My fascination with the teaching of reading began with my very first pupil. After leaving training college, I was appointed to Spring Hills Primary School, Harlow ëNew Towní in 1962. At that time, the schools were built before the houses were completed, so children were admitted to our school as they moved into the new houses. Consequently, the first child to be admitted was a little boy of five years of age who had come over from Canada with his family. Malcolm was to be my sole pupil for two weeks and I took full advantage of our time together to begin teaching him to read. When, after a couple of days, he had learned by sight the 12 words that formed the text of the first reading book, I presented him with the book because, of course, I knew he would be able to read it right through. Malcolm looked worried when he realised that I expected him to actually read this book, but after a couple of pages the ëpenny dropped,í he turned to me with a look of delight on his face and said, ëIím reading!í
I never forgot that look, and throughout the years with so many other children, I still love seeing that look of realisation and delight.
However, the tools with which we taught reading, that is the reading schemes, were flawed. The method used was good ñ they based the stories on the ëMost Used Words in the English Language,í but they all had snags which meant that I began to write my own books to fill the gaps in the published reading schemes.
The books I wrote needed to contain a strictly controlled vocabulary and of course, they had to have pictures. To begin with I trawled through colouring books to find a picture that I could cut out, colour and stick on my hand-made book to go with the necessary text. But when I got my first computer in 1989, I now trawled through thousands of clip art pictures for just the right one and then produced much better looking ëproperí books for the children that would fit in the gaps in the published reading schemes. And so I have gone on teaching children to read ñ often those who were failing to read with the changing methods of reading in schools. But over the years the old reading schemes disappeared and I was obliged to write a complete reading scheme of my own.
Then one of my daughters (probably tired of hearing me say, ëIf the government would only ask me ñ I would show them how to teach children to read!í) suggested that I should publish my reading scheme and she offered to share the cost of publication!
But to do this at all, I would need an artist to do the many illustrations for the whole scheme of 12 books. I asked two artists, both of whom I was prepared to pay to do the job, but whilst I was waiting for them to get down to the work, I started ëdoodling.í Showing various people my resulting computer generated books, I was amazed to hear them say that I didnít need an artist! My pictures were described as ëold-fashioned charm!í So, saving us quite a lot of money, my books have been published with my own illustrations.
We wanted to market the books as a complete kit for parents to teach their children at home, because we considered it unlikely that schools would be interested in the ëLook and Sayí method of teaching reading as nowadays they teach through the phonic method. So we have designed and had made a very strong plastic carrying case which is attractive to both children and parents. The kit, therefore contains 12 reading books, a Parentsí Guide, three sets of shape cards with which parents can judge whether their child is ready to learn to read, a set of the 12 words of the first reading book and a set of stickers to give the child as he finishes each book.
The reading scheme is unique in that it strips out all unnecessary flashcards and gimmicks, leaving adults with an extremely simple tool with which they can teach their child to read with no special tutoring experience. It is a joy to use for adult and child, with astonishing results. All children are different of course, but I have consistently found that a child of four years of age can learn to read using this method within five weeks.
We are only at the start of the marketing experience, but are working at publicising the scheme in addition to running ëtrialsí with ëreluctant readersí in the local school. As this trial proves successful, we hope to attract publicity that will lead to sales. Our ultimate aim is to change the whole way children are taught to read in schools. Only in this way, can we improve the appalling statistics of school-leavers who cannot read well enough.
Every child I have taught using this scheme has benefited from my method, from every spectrum of learning ability. We truly believe that if our scheme was used with pre-school and primary children, it would have a phenomenal effect on the UKís literacy standards in a short space of time. So although our company is just starting up, we have high hopes and bags of confidence in our product. Watch this space!
Helena Rogers www.readingrevival.com
I am 69 years old and was a teacher until I retired in 1992 (or thereabouts!). I have a daughter from my first marriage, but I have been married to my present husband for 40 years and we have twin daughters. Altogether I have 4 grandchildren.
Most of my working life has been in teaching, becoming the Head Teacher of a small first school in Dorset in the 70ís, and later Head of a special psychiatric unit for Emotionally Disturbed Children in Lancashire for several years. Since retiring as a teacher I have turned my hand to varied things such as being the soprano soloist for a 750 voice Dutch choir in an oratorio written specifically for my voice and filmed in Israel for Dutch TV. I have supported my husband in his work as the minister of a church and holiday centre manager, and am now a parish councillor in the village where we have settled in Devon. I took up writing and have had five books published, one of which was Christian Biography of the Year 2001. In recent years I have written several pantomimes for local companies, but now most of my time is taken up with devising, writing and illustrating a reading scheme with which parents can teach their children to read at home.