I have developed a love for Dickens, and not just reading Dickens, but listening to Dickens being read. The journey home from work each day is accompanied by the voice of Mil Nicholson reading unabridged versions of Dickens’ work.
There is something in Dickens being read aloud, something in the language, something in the sound of the words. The humour becomes more apparent, the verbal fencing much sharper. The characters become corporeal, their qualities and foibles expressed. Uriah Heep assumes his full odiousness when his words are heard, Lizzie Hexham demonstrates her full depth of character.
Of course, were I to suggest to my students at school that they read Dickens, their reaction would be as mine would have been at their age. Perhaps it is a taste to be acquired with age.
Victorian novelists may be too much for contemporary teenagers, but there does need to be some way of improving the vocabulary of an emoji generation.
Training as a teacher of Religious Education and History four years ago, I realised that one of the greatest challenges in teaching the subjects was that the students lacked the vocabulary to understand the material. Attending workshops on literacy, I discovered that the problem was common to all subjects, even the English GCSE mathematics paper requires a vocabulary, and a competency in reading, that are beyond many of the examination candidates.
I enjoyed teaching English to Year 8 students in Cheltenham when called to cover for absent colleagues, but there has come the realisation this year that something that is enjoyed on a casual basis may become something onerous when it becomes a regular commitment.
Timetabled to teach English to a First Year class and to a Third Year class taking the Junior Certificate at ordinary level this year, I was unworried when I began, but as the weeks have passed have become increasingly concerned about the Third Year students.
The initial problem lies not in them being unable to answer the questions, but in them being unable to read the questions. We go through past papers, we try to look at what is being asked in a question, and if I write something on the board, some of them will copy it. But I know that when confronted with a full examination paper, most of those students will be at a loss.
It is too late now for them to make up for the years when they should have been reading. Education needs to have lots more words.