So it's back into the swing of things – week two and we are already being let loose on unsuspecting seven year olds as part of our English primary curriculum work.
One of the things I have always wondered about is the aversion many teachers and academics seem to have against 'learning to read' books (or 'basal readers' in the lingo). I have always assumed this is because they presented language in questionable ways, or dumbed down something that shouldn't be dumbed down. Conversely, these teachers would speak of the importance of 'quality children's literature', which always seemed a bit lofty to me, but still…
I realised today that the main benefit of literature over readers is simply one of motivation. From a pre-literate age, children (like the rest of us) love stories. Stories capture our interest, and sustain our engagement. It is for precisely this reason that 'story books' (or 'quality children's literature' if you must) are key. If we achieve mastery through practice, then anything that gets us turning page after page will make a difference in building literacy.
Yes, 'Dick and Jane' (and I jest, there is a wide range of language learning texts available, not all of which feature Dick and Jane) can probably teach someone to read. But what child is going to rush over to the book corner to re-discover the excitement of Dick running, or Jane seeing Dick running? There are far better things to do – from sailing over the sea with Max to heeding the word of the Onceler, from listening to Tashi's tales of far away to solving cases with Encyclopedia Brown. Stories that surprise us, characters that delight us, worlds that captivate us. And it is these stories that will stretch us to the increasingly dizzying heights of literacy.