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Monthly Archives: October 2013

“Why are all the Springboard teachers old?”

Shaun* is always full of questions and observations. His eyes dart around the room and thoughts come tumbling out at a hundred miles an hour. “Why… “   “Can I… “   “Can you…”  “What if…”

This energy and interest in the world is a fantastic thing but it can get in the way of learning as Shaun finds it hard to concentrate on the task in hand. When I first asked him to read I thought he was hesitating over the words but then I realised that his eyes were looking everywhere on the page as he took in every tiny detail in the pictures. Brilliant, he is appreciating the book and interpreting the story through the illustrations – I would never want to discourage a child from enjoying a book BUT he would happily do this all day and we need to practise reading. After a few sessions I realised that Shaun likes rules and targets so I got out our large sand-timer and said he had one minute to look through the book at the pictures himself, then one minute to ask any questions and talk about the story – then he needed to focus on reading. This worked really well as it helped him to concentrate on the words and he wasn’t getting frustrated by forgetting where he was in the sentence. His fluency really improved and he was able to show that he does have good strategies for tackling new words rather than picture-based guesses.

Back to Shaun’s original question. Why are all the Springboard teachers old?”  I told him that older people had lots of time to learn lots of things about helping children with literacy so that’s why they are good teachers !

Whilst our overall Springboard team is diverse, our centre is a mature one, it’s true. We are all in our 50s and 60s and have grown up children. Our experience with our own children is invaluable. We understand how every parent, whatever their social background, gets very stressed if their child is not doing well at school.  We  know that children within the same family can develop at different rates and how children are individuals – what works with one child may not work with another due to different personality traits.

We all find one to one tutoring very rewarding as it gives us the chance to make a long-lasting difference to a child’s confidence and literacy skills. We have two volunteers who each work with two children for half and hour two mornings a week. This is a real commitment as it is for the whole school year. Springboard could not reach so many children if we did not have this dedicated unpaid workforce. In addition to myself (Centre Manager) we have a paid Literacy Intervention Tutor and together we work with five or six children each. Supporting each other is very important as we all have the occasional day when things don’t go so well. The children’s behaviour is usually very good when they have individual attention but we do experience our pupils slithering under the table, complaining they are too tired or randomly grabbing anything in arms reach. It can also be frustrating when they forget things they have been taught on many occasions but we have to remind each other that’s why the children are with us in the first place. If they found everything easy we wouldn’t be working with them!

At the end of the half term it’s time to look back and celebrate what we’ve achieved in the past six weeks: Shaun is ready to move on to the next level of the phonics programme, Adam* got 10/10 in his class spelling test for the first time and Aaron* has stopped replying “I don’t know” when asked to do anything and is now able to use magnetic letters to form CVC (consonant vowel consonant) words like man and sit. All our new children have gained in confidence in their Springboard sessions and we are looking forward to seeing them progress further after half term.

*All children’s names changed

 

I love the autumn. New school year, new energy, new stationery and this year- new blog !

I’m a Centre Manager for the literacy charity Springboard for Children and this is my dream job. I’ve been working in education for many years in a variety of teaching and management roles but this really is the most rewarding job I’ve ever done. It is a privilege and a joy to spend half an hour, twice a week with a child and really get to grips with why they are finding learning to read and write more difficult than their classmates. This is a luxury that class teachers don’t have and why Springboard tuition is so vital in preventing underachievement.

The aim of this monthly blog will be to give readers an insight into the work we do: the daily triumphs and set-backs, the dedication of our team members, the support from our school staff and most of all the experiences of the children.

This time of year we are busy assessing new students.  So how do we choose the pupils who make up the fifteen that we support each week?  The priority at my school is early intervention so we target Year 1 and 2 children (5, 6 and 7 year olds). We need to work with children before low self esteem really takes hold and hampers progress.

At the beginning of term, we meet with the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) who uses the school’s assessment data to highlight which children are causing concern. This time there were about double the number we had places for so we decided to assess all these children’s letter/sound knowledge. We had seven children continuing from last year so we had only eight places to fill. We chose children who had delayed speech and language combined with low scores for letter/sound knowledge. We also prioritised children who had good oral language but not the expected progress in phonics, reading and writing.

The first few weeks with our new students are a vital time. We soon get to know each child’s gaps in knowledge and strengths to build on. Gradually their personalities emerge. At first they can be really shy and reluctant to make mistakes like Aaron* with the beautiful smile and the constant refrain “I don’t know”.  Josh* wriggles in his seat, fiddles with everything on the table and asks “have I finished now?” every few minutes. These five year olds need short tasks with plenty of encouragement and opportunities for success.  We can’t take anything for granted: Josh doesn’t always remember that words and sentences must be tackled from left to right. Amy* doesn’t understand the words first and last when asked questions about what happened in a story. Last year I worked with a child who didn’t know the difference between a letter and a number at the beginning of the year.

Our returning children remind us of how much progress can be made in a school year. Cameron* had a reading age of less than 4 years 6 months when he started Springboard aged 6 last September, by June he had improved to 6 years 3 months. He used to be very stressed by reading; becoming tearful easily if he was faced with a new task which he decided was too difficult. Cameron still needs work on reading and spelling to help him catch up with his classmates but his new-found confidence and enthusiasm will make all the difference in his progress towards this goal. His dad said today

“I can’t say enough about what Springboard has done for my son. I can see him at home using his phonics when he is doing his homework, when we are on the bus looking at signs, everywhere we go he is reading now. I’m so proud of him”

That’s what Springboard is all about and a good note to end on. Look out for the next blog and in the meantime please comment or ask questions below. To find out more about Springboard for Children follow the links.

*All children’s names have been changed.