One of the reasons reading and writing is so difficult to teach in today’s schools is because it is not commonly understood that writing is a unique form of the English language. It is, in general, different from the way English is spoken. It is often different from the various ways English is spoken, in terms of culture, geographic region, class and ethnic tradition. Words can and do have different meanings. The grammar can be different.
Consider some 18th Century English words. A “natty lad,” is a thief or pickpocket. “A three-legged mare,” is a gallows. “I’ll vamp it and tip you the cole,” means, “I’ll pawn it and give you the money.”
Granted, these are slang expressions, long out of date, but English today is full of comparable expressions, which are perfectly understandable by those who use them.
Moreover, if one’s narrative experience is primarily with television and/or film, you are hearing mostly dialogue, which has its own grammatical structure.
The teacher who corrects a child’s way of speaking—the way that speaking is practiced at home—is telling the child that it is wrong to speak that way. It can be bewildering. If that same child has no experience with writing, think how more bewildering is the instruction.
Vast numbers of kids today—because parents do not read and/or children are not read to—have difficulty comprehending the language of writing.
Essentially, there is one major way to teach them: by reading books to them aloud. It is the most powerful tool for teach reading and writing.