Sunday, November 17, 2019

Reading Taught Wrong

I've done posts about how I teach reading. Now I want to do a comparison of what I think I do right compared to how I believe traditional instruction does it wrong. 

Can all my methods be incorporated into a traditional setting? 

Absolutely not. There is not the time. However, some of what I do can be, and should.

1. Expectation that children can read

Pretty much every developmentally on-track child can read by the age of 7 when they enter the next Piaget level of concrete operational. In many countries, reading instruction begins at the age of 7 when every child can be successful. Each child is unique. I've had children read at 3 and many more read at 5. However, EXPECTING every 5 year old to be able to read is not developmentally appropriate. Yet, we do that in this country. Under 7, it should be the child's choice and ability to read early, not an expectation. Under age 7, children are in the preoperational stage, where they CAN learn symbolic representations such as phonics and early sightwords.

Making their own books with markers
and cardboard to read to their friends
2. Teaching methods

Children under the age of 7-8 learn through movement and play. Which is how I teach early reading skills. Yet, traditional instruction has children sitting still and being instructed, which is again not developmentally appropriate.

3. Time and attention

Children have an attention span of, on average, one minute per age, increasing to 2 minutes at the age of 5. So a 5 year old has an attention span of about 10 minutes. This is greater if they are learning through play and movement and engaged in the activity. However, traditional teaching has them sitting in a group for up to 30 minutes and listening to a teacher or one another, or waiting their turn to read aloud. Again, not developmentally appropriate. My instruction takes no more than 5 minutes at any one time. The best is that they ASK for it, and they will choose to keep practicing and playing with it on their own after the lesson. Because, you know, it is FUN and ENGAGING, developmentally appropriate and at their skill level.

4. Skills introduction

Pre-reading skills are begun here from birth. Turning pages, left-right convention, one-to-one correspondence, crossing-the-midline ability, etc. I will use a baby's finger to point to the words as I read them. After doing this daily for 2 years, it is muscle memory for them to do it themselves. Kindergarten classrooms focus so much on reading, that they forget that there are pre-skills necessary for success. When those pre-skills are not embedded, reading is much more difficult.

5. Letter names

I could care less if a child knows an A is an "A". It has no bearing on reading. I do, however, care that a child learns the phonetic sound for an A, which is absolutely necessary in teaching reading.

6. Upper/lowercase letters

Uppercase letters comprise such a small percentage within print. I teach uppercase, lowercase and phonics simultaneously. Just as a child can learn mom, mama and mommy all have the same meaning, so can a child learn that A, a, and aaaa have the same meaning. Traditional methods often focus on a "Letter of the Day" or week. Again, random letter recognition has NO BEARING on reading, yet so much school time is wasted on this. Knowing that lowercase a stands for aaa DOES. It is the most important instruction, but done through meaningful experiences, not isolated instruction.

7. Phonics

Phonics are music. Traditional methods want to teach phonics as written symbols first, without recognizing that phonics are tones, lilts, blends of sound. They are magical sounds with meaning. Teaching them as this, brings them life and a richness that traditional methods simply don't engage. Much of my early reading skills learning is done through music. I start exposing phonics of lowercase letters to my kiddos at the age of 2 1/2. They often have them down by 3.

8. Giving meaning to symbols

Traditional instruction has children practicing phonics unconnected to anything engaging. They are taught as representatives of a letter symbol, and the letter phonics are taught individually, one letter at a time. Nothing engages a child more than attention to himself. By beginning spelling with children's names, they have an instant buy-in. We do it with their name songs each morning. After they do their spelling song for their name, we review the phonics. The children quickly learn how to spell their friends' names and how to sound them out. We sit in this stage for awhile.

Miss A 2yo, yeah, she did this
9. Timeline

As stated, we will sit in a learning stage for awhile to ensure that the children are fully engaged and have MASTERED a particular skill/stage before moving forward. Traditional methods push through a curriculum agenda, and poor readers are dragged along, often not mastering skills but sliding through.

10. Developmentally appropriate

Children up to age 7-8 learn through play and movement. Phonics here are learned through music and games. I will make a phonetic sound and the child will run and jump on the letter laying on the floor. Early reading instruction here begins with simple sightword sentences with a movement component and some silliness. "I am a ______." goes on the wall in large letters with dots under each word. Each child takes a turn reading the sentence and putting his finger on the dot for one-to-one correspondence, adding in the word. Whatever the word is the child chooses, the whole group acts it out. This adds an element of anticipation and surprise, keeping the whole group engaged. The next week it may be "I can ______." always adding only one or two new sight words at a time. Then the sentences can be combined. "I am a MONKEY and I can CLIMB TREES." Further along, I will write in the words and we will sound them out phonetically after they do the movement, before moving to the next child's turn. For another game the current sightwords are attached to the wall and the children run around and I will call out a sightword as they come around and they hit it with a swat frame. Learning always has a movement attached in the early stages.

11. Books are engaging and complex

Our early readers are created around the child. "My name is...," "I like..." The books I teach with are from Nora Gaydos [affiliate link.] The stories are repetitive, building skills slowly with the ability for mastery, but complex and rich with vibrant illustrations. The children want to know what is going to happen next, which keeps them moving forward and eager to read another book. And, they are very appealing to both girls and boys. Often traditional methods focus on very simplified books with simple illustrations. The focus is on the READING rather than the STORY. We focus on the story, with the reading as a by-product. We talk about the characters and the story, working on comprehension and analytical thinking. Again, engaging the child with what he is reading, providing meaning and context. Children learn new skills because they are useful and fascinating, not because someone says they have to do so. Retention and mastery are dramatically higher when children are engaged with their learning. The Gaydos books also introduce phonics, digraphs, blends, sightwords and advanced reading skills in a perfect timeline for easy mastery. Often, books used in schools do not.

12. Individualized instruction

Since I read books individually with each child, they are never allowed to develop bad habits. They flow through reading instruction in a very linear, clear method. Instant, constant correction keeps them on the correct path. Traditional methods of group instruction at the early stages of learning to read allow children to become muddled, develop bad habits and become afraid to speak up about their confusion or to participate out loud for fear of sounding wrong and being corrected in front of their peers. Individual instruction and attention is simply something that doesn't happen in traditional settings to the extent that it needs to in order to create excellent early readers.

13. Optimized Instruction Time

The children here have a choice of whether or not to read. Some days they are engaged in something else and don't want to do it. Some days they will read 5 books in a sitting. Some days they are tired and unable to focus, and I will decide that this is not the day to be reading. Traditional settings don't have that option to optimize instruction time.

14. Sight word Instruction

I believe that everything is learned better in context. My children learn their sightwords more through reading and me telling them that it is a sightword, than learning individual sightwords through other activities. Traditional methods teach a sightword then the child reads a book focusing on that sightword. It just isn't as engaging and meaningful. Any word is a sightword if a child sees it enough, and time spent reading, which occurs through engaging stories, is what makes a good reader. Once we get enough sightwords and phonics to begin reading my Nora Gaydos books, reading instruction occurs through READING only. Only if a child is having a really odd, difficult time with a specific word or sound will I add non-reading instruction, which is usually just a few seconds, a few times a day, for a few days before he will get it down pat. This focused attention to a specific issue for a specific child is more impactful than a general instruction to everyone.

15. Reading aloud

Children still in the preoperational stage have a lot of trouble reading silently. Or, they simply CAN'T. They also have a lot of trouble with comprehension, even if they have the ability to sound out and recognize words. Asking a child under 7 to read silently is not developmentally appropriate. My 5 year olds need to hear those phonics to spell out words and read. They need to associate the letter and word symbols to the sound representation. In traditional settings, unless reading together as a group, this can be unreasonable in a class of 28. One of the benefits, is that the children will correct one another if they hear something another child says that is off or wrong. They also will ask one another for assistance, and they usually provide the same answers I will give, such as "try to sound it out," "that's a sightword," "igh says I," and not just give the correct answer. Teaching another is a powerful learning tool. 

Mr. G 5yo
Reading ability, and time spent reading and being read to, are the key to a child's future success. Time spent on reading instruction is never wasted. I wish traditional school settings could incorporate more of my methods and allot more time for individual instruction. 

So many children under the age of 7 are being labeled failures for not being able to read, when they are simply just not YET in that developmental stage where they have the ability. The joy of reading and learning is being stripped from them for simply being young children. That is something I can't forgive or forget.