Monday, January 19, 2009

On Learning to Read: Part II

Last week, I talked about how Anne-with-an-learned to read. I came away from my experience with Anne thinking that "teaching reading" was a snap. The only thing required of me was to read to my child, talk, talk, talk, and point out a few phonetic anomalies.

Then came Betsy. Different child, different brain, different wiring. A brand, new experience. I no longer felt like the SuperMom of Homeschooling. Was I doing something wrong?


Betsy, who is every ounce as sharp as Anne-with-an-e, just processed things differently. Initially, though she loved having me read to her and enjoyed our family read-aloud times as much as Anne did, she was not inclined to watch the page and see what the words looked like. At one point, I noticed that rather than watching the page as I read, as Anne had, Betsy watched me, watched my mouth move as I read. Betsy wanted to hear the story, experience it, be a part of it. She was more auditory and kinesthetic than Anne had been, and so reading came to her in a different way.

With Betsy, I took the more traditional route of phonics rules and reinforcement, but I taught it with games:

  • I made simple board games ("Read the word and move ahead three spaces.")
  • I had her tell me a story -- she narrated it to me orally, I wrote it down, then had her copy it onto pages which she then illustrated. She then read her composition ("Jat's Bat" -- I still remember that the cover she made was decorated with glitter) to me again and again.
  • We found Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby series and Betsy loved it (and so did I.) We read those repeatedly, too, until she was reading them on her own.

This mixed bag of approaches worked, and Betsy began to read, and to love independent reading as much as Anne did. She just had to arrive by a different route, and I had to tune in to what would help her get there.

Today, they are both excellent readers and I don't think anyone would know which of them read "early" and which read "late" (and I'm glad that they didn't have to deal with such labels, which really aren't helpful and can be detrimental.) Though an "early reader" might make things easier on a teacher, the age at which a child reads isn't really important to the child or to her overall journey. She will read when she's ready, and when she's offered the right opportunities to be ready.


Melanie B said...

Thanks, Karen, This is the kind of nuts and bolts details of homeschooling post that I really like. I know I was an Anne. A very early reader, don't remember a time when I couldn't read. it's good to start preparing a toolbox of resources that I will be able to draw on when I have a child who doesn't just absorb it through her pores.

Liz said...

Ah, yes, the differences... I tried Phonics with my son initially and it was a dismal flop (so much for my theory that that was THE way to learn to read). Nope, he took more of the Scout Finch approach and phonics came second, not first. Still and all he was reading well enough by 6 and a half to teach himself how to use an index with the Peterson Field Guide to Birds. However, he was a reader for information, to this day he has read very little unassigned fiction (other than Mangas which he loves and multiple readings of The Lord of the Rings).

My daughter on the other hand was the perfect phonetic learner. She was writing her alphabet by 3 and a half, clamored for workbooks at 4 and was reading chapter books by 5 and a half. The thing that was most difficult for her was sight words (like the) and she pronounced some words that broke the rules very oddly for years (draught sounded like ought not draft), but then I had similar problems and also learned phonetically in an era where everyone else was totally look-say dependent. She loves fiction of most types, but not the mystery stories that I have tended to devour.

What I learned as I worked with not just my kids, but other peoples kids as well, is that reading will come eventually if the kids have been given a love of books, it may come by different routes (one kid never really took to it until he needed it to read computer manuals and Tom Clancy novels), it may come gradually, or it may seem to happen overnight (the kid who went directly from being a non-reader to reading The Lord of the Rings). You'll never be able to predict what a kid will fall in love with or how reading will capture them. My son-in-law, now a voracious reader was not a reader at all when he was in school. He fell in love with it reading Greek plays and philosophy when he was in his twenties. I do think he might have come to it earlier if he hadn't been in a standardized system, but introduced to ideas he could have actually found interesting, he also doesn't read much fiction. He says that high school was a total waste of his time. I will say that while I know some homeschooled adults who are no great shakes at math, I don't know of one who grew up to be a non-reader, even if they came to reading far later than most schools would be comfortable with (say age 13 before they got beyond the initial stages). I watched a young man totally unable to do the achievement test one year because he couldn't read the questions reading Tom Clancy two years later. The only people I know who are virtually illiterate as adults went through the public school system, including remedial reading classes. I still believe that phonics is a useful tool at some point for most kids, but what is most helpful is giving them a love of books and reading in the first place.

Natalie said...

Karen -

Thanks so much for posting this! My 7 yo was a very eager reader and was reading by age 4. My 5 yo struggles with reading as she'd rather be outside helping dad with cattle chores! :) I can't wait to try the Phonograms with her. They look wonderful! I agree, anything to present it in a different light and make it FUN! This is my 2nd year of homeschooling. Please keep the hints and tips coming. As a "newbie" I sure appreciate them!