Overthinking again: the Simple View of Reading, system change, and alienation…

Any schematic representation of a human activity will necessarily lose something of that activity in its creation of categories. Any diagram can be as much of a rhetorical strategy, or a theoretical proposition, as is a representation of the same ideas in words. This is not to say that some diagrams aren’t as close to ‘reality’ as makes no difference in most situations – the Life Cycle of the Flea, or the Water Cycle, for instance.

But diagrams always pull us into a rather mechanistic view of the world, when in fact models based on complexity and networks can often get closer to what might actually be going on. These kinds of models, though, are very difficult – sometimes impossible – to represent in a 2-dimensional diagram.

To me, the SVR diagram simply suggests that the ideal is to be in the upper right quarter – the quarter where both concepts, separated for analytical purposes, combine in effective reading. As Debbie Hepplewhite has said elsewhere on this blog, ‘You cannot be a ‘reader’ if you cannot lift the words off the page. You cannot be a ‘reader’ if you can lift the words off the page, but don’t understand them.’ These statements are uncontroversial, as far as I can see.

The problems come when analytical distinctions are treated as real, separate categories for implementation purposes, when in fact they overlap and are mutually dependent. Or when the relationship between them suggested by the diagram leads us to assume that there is a natural, linear process leading from one to another, when actually human intervention, reciprocity, and subtlety are required.

Many of the concerns expressed to me about SSP (not all, but a lot) relate to perceived lack of subtlety in implementation. This is what seems to me to tie together concerns about EAL, children with hearing difficulties, differentiation for those already reading when they start school or who pick it up more quickly than their classmates, and what seem to be attempts to make a functional separation between decoding and comprehension.

This is why I’ve asked about what works in implementation and what doesn’t: If new procedures are presented as monolithic and unchanging, a magic pill, a silver bullet, without engaging those who are to carry out the work so that they feel ownership of it, then a framework can become a cage in any setting, not just schools.

The cases of children being stuck sounding out and not blending, or being held back from reading more difficult books, both seem to me to suggest that somewhere along the line they have ended up in a situation where somebody has abdicated responsibility to the system.

This is not a question of blame: it’s a natural human response to things which feel beyond our control.

The question is how has this situation arisen, how common is it, and what can be done to solve it?

The state school system is mind-bogglingly big, so it’s unsurprising that change is difficult. Bashing with an ever-bigger hammer just makes people feel squashed. Obviously change needs to be led and created, not enforced. People in schools will know this, although the DfE seems yet to learn it.

But where do people go when something’s not working? How, in fact, when something is new and its methods are unfamiliar, do they know it’s not working?

How can we all, as parents, teachers, academics, managers, civil servants, even politicians, help to support permeability in the system, and prevent a sense of powerlessness in the face of it?

How can we all make sure that the system works for us, rather than the other way around?

This, really, is why I waded in with this blog in the first place. It seemed the only way to start engaging with this particular system was to wade in and poke it gently with a stick….

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