Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: Teaching reading (and other things) - Sept 06

From Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I've never taught a child to read before. I read to them all on demand sometimes for hours every day, and I do with Lyddie now, but I've never actually sat down and thoroughly taught the reading process to a child, because the older three went to school and learned it there.

So Lyddie will be my first child to have at home full time when the time comes for her to learn to read. I had always assumed she'd learn reading by osmosis like she learns everything else, but having read Lou's blog post here I realise I am a natural teacher who does exactly what Lou describes in her post.

I do run my fingers under the words when reading to a young child and if the child seems interested I'll point out things like speech marks, capital letters and full stops. If the child knows the story I'll stop reading sometimes and let them supply the next word(s) and sometimes we swap and the child points to the words while I say them. Is this teaching, or just conversation? Until I read Lou's post I thought of it as just being conversation, like the ones I still have with the older children about all kinds of subjects. Tom's latest thing is bio-fuel and we have endless discussions about what the world would be like without the oil industry, ranging from how engines will work to how the economy and politics might be affected.

It is autonomous, it's not pre-planned or scheduled or parent-led but yes, it probably IS teaching. It's what my dad did for me and especially my stepdad, who was teaching every time he opened his mouth, though in a much more bombastic, dictatorial style than I hope mine is. My dad would be fixing a car and I'd wander out and ask questions and if he was in a good mood he'd explain to me how the engine worked. Stepfather would be doing some accounts at home and I'd sit and ask what he was doing and how and why. He never refused to explain, and would set me some of my own to do at his side.

This morning already I've taught Ali how to boil an egg (he asked and I talked him through it as he did it. In the process, we discussed how to keep chickens, how to get different coloured shells, why rats are attracted to chicken coops and whether it's morally right to take eggs from hens. What would the hens do in the wild, for example? Would all the eggs get fertilised all the time? Would they eat their own eggs? Most of these questions came from him, but some came from me and we were both supplying answers, with contributions from Zara. We also considered the chemical constitution of an egg, its nutritional content and the changes in chemistry that take place in the boiling process. And we went on to talk about Prince Charles and this week's new story about his chef preparing 7 eggs for his breakfast every morning, all cooked for slightly different rates so that HRH can choose which one he fancies. That got us onto the economy and republicanism... then the eggs were ready!)

Anyway, back to reading. I've been reading John Taylor Gatto's Underground History of American Education and he's talking about phonics versus whole-word reading, which is how people read who have never been taught phonics, and he's pretty much convinced me of the need to actively 'teach' the letter sounds. His reasoning goes as follows: knowledge of the phonics system gives the reader the tools to decode new words, whereas a whole word reader has no such tools for decoding, therefore has to hazard a guess about the new words based on other information, which is often a huge struggle. Gatto provides statistics to show that children who have learned to read phonically go on to develop a love of reading and children who have learned by sight-reading whole words, tend not to.

When my older three were little I had ideas about making letters to play with and I've got that urge again now. I mean big, squishy stuffed letters in fun fabrics so that a child can play on the floor at making words. That would be a great way to learn the letter sounds. Fabrics could be chosen to give reminders about the letter sound, like silky fabric for the letter S and something with busses or bees on for a letter B.

That's this week's plan then. Help, all you arty crafty people! I don't normally do things like this! The fabric's not a problem, nor is the sewing (got mother's old singer upstairs) - but what do you stuff cuddly toys with? Kapok (sp?)? Do they still sell that stuff? Is it environmentally friendly? Is it cheap? If not, what's good to use please?

It might take sometime to make all 52 letters (upper and lower case) and punctuation etc, but when we have (assuming we manage it) we'll post pics.

I've just had another one of 'those' discussions with Tom. He was asking what I was blogging about, so I explained and he said he especially needs phonics even now all the time because of his dyslexia. He still has to decode every word he comes across because he can't remember what whole words sound like. He said if he'd have been taught whole-word reading he simply would not be able to read at all. He would never have been able to learn.

posted by Gill at 10:11 AM 9 comments


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