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Ruth's Blog: SOS children

You’re nearly five. You’ve been in the Reception class for four weeks. It’s Phonics time. You’re sitting on the itchy carpet next to Billy whose legs are touching yours.  You gaze at Mrs Brown’s black trousers and see she’s wearing shoes like your mum’s. They’ve got shiny black tops with dots in a nice swirly pattern. You hear children making unfamiliar sounds around you - m, s, d, p, a, g. You see a pin on the floor and wonder why it’s there. You hear your name. You look up. The teacher’s showing you a shape. What does she want you to do?

“Matt, come on now sweetheart. Pay attention. You can do this. I know you can. Try a bit harder.”

You don’t know what to do to try harder. You see Mrs Brown raise her eyebrows, turn her lips down, sigh and turn away.

It’s an all too familiar scenario.  Matt’s mind’s not at school. He’s suffering from SOS  – Switched Off Syndrome. SOS children are easy to identify because they wear the same expressions as we do when we’re not listening in staff meetings. Glazed eyes, dazed expression - screen saver face.

SOS children don’t connect with our teaching and they certainly aren’t emotionally engaged. Although it’s not hard to rescue them, it’s better not to let them fall behind in the first place.  The longer they fall behind, the sooner they’ll have another label. SEN.

SOS: 10 steps to rescue Matt

1. Make sure that your Phonics lesson is the best it can possibly be. Ask your reading leader to give you feedback on your teaching. Check Matt is sitting in your direct line of vision.

2. Give Matt 5 minutes a day one-to-one practice. It’s amazing how quickly he’ll focus when you give him all your attention.

3. Find a quiet and comfortable space with few distractions. Make it the same place every day and have all your resources ready to go.

4. Know the Read Write Inc. tutoring steps inside out so that you can concentrate on Matt’s progress and making the session fun.

5. Start where he finds it easy – even if this means going right the way back to the beginning. 

6. Show Matt what you want him to do – rather than tell him. Think out loud, “So let me see… the dinosaur looks like… d. The apple looks… a." Hesitate when you are working things out – he’ll love jumping in before you.

7. Be ambitious. Challenge him by going to the point where he starts to struggle. At this point say, “Phew, I don’t think I can do anymore today.” Always finish with the last thing he did brilliantly.

8. Smile. Matt will mirror your mood. If you aren’t enjoying the lesson, he won’t be either. The more you enjoy the session, the quicker Matt will learn to read.

9. Say things such as: “I love teaching you to read,” or “Hurray. It’s my favorite time of the day.” and "You are working so hard. Let’s go even further. I knew you could do this."

10. Never give up. If you’re stuck, phone 01275 331 230 and we’ll help you.

Three things to avoid

1. Don’t say negative things to yourself or others, such as: “Matt’s finding it hard.” / “Matt can’t learn this.” / “I think there might be something wrong with Matt.” / “Matt’s lazy. He can’t concentrate.”

2. Don’t show your anxiety or frustration if Matt isn’t picking things up as quickly as you want. Don’t say things such as: “Come on now, you can do this.” / “You did this yesterday.” “Are you tired today? Did you go to bed late last night?” / “Did you practise your sounds with mummy last night?"

3. Don’t offer rewards such as stickers. They will reduce Matt’s interest in learning to read as soon as you withdraw them. See my blog, 'Please don't pay children to read.'

No more SOS

When Matt's made progress he’ll pay attention because he can join in with the other children. He’ll look at you and not your shoes.