[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1993/2 pp6,7 later designated J15.]
[Also on this page: Ilitracy in British Prisns.]
[See Journal and Bulletin articles on ita, including some by Ronald Threadgall.]

Remedial Education and a Consistent Alphabet.

Ronald Threadgall.

Ronald Threadgall was for many years a remedial literacy teacher at secondary level, in particular Head of the Remedial Department at Clacton County High School, Essex. For this work he used the Initial Teaching Alphabet, and from 1985 to 1993 was General Secretary of the United Kingdom i.t.a. Federation. As the Simplified Spelling Society's research group was planning an investigation of the use of a regularized spelling system for remedial teaching, he was invited to address a meeting of the Society's committee on Saturday 30 January on his experiences in using the i.t.a. with remedial pupils. The following is an outline of his address. He published a general account of the i.t.a. in the JSSS J7 1988/1, pp18-19.

The problems of an alphabet, like that of English today, that does not fit the sounds of the language may cause little difficulty for many children in gaining literacy, but for some the problems seem to be insuperable. The real solution would be a consistent alphabet for everyone to use; but as there is no immediate prospect of one being introduced, some turn to the idea of using a consistent spelling system as a teaching medium. But many questions arise in the minds of teachers, and problems are envisaged.

It is very easy to turn down an educational idea on the basis of what we imagine happens when a child learns. We need to open our minds, observe, and ourselves learn from the way things happen in the classroom. We need not be totally in the dark about the use of consistent alphabets in the teaching of literacy, as we have a very well researched precedent in the experience of the Initial Teaching Alphabet.

Sir James Pitman, who invented the i.t.a. in the 1950s, once told me he had considered using i.t.a. as a remedial tool rather than as an initial medium for infants, but the opportunity presented itself for the latter rather than the former. Nevertheless it has been used as a remedial tool: I so used it myself and developed ways of so using it for over 20 years in schools in different teaching situations.

The one difference between using i.t.a. and a consistent spelling system using the Roman alphabet is that, if the latter were used, all the letters would already be familiar to parents and teachers, as well as to many of the pupils. Such familiarity reduces the problem of moving into a new system. In every other respect there will be close parallels between using a regularized alphabet like the i.t.a. and the regularized use of conventional letters.

It is important that the method of instruction is completely phonic. It must not be assumed that, because remedial pupils have experience of the alphabet, they know the sound that each letter represents. It must be checked that each pupil knows and can pronounce each sound and connect it with the appropriate letter or letter combination.

Remedial pupils need to understand that the new system, unlike the old one they have already failed with, is consistent. They no longer need to guess any word: each one can be worked out. Confidence will grow with experience. Because each word can be worked out, there is no need to use very simple vocabulary. Adolescents, even if they are non-readers, have a much larger vocabulary than infants. Any word within their vocabulary can be used, which will make for more interesting texts. Boring or infantile texts will discourage reading. Material of interest to individuals should be prepared so as to encourage them. Consistent spelling also means learners are free to use any word they want in their writing, and not just those they can spell.

Regular, frequent practice and instruction is necessary. I insisted that my class had one period every day of English, and that they spent at least half an hour reading every day, even during weekends and holidays. The pace of improvement needs to be maintained so that pupils can measure their improvement and so be encouraged to continue. After six years of failure a pupil can become depressed and unwilling to persevere. To this end the course needs to be prepared with care. Material should be interesting or exciting. Then the pupils will want to read. Transliterating texts from other school subjects into the regular spelling system, while involving much work, is well worthwhile, as it gives pupils more practice in reading, and enables them to work faster and with more interest in these other subjects.

Pupils will progress at their own pace. I found that many transferred to traditional orthography after only 3 months, and most of those were then reading at least at their chronological age. Some took as long as 9 months. The time of transfer is therefore an individual matter. The reading transfer is usually immediate, occasionally without the pupil even realizing it has happened! The writing transfer usually takes from a week to a month. During this period the pupils were instructed to use traditional orthography only where they were sure of it; otherwise they would spell in i.t.a. Spelling needs to be systematically taught. I developed a Transfer Spelling Book with a small group of spellings to be learnt every day.

Everyone involved should understand exactly what is required, so that the greatest cooperation can be achieved. This includes teachers, parents and the pupils themselves. One thing that will slow progress and lose much of the benefit the use of regularized spelling can confer is the non-cooperation or the opposition of one of these. The leader of the project must be absolutely clear about the aims and objectives, have honestly examined the problems, real or imagined, and have solutions ready. It is important to discuss the project fully with all the parties involved. Pupils should be encouraged to look forward to taking part with excitement and real hope for an improvement in their literacy skills.

The results I found of using i.t.a. in such a situation were:

1. a higher self-esteem and confidence and an improved comparison with peers;
2. improved school attendance;
3. improved attitude and behaviour;
4. an opportunity to catch up with peers rather than continuing to slip back, in spite of effort;
5. intelligence and ability was given scope;
6. remedial help was needed for a much shorter time;
7. reading speed was greatly increased, giving an improved comprehension;
8. a pleasure in reading is experienced that continues for the rest of pupils' lives.

I used i.t.a. in two differing remedial situations. One was with a special remedial class, giving them one year's instruction (no more was needed), using i.t.a. in all subjects which were taught by a small group of teachers working together. The other was in a multi-ability situation with team teaching. The pupils were withdrawn for one period a day while they were learning the alphabet and early stages of reading. Otherwise they took a full part in the lessons with the rest of their class, but with all their written material in i.t.a. The teachers needed only to be able to read i.t.a. to mark pupils' work. I went into the classes occasionally to help individual pupils.

I believe all this would be valid for any scheme using a consistent orthography in a secondary remedial situation.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1993/2 p7 later designated J15]
[Chris Upward: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Pamflet 15, Book, Papers.]

Ilitracy in British Prisns.

Chris Upward.

This item is ritn in Cut Spelng.

An importnt field of bakground reserch for spelng reformrs is th degree of ilitracy found in th prisn population, as th social evil of ilitracy is ther manifestd in a particulrly acute form. Th foloing sumry and exerpt from a recent report contain som basic infrmation on educationl standrds, but they realy only represnt th startng point for much needd furthr reserch specificly on th question of ilitracy. Readrs ho can contribute furthr infrmation to help pursu this line of inquiry ar invited to rite to th editr.

In decembr 1991 th Prison Reform Trust (London) publishd a 6-paje paper entitled The Identikit Prisoner: characteristics of the prison population. It apeard in advance of th promisd results of a nationl prisn survey, for wich 10% of al male prisnrs and 20% of al female prisnrs wer intrvewd during 1991.

Topics covrd in th paper wer:

1 homelessness, 2 unemploymnt, 3 education, 4 mentl helth, 5 famly ties, 6 th route from care to custody, 7 relativs in jail, 8 aje, 9 jendr, 10 ethnicity, 11 avraj sentnce length, 12 discussion and conclusions.

Section 3, on education, is now givn in ful.

Education: Over 40% of prisnrs hav no forml educationl qualifications on entrng prisn. Prelimnry results from th nationl prisn survey ar shown in th table belo.

Educationl Qualifications
Vocationl qualifications
Hyest qualification O levl or equivlnt
Hyest qualification A levl or equivlnt
Proportion of Prisnrs None

In th academic year 1984/85, of 28,225 prisnrs asesd for litracy, 6.2% had a readng aje of eit years or less and 9.4% of 10 years or less. Th Home Ofice has estmated that around one half of al prisnrs hav functionl dificltis with litracy (source: NACRO).

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