Magic Dust

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11+ exam By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: 11+ exam
Last updated: 26/02/2018
Tags: oedipus and electra complex, tough love

  It is said the first hundred high frequency words make up 25% of the words we use.  That means there is a place for teaching the high frequency words, and expecting them to be known words.  What does, 'expecting them to be known words' mean?

Well, it is a phrase used in books, but as with most things, one needs to aim for this expectation.  They have seen the words, 'though', 'through', 'thought', 'throw' in context, so they need to have them as friends.  They need to 'learn to learn'.  

There are various reasons why a pupil may not be learning at the rate one would expect.  If they are S.E.N, then that is a potential reason.  There are many, many others.  One reason which is not well documented, so no doubt controversial, is the result of close family ties.  The reluctance to have a mature language, and thus, be independent.

My own experience as a child, allows me to have an insight into this.  I made up my own language as a child, and I had no use for another language.  I didn't need another language as I was going to do what I wanted, and my mother and siblings knew my language anyway.  If I wanted a drink of evaporated milk, I said, "Vap, Vap," and if someone called it something else, that had nothing to do with me.  My reception teacher was unimpressed with my personality, to the extent she gave me a book, inscribed with the passage, 'A perfect book for you.'  It was the story of a man who killed 7 flies with one blow, and boasted about this fact, until, in the end, he had to flee the town, as everyone expected him to kill the approaching dragon. I have to admit, she had me spot on!  She went on maternity leave shortly after giving me the book, and never returned.

The speech therapist saw me for one hour a week.  My mother would take me on the bus, from Catford to Lee Green.  The speech therapist worked with me alone.  She asked me to repeat words, and when I did not repeat them in the correct manner, she made me.  I can still remember the feeling I had when I reluctantly pronounced the words correctly for the first time, instead of changing them somehow.  The game was up.  My mother gave me the afternoons off for attending speech therapy, until she was asked by my school to stop doing that.  

This whole experience has helped me as a teacher.  Sometimes pupils refuse to work at an 'accelerated' rate, refuse to learn in the manner they are capable of, refuse to continue up the levels or gain fluency.  At that point, one needs to be sensitive and flexible, and as persuasive as possible.  'She made me' is how it seemed to me, when I was young; Obviously, you can't be made.  I try to get the pupil to see reading as exciting (which it is).  If they saw reading in terms of a punishment, they become liberated.  That is when I start up the metaphorical car, and begin to drive.  

It's a magical moment for everyone.  The results are an increase in reading age.  The 'synthetic phonic' approach is like an army trying to wade through mud, as opposed to magic dust simply floating past the battle field.  

When the magic dust doesn't arrive, and one cannot see if one is about to drive a super car or perfectly acceptable saloon, then it is very disappointing.  

The pupil will look for ways to climb out of the window with the keys.  Someone may help them climb out of the window.  However, would they even know they were helping them, or if you told them, would they agree they helped.  The pupil is a super computer, and they may use that computer to defy, and they can be very cunning!

Ultimately, there's only so much time in a school or private setting, and it is disappointing if little or no progress is made, as the lessons may have to end.  Of course, one can't help but reflect upon how someone else would have been able to succeed.  It is not interesting, this self-reflection, it is just disappointing.  I think back to me, in Lee Green, and what would have happened if the state hadn't paid for that intervention.  Of course, I didn't necessarily need a speech therapist, as in effect, I was disobedient, but I needed someone to do what she did.

Interestingly, I met the speech therapist later on, as a teenager.  My mother recognised her.  She recognised me, but addressed only my mother.  It was this detachment, complete and absolute, that changed my life.  You are being trained to do something, and the expectation is, you will do it.

Of course, games, high frequency word games, online games, online books etc, are all interesting options.  What I'm addressing in this article is a reading age staying the same, or if you like, a set of skills staying the same, despite hours of work.  Perhaps, a refusal to engage the brain.  The games may work to an extent, but to retain the words, you need to engage. (I've sat in hours of French language lessons, but I'm still unable to speak French.) 

As with all these articles I write here, I hope they are helpful, and do not offend.  I think the motto, "Keep it fun as long as there is progress, and they are reading etc", is absolutely fine for most pupils.


 I have reached the levels expected of an accelerated reading teacher, but not with every pupil.  The magic dust does not materialise at the stroke of a wand, and one needs all the skills of a 'master teacher' making 'master decisions'.  One thing for sure, I'm eternally grateful for learning to read, and I want to succeed with all my pupils.  There is guilt and disappointment attached, if I fail to roar into the sunset! Much better, to hear someone say, "I can't believe what you have managed to do.  I just can't believe it," and reply, "Thanks, that's kind of you."  Just another day in the life of a 'Master teacher' making masterful decisions.  

So, to conclude, please realise if you do have an issue, you may just need someone detached from the situation, to kick-start the engine.  That does not need to be a teacher, but that kind of 'authority' may just mean something to the pupil.  Also, remember, my mother was asked to wait outside my speech therapist's room for a reason.  Her love was the reason I'd stopped myself entering into the world.  After I learnt to read, she would be able to devote her time to all her children and her husband, instead of just me.  


Mr.Tyley 11+ exam Tutor (South East London)

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