Square Pegs and Round Holes 1/2

05Oct14
My son is a keen and able reader. Not quite ten, he read and enjoyed The Hobbit earlier this year. He likes both Harry Potter and Alex Rider. David Walliams‘ books are now ‘too young for him’ and he’s a big fan of variations on classic myths and fairy tales – The Sisters Grimm and Percy Jackson, for example. He was a ‘free reader’ most of last year and continues to make progress when tested in school, in both reading and writing.

He’s now back on the reading scheme – level 17 Oxford. According to the official website of the series, these books are at a lower level than the reading age as assessed by the school last year of 11 years, 9 months. They’re short, mainly dull, and despite the claim of his teacher that he needs to be reading a wider variety the school stock are almost all adapted classics. Jane Eyre and Silas Mariner for a ten year old boy? Really?

We’ve got a good range at home, and he’s reading these in between finishing off the official school books (which he manages in less than an hour, but can’t change more than a couple of times a week). It’s not stopping him from reading. But I hate that for the first time in ages, my son sees reading as a chore.

You can probably tell I’m a little annoyed about all this.

Reasons and Excuses

I’m pretty sure that there are two reasons his school are being so inflexible. Firstly it’s a new scheme, a new teacher and they’ve got a lot on at this time of year. Only two kids – the other a year older – are on this level in the school. The scheme and approach probably work fine with everyone else, and adapting it to one student is a big time commitment. I understand that. I really do.

The other is about assessment. We’d assumed that the only way he can be assessed (via the Suffolk reading scale, apparently) is by reading the books that match it. We’re now not sure that’s right. The school have chosen an assessment strategy which doesn’t cater for the highest ability. It will be interesting to see how they try to show progress, seeing as these are too easy for him.

I think they didn’t believe at first how quickly he was reading them. When he demonstrated that he had understood, retained and could explain the books verbally, they tried to slow him down. “Write a review.” “Discuss it with your parents so they can write in your record.” And, I kid you not – “Write a list of all the unstressed vowels.”

Maybe this week he’ll be told them while standing on his head. But that won’t address the problem – in fact, two problems – with this specific range.

Boredom and Spoilers

I should probably read a wider range of books myself. I’ll hold my hand up to sometimes limiting myself to SF and fantasy too much. But he does read a range, given the choice – and this selection doesn’t give him an option. Adapted classics, followed by… well, more adapted classics. He liked Frankenstein. Jekyll and Hyde scared him. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights bored him. Silas Mariner was an ordeal. This is not varied. If the school can’t afford to buy more (which, for such a small number of kids, I can understand) then why can’t he read his own as well? We’d happily accept a list of recommendations from the teacher. What about Harry Potter, Malorie Blackman, Young James Bond or Sherlock Holmes, Phillip Pullman, Michelle Paver (he liked this, thanks to @alomshaha for the suggestion)? If they have to be classics: Narnia, John Masefield, E. Nesbitt…

The other issue is that if he’s read – or been made to read – versions of great books like Frankenstein or the Three Musketeers now, what are the chances he’ll enjoy the full editions in a couple of years? Why spoil his future enjoyment this way? I doubt his GCSE English teacher will let him read Percy Jackson when the rest of the class are reading Jekyll and Hyde for the first time, just because he knows the ending. A crap film can spoil a good book (Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers, step forward) and I can’t see why this would be different. I’m sure the publishers have lots of reasons for getting ‘classics’ on to the list, but haven’t teachers pointed out that kids will grow up to have a lifetime of enjoying good books?

Ranting and Reflection

Having to assess all kids against one set of standards inevitably means that some find it too hard, some too easy. When I stopped thinking like a parent, and started thinking like a teacher, this made a lot more sense. I’m sure I’ve done this at some point and my reflections will be in a separate post, hopefully in a few days. For now I needed to rant, and hopefully you’re still reading to see I acknowledge that!

I’d really welcome any responses on this one – especially from any primary colleagues!

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3 Responses to “Square Pegs and Round Holes 1/2”

  1. 1 jobadge

    Lots of things going on here! You say this is a new teacher. New to the school or NQT? nothing to stop you providing more suitable books at home but I realise you want to make sure his teacher realises his strengths and challenges him.
    I had a similar issue with my daughter in year 2 who was reading Harry Potter at home and was on the reading scheme at school. She sat a Suffolk reading test, scored age 11 when she was 7 and they got her off the scheme and choosing her own books. They had missed her ability as she was bored and hated reading aloud (too slow for her!!). I was just as frustrated as you but it did get sorted!
    Raise your concerns with the teacher, tell him/ her what he can read at home and ask that he brings his own books in.

  2. Had similar issue in year 3 on transition from infants to juniors. One potential reason is that reading scheme books (in our experience) are chosen based on the child’s national curriculum level in reading NOT their reading age/interest. If you look at APP grids at primary this is also about discussing the text etc. What teachers need to realise is that an able reader can still discuss a book of their interest and age reading level at whatever NC level they are at. If you present them with a tediously easy book they may not bother to respond.
    My son was totally uninspired by contrived reading scheme text but could avidly discuss real texts at home.

    From the teachers’ perspective they have to do guided reading so having levelled books is very helpful, also books that address what they have to teach.

    My son’s school is now running a library reading challenge which is brilliant (you get gold, silver or bronze certificate when you have read 8 books from a long list at each level and have answered quiz to show you have read it).

    Reading is a complex issue and the reading of real books is part of it. Personally I think levelled books should be confined to guided reading as as a parent I probably never ask the right questions any way!

  3. Try him on the swallows and amazons books – there are lots and should keep him going for a while and stretch the old vocabulary.
    Also, classics like White Fang and Treasure Island, writers like Ursula Le Guin (wizard of earthsea) are good for fantasy.
    Tbh, I’d get down to your local library and stock up (my son now costing me a fortune!) – and *whispers* my son didn’t read a school reader for 3ish years. Once they are gobbling books like this I consider my primary job done.


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