Friday, May 24, 2013

One stop shop for literacy aid

A growing area of workWhen Pat Devenney set up his Achieve Learning & Assessment Centre in Kilcullen recently, it was to be able to offer a full education psychology and tutorial service under one roof, writes Brian Byrne.

Kilcullen itself was a simple decision. Pat's wife Teresa is from the town, and they have lived there for eight out of the last 12 years or so. And much of Pat's work is centred in the schools of the region. "Though I get clients from as far away as Cork and Tipperary," he says. "I've even had one from South Africa!"

But for those coming in from not so far away, the Centre is located in Bradfield House, a building very prominent to anyone driving in from the Curragh Road.

Originally from Newbridge, Pat first got a Psychology degree, then taught for ten years before going back to college to complete his Masters in Education Psychology.

"After that I got seriously involved in doing assessments for attention deficits and so on. A lot of the youngesters I was seeing then went elsewhere for literacy intervention, and it struck me that there was an opportunity to do the whole thing together."

It's an area of work which has grown very much over recent years. Partly because of a greater awareness of literacy deficit, and improvements in techniques of dealing with it.

In statistical terms literacy problems have appeared to be on the increase in the last decade or so, but Pat isn't sure that this is the real picture.

"There are lots of factors. We've got better at identifying it. We also know more about things like dyslexia, and how to deal with it. Also, it's likely that children whose first language isn't English were showing up in the statistics, but that gets sorted out as they become more familiar with the language."

Parents particularly have become aware of literacy matters and closely monitor their children to see if they're achieving the norms. But there's probably a limit to what they can do themselves to deal with apparent difficulties.

"Just as it is with the schools, which are very busy trying to get through the curriculum, so are parents living in a very busy world these days, and may not be able to give as much help as they'd like to."

Besides, every child is different, and a professional assessment is really the best way to decide just what help is needed, if any at all. At the end of the day, maybe all that's required is to provide the youngsters with study skills. Their parents too.

"We run workshops on study skills here for parents and for their children. Quite often that's just what's required to make a difference. The reality is, most kids don't have those skills."

Although there's a somewhat of a thrust of blaming social media for some of the literacy issues in young people, Pat isn't that fussy about it. "Like anything else, moderation is good. If there's any issue, it might be that the youngsters are having difficulty in entertaining themselves when things aren't immediate ... such as the instant feedback you get from internet gaming. An impatience can set in when they're on their own. But I don't think they impact hugely on literacy."

Like everything else worthwhile, there's a cost involved. In particular, assessment isn't cheap, involving the consultant's fees as well as the testing materials. Schools do have a budget for a number of assessments each year. "They're good at prioritising those to go where they seem most needed. And there are some funds available through partnerships, such as with Diocesan groups. Otherwise, parents and parents associations raise funds for the service, like they do for other non-curricular items, like sports."

After assessment, Pat can now offer tutorial intervention as required at Bradfield House (the name comes from it once being the residence of a Garda by that name). The tutors are carefully selected, and rates are kept as low as possible, less, indeed, than might often be paid to a babysitter ...

The tutors come also from the same teaching background that Pat had himself. "What we're trying to do is try to help schools, so it's very important that we come from a teaching experience. You're talking to teachers, maybe asking them to do things, and at least they know we understand the ins and outs of managing all those kids."

This article was originally published on the Kilcullen page of The Kildare Nationalist.