Saturday, September 09, 2006

Teaching Reading

There has been some discussion about teaching reading on a list I subscribe to lately. I have taught two of my children to read and am in the process of teaching a third. My oldest, Triss, basically taught herself to read at age four. My middle girl, Mariel, now almost nine, had struggles at first (mainly because I insisted she learn phonetically, which just didn't click with her). I am now teaching Cornflower, who is almost six, and am combining "words as ideas" with phonics and sight words. These three different girls have shown me that there is more to reading than decoding and phonemes, although those things certainly come into play. I was phonics all the way when we started homeschooling, but have refined my position gradually through study and experience.

The discussion on-list has been very interesting, although possibly intimidating for those facing the task of teaching reading for the first time. I offer what I am doing with my younger two girls as a kind of "here's what we do at our house" for someone starting out. As you read this please keep in mind that it is only our experience, and your family's situation may be different. It is probably necessary to state here that we are very much a reading household-- Mr. Honey and I are both avid readers, and reading aloud to our kids has been one of our favorite activities ever since our first child was born. So each child received a lot of exposure to print media before beginning formal reading instruction.

Here is what I am doing with Cornflower:

1. The first thing I did (last year) was teach her the primary sounds of all the letters, using a phonics program. If a letter had more than one primary sound, I matter-of-factly mentioned the secondary sound so it wouldn't be so surprising later.

2. This year, we have begun to read through the McGuffey primer. The beginning of each lesson has a list of new words appearing in that lesson. She focuses on each word and I tell her what they are. She applies some of her knowledge of phonics to the words so it makes sense that they sound the way they do (ie., she knows 'h' makes the 'h' sound, so she can tell that 'hat' is going to have the 'h' sound at the beginning of it). If she doesn't clue in herself, I just say the word slowly, giving her the first sound, and if she still doesn't get it, I give her the whole word. She repeats it. After we have gone over the word list, we read the little story-lesson. There is a picture that illustrates each lesson. I help her over any words she is unsure of. I do not encourage guessing, but application of the phonics and sight words she knows already, and I just give her the words she doesn't know, especially the words that include phonemes she is not yet aware of. She has learned the 'th'and 'sh' sounds in this way without me having to go over them in her phonics book. It is more of an intuitive way of learning than having it all spelled out-- words previously internalized help her to reason that since 'the' has that funny 'th' sound, the word spelled t-h-a-t has that funny 'th' sound too.

3. After she is done with the McGuffey lesson, we get out her container of words. This container (I use a plastic lidded tupperware container, divided into three sections) has words from each previous lesson, as well as the names of family members, and other words she has come across in life and enjoyed and wanted written down for use. I write the words with a Sharpie on construction paper and cut them out. (A note about font: I use both the print 'a' and the ball-and-stick 'a' indiscriminantly when writing out her words, because she will have to know how to read that funny print 'a' at some point, so I figure it is easier to add it matter-of-factly at the beginning. Same with the funny print 'g'.) We add her new words to her container and then she decides what sentences she wants to make with her words. We look together for the words that will make up the sentences. She has accumulated so many words now that this week we divided her words into sections of the container: nouns, verbs, and other words. I explained that nouns are people, places and things, and that verbs are actions-- what is done. We left all non-nouns and non-verbs in their own category. I also put periods in when she began to want to make paragraphs instead of just sentences, so she could divide the sentences with proper punctuation, simply explaining that just as we separate sentences with a pause when speaking, we put a period between sentences when writing. When she begins to list things in her sentences, I will add commas as well.

4. She has a phonics book, as I mentioned before. This book is taking us systematically through the phonics of the English language, providing her with clues to decoding new words. The program we use teaches that each letter has a personality and interacts with or relates to the other letters in specific ways. Some would find this program too cute, but it works for us. My almost 12yo and almost 9yo still talk about how "Clever C acts so s-s-silly around a vowel that is a girl." However, I am not married to this program. I alter it to suit us and do not use the spelling and handwriting portion at all. I don't know how far I will take Cornflower through this curriculum-- I plan to stop when she is reading fluently.

5. I read aloud with her sitting next to me or on my lap. Sometimes we buddy read, sometimes I read with my finger under the words, and sometimes I just read while she attempts to track on her own. She will sometimes stop me and point to a word and say it to see if she is right.

It is so exciting to watch kids learn to read. I have been thrilled as each of my children began to enjoy books. Now I will detail what I am doing with my almost 9yodd, Mariel. It consists of spelling, copywork, independent reading and Mom reading aloud as well.

1. Spelling. I give her a list of ten words I have chosen from the McGuffey speller each week. The first week of school I taught her how to look the words up in the dictionary. This provides her with a little interaction with the word, giving a reason to think of the order of the letters, etc. It also helps her verify that her definition of the word is correct. After looking it up, she studies the word until she can see it spelled correctly in her mind with her eyes closed. She then looks away from her spelling list and writes the word, glancing back at the list to see if she is right. If she is right, she is allowed to cross it off and go on to the next letter, which she treats in the same way. At the end of the week I give her a spelling test. Any missed words go on next week's list, as well as any words I notice her misspelling in other places (notes, etc.). It is a well-known rule of our house that if you aren't sure how to spell a word you ought to ask, and if someone asks, they ought to be told unless they are taking a spelling test. In this way we prevent misspelled words from becoming imprinted as possible correct spellings in the brain. This has increased her awareness of words as having separate letters which must be placed in a certain order to be recognized accurately. This is important for Mariel, as she learned to read by sight/whole word and only learned phonics after she was already reading. Phonics just did not click with her the other way.

2. Copywork. I give her a sentence or two to copy and expect it to be written in good penmanship, with proper punctuation and spelling. She chooses the sentence from a jar filled with slips of paper on which are quotes (from literature, the Bible, and poetry) that I have typed up, printed and cut out. She is far enough along in penmanship that I do not have to model good penmanship by writing it out longhand like I do for Cornflower, who is only copying letters at this point. I thought about having Mariel identify parts of speech in her copywork as well, but since she already knows nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs from playing Mad Libs with her older sister, it just doesn't seem necessary for another year.

3. She has a few schoolbooks she reads on her own, and then comes to me to narrate orally. I monitor her comprehension, among other things, through these books. If she is having trouble with comprehension on a book, we read it together for a reading or two and then I give it back to her to see if her comprehension has improved.

4. We are also reading some books she is not yet able to comprehend through silent reading. I read these aloud and then she narrates orally, sometimes drawing a diagram, especially if the book is on science or nature. Each of the kids have their own poet to study each term, and Mariel reads her poet's works out loud to us as well. Occasionally I will read her selection first and then she reads it. If she has trouble with inflection I repeat the line properly and she copies me.

5. Last year she read out loud to me more than she does this year. I think I need to reinstitute this practice, using the McGuffey readers since we have them. I believe this would aid her in comprehension of the more difficult schoolbooks she is reading independently.

6. We have quite a few books at home and she reads a lot for fun. If she didn't do this, I suppose I would insist on thirty minutes of reading each day, sitting with her if she found it tedious, or perhaps switching her book until we found one she enjoyed reading for fun.

That's how we do it at our house. I have only taught my own children to read, and certainly do not have a wide range of experience, but this is what I have found works for us.

No comments: