous said...

I had a feeling that one client had been chosen rather more for their telly-appeal than anything else.

Some of the strategies beggared belief - take the single mum who was taken off to see the expensive independent school for dyslexic children which was totally out of her reach. What was the point of that? To crush her spirit? Oh right, well, job done then.

The tiff and walk out smacked of stage management. One needs that sort of incident to keep the punters from switching over. Gives the programme a focal point and a bit of structure, y'know.

And as for wheeling in a calligrapher for someone who has a phobia about writing - words fail! No action could have made it more transparent that Beadell does not know his stuff.

Shocking to those who work in the field but remember that this is designed to entertain not to inform. A film about a well-run adult literacy class would not make an entertaining 1-hour show.
A great pity if it puts folks off joining a class but don't labour under any delusion that Channel 4 cares about that.

Anonymous said...

As a Skills for Life tutor of more than a decade's standing I agree that this programme may well put learners off. Who would want to come into a classroom where the learners use children's materials and the tutor feels the need to swear and tell everbody he needs to calm down?

Anonymous said...

I have now seen all three episodes of "Can'tRead, Can't Write" and read Phil Beadle's comments in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/aug/05/teaching.education) and am perplexed as to why a "super" teacher with no previous knowledge of teaching literacy was allowed to present his half-baked ideas and teaching methods on national television.

His comments on the core curriculum showed a complete lack of knowledge of the curriculum, the purpose of the curriculum or the teaching materials SfL teachers have developed over the years to improve literacy in their classes.

He showed lack of professionalism in critising a teacher whose class he observed and then the college at which that teacher taught. He lost his temper with the students, used far too much TTT and alienated several students.

I hope that none of my prospective students for September have seen the programme. It could have put them off literacy classes for life.