1.1. You will read an article written by a mother whose child started reading later than others. Before you read, in groups discuss the following.
1. How important do you think it is for children to start reading early?
2. Generally speaking, at what age do children in your country learn to read?
3. What should be the role of the parents in a child’s early education?
1.2. The following words and phrases appear in the passage. Look at the title, then in pairs discuss how they might be connected with the subject of children learning to read.
• coaxed, pressed and, if required, bribed
• cooperate with others
1.3. Read the first and the last sentence of each paragraph. Can you guess what each paragraph is about? Now, read quickly and check.
YOU CAN MAKE ME DO IT,
BUT YOU CAN’T MAKE ME LIKE IT
We force children into reading far too early. Today Einstein, who learnt to read at 10, would be in remedial class, argues Anne Karpf.
A good news story about education? It sounds like an oxymoron, but blazoned on Monday’s front pages was the finding of a major new international survey that ‘UK pupils move close to top of world class’, especially in reading. This will have been gratifying to a government for whom ‘education, education, education’ increasingly seems to be a euphemism for ‘reading, reading, reading’. But such singlemindedness has had other, unacknowledged consequences.
Traditionalists, however, maintain that you’re never too young to learn to read: on the contrary, the earlier the better. Reading, and especially early reading, is considered so self-evidently good that children are coaxed, pressed and, if required, bribed into submission.
My own position has changed radically between my first and second children. The first taught herself to read at the age of four. Thereafter she secreted books around her bed like contraband, and had to be physically prised from them at the dinner table. When her younger sister started school last year, I expected a repeat performance.
“Should I be vacuuming away her words, and pumping in someone else’s? Should I have been coercing her to try to read when she was plainly unwilling? I can coerce when it’s necessary, but the thought of becoming a dictator in the matter of when she learned to read seemed so awful that I decided to stop meddling altogether.
But in other schools there’s no shortage of horror stories, like the parents of four-year-olds paying for coaching to help them keep up with the fast readers. The mother of a four-and-a-half-year-old was told that her son had to apply himself to reading because the school didn’t want him to end up at the bottom of the pile. Einstein may have learned to read only at 10, but today he’d be stigmatised and in remedial class.
Other parents are more successful in their efforts, yet all children get there in the end. What counts, surely, is how they do so, since this is paramount for future pleasure. You can, just about, drill children into learning to read, but you can’t compel them to enjoy it. In a culture increasingly obsessed with what is measurable, what a pity reading pleasure can’t be tested?
I think my own now almost-six-year-old would have preferred this approach. However, something has recently clicked in the reading part of her brain, and she is on the way to becoming a voracious reader. It’s probably sheer coincidence that this transformation was over exactly the same period that she started learning the violin.
1.4. Read the article. Six paragraphs have been removed. Insert them from the paragraphs (A – G). There is one paragraph you don’t need to use.
Like other reception class mothers, I peeked at her friends’ book-bags to see if the books they were reading were more advanced. Invariably they were. My growing anxiety was assuaged by a wise fellow mother remarking that my exuberant child was busily engaged in things, like pretend games and drawing, which delighted her more. She also loves books, but often pleads for the right to be able to make up her own stories to the pictures (frequently more exciting than those by the author).
Those who consider such reservations a middle-class luxury should look at Europe. We’re alone in bullying children to read so young. The Norwegians don’t start until they’re seven, when it’s usually painless. Sylvia Hopland, headteacher of the Norwegian School in London, says: “We know that we could teach children to read at four, but we want them to spend those years playing. We want to teach them to solve problems, cooperate with others and cope with life.”
Imagine the blow that might have dealt to his creative genius. Also, one problem with exerting such pressure on pre-school children is that it can make children resistant to reading. Once affecting extravagant interest in my second daughter’s new book-title, I was rewarded with: “You’re just trying to get me to read it and I won’t.”
When I asked her to tell me what she thought of her classes, she was unabashedly sincere: “I like books with pictures, but books with too many words are boring.” My immediate urge was to force her, threaten her or coax her nose into her books. Until it suddenly occurred to me: at what age did I start reading?
For the best part of a year I lugged her wretched book-bag to and from school without opening it, and resolved as far as possible to follow her own reading timetable. Her reception teacher adopted what today is a rare, daring stance: there isn’t much you can do to make a child read before they’re ready.
Being against it, is like being against vitamins or bank holidays – completely perverse. Among the over half-million web pages devoted to teaching children to read, none of those I browsed are on learning to read too soon.
The obsession with reading has led to a major decline in the time and energy given over to music, art and drama. And the heresy that dare not speak its name is that children are being pressurized to learn to read too early.
1.5. Match the words from the article with the definitions below, then use them in your own sentences. You may change the form of the verbs if you wish.
1. pretending – affecting; e.g. Affecting shyness, the normally bold child refused to say a word.
2.lively and excitable;
3. a phrase where two contradictory terms appear together;
4. most important;
5. carried something heavy with difficulty;
6. persuade someone to do something against their will;
7. people who resist change and favour established ideas;
9. unacceptably unconventional and unreasonable;
10. very keen.
1.6. Explain the meaning of the following phrases taken from the article.
1. ... expected a repeat performance. (before gap 3);
2. ... the thought of becoming a dictator... . (before gap 4);
3. ... to end up at the bottom of the pile. (before gap 5);
4. ... something has recently clicked ... (after gap 6);
5. And the heresy that dare not speak its name ... (paragraph G).
2.1. Read the text below and look carefully at each line. Some of the lines are correct, and some have a word which shouldn’t be there. If a line is correct, put a tick at the end of the line. If a line has a word which shouldn’t be there, write the word at the end of the line. There are two examples at the beginning.
I find the way children spend hours just at watching TV quite depressing. It can’t be good for their imagination. I’m not very keen on watching myself. I’d rather to read a good book. I wish children would have switch off the TV and learn to enjoy the pleasures of reading. I have always been very fond of the reading – this comes from my mother who was a marvelous storyteller. When it was the time for us to go to bed she would say ‘It’s time we have had another story.’ If she’d said ‘Get into bed and switch the light off’ it would have been not very different. As it was, we began to look forward go to bedtime because we were expecting yet another unforgettable tale. If only wish I had had more the time to tell my children more stories when they were growing up. If they had been got into the habit of listening to stories at bedtime, they’d have grown to love literature more. They can’t stand to reading books now because they’d sooner they play some computer games instead.
2.2. In groups, discuss the following problems.
What is the value of learning to read early?
What are the pleasures of reading?
Should children be left alone to begin reading when they are ready or should they be forced into it?
2.3. Read the following tips for parents. Tick those ones which you think are the most important / helpful. What tips for parents would you add to encourage a child to read?