Thembi and the letters: A personal story reflecting the national literacy phenomenon

“She has passed through nearly 2 years of schooling now without a teacher having noticed that she is unable to complete most of the work in her textbook.”

Thembi is in grade 2, aged 8 and has a genuine fascination with letters. She is naturally drawn to word cards and loves looking at books. Her favourite thing is a 24-piece puzzle of the alphabet: each day she will put this puzzle together, undo it and put it back together again.

Thembi is close to finishing second grade and, despite her obvious enthusiasm for letters, cannot read at all. Her homework book, where she is meant to be writing simple words like “bug”, “cat”, “hat” is a jumbled mess. She doesn’t understand how the alphabet letters, which she loves so much, become words.

This would be a relatively simple thing to fix- it is likely that Thembi was taught the alphabet, but not phonics (simply put, the sounds of letters) and so the natural connection between the two is not obvious to her.

She would eventually have made the connection on her own and likely in an indirect way, but it is likely that she would have been behind her grade-level for years because of this simple problem.

The fact that she can have passed through nearly 2 years of schooling now without a teacher having noticed that she is unable to complete most of the work in her textbook for the year suggests serious inattentiveness on the part of teachers at her school. Or perhaps she just has teachers who also don’t appreciate the importance of phonics, or are not as comfortable teaching phonics in English as in another language.

Source: Melanie Smuts, Founder. November, 2013

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