Chalk Talk: A completely different way to help struggling readers

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The Independent Online

Look, it's perfectly simple..." That was one of the lesser-known catch-phrase of John Cleese's in Monty Python's Flying Circus as he attempted to explain complex arguments to a baffled onlooker.

The catch-phrase could be used to describe fellow Python Terry Jones's latest book, just published, Trouble on the Heath.

It is in the Quick Reads series – part of World Book Day, which is designed to provide books in a handy format for those struggling to read. The instructions to authors are that no sentence should be more than 20 words and there should be only one three-syllable word in a sentence.

"It was probably the way I write anyway," says Jones, "but also I'm interested in learning disabilities as well. My son was nine before he was diagnosed as dyslexic – that was in the mid-Eighties and there was only one school in London that dealt with dyslexia."

Jones reckons he himself would have struggled to learn to read if he had been taught via the "look and say" method rather than through phonics. Not that he has to worry now. He has two new books about to come out, including a new collection of children's stories called Animal Tales.

In the meantime, he has written an opera, to be performed at the Royal Opera House, "about a wonderful doctor whose patients all love him but the General Medical Council wants to get rid of him because he's a dog." A touch of the Pythonesque there, then, as there is in Trouble on the Heath.

"The story was based on something that's happening in my street, although it is a fantasy," he says. "The Russians are buying up houses in the street and pulling them down. It's about a planning application that gets out of hand. The hero ends up on a plane with a gun, going after the Russians..."

The words "and now for something completely different" come to my mind. Enjoy your reading reading, everyone.

Terry Jones's Trouble on the Heath is one of 10 Quick Reads at www.quickreads.org.uk.

In the spirit of consensus, a former Labour aide has been chosen under a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government to become the new chair of the education standards watchdog Ofsted.

The appointment of Baroness Sally Morgan, former Downing Street adviser to Tony Blair, has not met with universal approval, though. Unions query her impartiality, as she is also an adviser to Ark, a major academy sponsor.

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