December 02, 2004

I see that in my report from the day before yesterday of that VRH refreshment meeting, I really left out the most important thing I learned, which is that reading is not the sole purpose of VRH. Paul The Boss even said that he somewhat regretted the title of the organisation, Volunteer Reading Help, because it missed out other important things, like children just talking, with an adult, and just becoming more confident. Once they see the basic point of words, and can say them confidently, then the next step, of reading them and writing them, comes far easier.

Paul The Boss even used a word I had never heard before – "oracy" – which apparently he heard Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools Stephen Twigg use in a speech about a year ago. Paul The Boss suspected Stephen Twigg of having made the word up, or that the word was at least something made up by New Labour. But he liked it anyway, or he wouldn't have mentioned it.

So, is oracy a real word? You be the judge. I have the strong impression that we have the education academics to thank for it, and that before 1990 it definitely wasn't a word. But one thing's for sure, which is that Stephen Twigg did not make it up.

However, the fact that someone like Paul The Boss finds this word useful makes me respect it, despite its likely recent academic origins. What Paul The Boss has in mind is a general confidence with words, spoken as well as written, although whether the academics mean exactly that by it I don't know. And we VRH volunteers are there not just to get our charges reading, but, if that fails, simply to get them talking. Confident in speaking with an adult. Used to the idea that words can communicate, that communication, indeed, is possible.

Associated with this is an ethic of voluntariness. We aren't there to compel these kids to do anything they don't want to do. If they want to play games, fine, that's what we do. If only because playing games does often involve reading in various ways, as was the case today when Boy Two and I played a card game that involved him reading the names of soccer players and their countries.

What separates all this from the aimless chaos of a badly run primary school is that each child has our undivided attention for the duration of the session. Just sitting and doing nothing and getting bored, it is absolutely not.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:37 PM
Category: Brian's brilliant teaching careerEducation theory