Archive for Comprehension

The Comprehension Connection

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Should comprehension be taught before or after phonics? Or should they be taught together? Or. . . ? Read on!

Our grandson went to a highly-rated private school in Marin, but when he was in first grade he would guess wildly at everything he read.

He was taught to infer, predict, and guess at the words and meaning while still struggling to read the material accurately. If he guessed the meaning to be anywhere similar to the meaning in the story, he was praised for a correct answer.

I began working with him, and we were working on the “I” and “A” lesson on page 50 of Phonics Pathways. Just before he read “I hug Mom” I got inspired, and told him the next sentence was like a game, and that he had to DO what it said.

He looked at me uncertainly, read the sentence, and then slowly looked up at me with a beautiful look of stunned comprehension and a wide smile that I’ll never forget.

He hopped up, went over to his Mom, and gave her a great big bear hug, and then came back and hugged me too.

It was the first time that he realized he could get meaning OUT of what he was reading, as opposed to putting meaning INTO what he was reading. From that point on he had no more problems with comprehension — he was “reading for meaning,” as opposed to “meaning to read.”

COMPREHENSION TRAINING:  GOOD OR BAD?

Comprehension training can indeed be valid. But the big danger is that it is frequently brought to play much too early in the game.

We don’t learn ice-skating dance routines until we first learn how to ice skate well. In my experience we should not begin teaching comprehension (along with reasoning, visualizing, inferring, predicting, etc.) until those primary skills have jelled and are at an automatic level.

I’ve watched too many tutoring sessions in schools with reading specialists who begin asking complex questions about the text while the student is still struggling to read it accurately, The student just guesses the best he/she can, and if it’s anywhere similar to the meaning needed they are praised for a correct answer.

A MOTHERS’ DAY SURPRISE!

RecentIy I received the following letter from a parent:

“Dolores, I just had to share with you the most wonderful Mother’s Day gift I ever had. Jimmy went to Walmart with me to shop and went running to the cards. He usually looks for a colorful card with child-like pictures with no idea of what the card says. He found what he was looking for and told the lady not to let me see this card.

“He gave me the card on Mothers’ Day and said: ‘Mom you know I have dyslexia and how hard reading has been for me. You know how hard we have worked this year. Okay, now open your card’:

‘MY MOM’

‘This is a story about a kid with a Mom who believes in him and has taught him about important stuff, like chasing his dreams and trusting his heart. It’s a       success story and it was written by you.

‘Happy Mothers’ Day with love, from your son.’

“It was all I could do to read through this card. I had no idea the impact he had made on his own self! We love Dewey’s words of advice as well. Every day Dewey is there, encouraging us, or just breaking the tension. It’s strange how a paper worm can become such a friend to someone.”

Way to go, Jimmie–keep up the good work. You’re a READER now!

EYE TRAINING FOR EYE TRACKING?

Indeed, the young boy mentioned above had been diagnosed with dyslexia. But was it inborn or induced by incorrect reading methods? In the earliest stages of reading if we are not trained to read from left to right by building letters into syllables, words, and sentences it often results in irregular eye movements and letter or word reversals. This results in slow and/or inaccurate reading which impacts comprehension. Eye-tracking skills must be well established BEFORE real learning can take place.

The concept of eye training is not new or unique to America. It has been part of Chinese and Tibetan medicine for many thousands of years. It has been my experience that “dyslexic” students have benefitted greatly from vision/motor training such as the teaching method of Phonics Pathways. Another mother wrote:

“My son is nine and this is our second year of home schooling. The activities in back of the book to help hand and eye coordination are three same exercises we did for Perceptual Vision Dysfunction Therapy with a specialist. What a difference it made! My son loves it so much that it is one subject I get ‘Great Mom, I love doing Phonics Pathways!’

Reading Pathways also has been a tremendous boost in our family to reinforce blending and eye tracking. My five-year-old read the very first pyramid story last week and it really made her day!”

EXCITING NEW BRAIN RESEARCH

On a recent News Hour a savvy teacher said that students don’t fail in high school, they fail in second grade because they have not been taught explicit phonics and are subsequently just carried along through school.

Furthermore, most beginning readers are only 50% decodable. These students are then labeled “learning-disabled” or “dyslexic” which is frequently confirmed with brain imaging.

Results? For example, sixty-two percent of Texas’ ninth graders passed the statewide achievement test results for English. What did they do to pass the test? They only had to get 37% of the answers right. Only thirty seven percent.

Is there no hope? There most definitely, certainly, positively IS! Newer exciting brain imaging research reveals that the neuro-biological basis of reading disability actually changes to normal as students become skilled readers after being taught direct, systematic phonics. (Dr. Guinevere Eden, Georgetown University, Nature Neuroscience, May 2003)

It’s never too late to learn how to read.

DYSLEXIA BEGONE!!!

 

Don Potter’s Challenge

Don Potter is a reading specialist from Odessa, Texas, who has also made it a point to collect many different kinds of reading books (donpotter.net) espousing many different ways and methods to teach phonics. He recently wrote:

“I have been doing much of my tutoring with Hazel Loring’s Blend Phonics, and the results are almost always excellent. But once in a long while, I get a student who undoubted has real dyslexia. Artificially induced whole-word dyslexia is generally easily cured with simple phonics. But on rare occasions, I get those students who I find almost impossible to help. They seem helpless when it comes to learning and using the sound-to-symbol correspondences. They always try to read words by the shape, and are very resistant to looking at all the letters.

“For these students, I turn to Phonics Pathways. Fortunately, they generally are have some ability with the short vowels. Since Phonics Pathways constantly reviews (and compares with the long vowels) the short vowels during the long vowel lessons, I am able to skip the short vowel lessons (to save time and money for the parents) and jump right into the long vowel section. I started a 2nd grader and a 6th grader on Phonics Pathways today. This is adventuring into territory where no other Bookworm has ever gone.

“I only trust Dewey for these hard cases. I will let you know how the tutoring goes. (You may recall that many years ago I cured a child with real dyslexia using Phonics Pathways. He cried the first time we did the first long vowel lesson, saying, “I hurt from the bottom of my feel to the top of my head.” He went on to become a great reader.)

“I learned right then and there a lesson I have never forgotten. There is something special about those lessons that enables the most challenged dyslexics to reprogram their brain to become good readers. I will send you full reports as the children make progress.

“A formal study needs to be done of the special features of Phonics Pathways that sets it apart from all the other programs. I feel very strongly that even the best Orton-Gillingham programs are missing some of the special features that you integrated into your book/program/system.

“The way you teach the long vowels by contrasting them with the short vowels seems to be a significant feature. Also the two word phrases that are just on the edge of full meaning. They particularly like reading the sentences where they sound out two word and then read the sentences. They can attain some fluency because they are prepared for the two new words, yet the other words are providing a review back to the very first of the program!
“Also there is enough practice to make a significant impact. Of course parents who use the program with their own children would never know nor need to know the linguistics, psychology, and pedagogy behind the program, but for a person, like me, who has dedicated their lives to teaching ALL children to read, it is very intriguing to sort out the factors that set Phonics Pathways apart from EVERYTHING else. The absence of pictures for the sentences and stories is more important that anyone might imagine. Kids with the whole-word guessing habit learn quickly to overuse pictures. The absence of pictures to illustrate the sentences is a very significant factor in the overall strength of Phonics Pathways.” 

Will Don succeed in teaching these struggling students how to read? Will he once again be able to venture into territory that “no other Bookworm has ever gone” and help them overcome their severe dyslexia?

Stay tuned!

Picture This!

Much has been said about pre-reading, and how much or whether it is even helpful when learning how to read. Let’s narrow this discussion to illustrations, and take a closer look at whether or not pictures help or hurt the reading process:

If a story has too many pictures in it that give away the whole plot, it defeats the purpose of decoding because we already know everything about it and there’s no motivation to read any further. If it has just a few illustrations, this can perk up the child and give him a sense of what the story is all about, hook his interest, and motivate him to go ahead and read it. However, some experts such as Robert Calfee say that any pictures at all distract from the decoding mechanism (Robert Calfee, “Memory and Cognitive Skills in Reading Acquisition,” Reading Perception and Language 1975)

We know that the left brain acquires knowledge in small, sequential steps, such as learning math and letter sounds. And the right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the whole picture, as with illustrations and sight words. And amazingly, researchers such as Schwartz and Begley (The Mind and the Brain) have discovered that activity in the right hemisphere of our brain actually suppresses the activity of the mirror-image region in the left hemisphere if introduced at the same time or too soon!

There is a way in which pictures are highly beneficial to the learning process when learning how to read, and that is to illustrate letters with pictures of words beginning with the sound being introduced. (It can be difficult to hear these sounds within a word when first learning, especially for English-language learners and students with learning disabilities.)

It’s especially effective to include multiple examples, as this imparts the subtle range and depth that make up each sound, much like a 3-D hologram. Listening for and identifying these sounds develops phonemic awareness, the important first step in learning how to read. Illustrating letter sounds as they are learned greatly accelerates learning, just as using Cuisinaire rods and other manipulatives accelerate learning mathematics. Here is an example: The Short Sound of E  

The best example I can think of to demonstrate this concept is to try and read a Russian letter — Russian has different symbols for sounds and puts you in the shoes of a child trying to read without knowing letter sounds. Can you name this letter and say its sound? Mystery Russian Letter Hmmm…

Now try reading this letter again, this time with multiple pictures beginning with the sound of the letter. Just say the name of each picture, and note the beginning sound: Mystery Russian Letter. Simple, isn’t it?

Finally, look at it one more time and discover both the name and sound of this Not-So-Mysterious Russian Letter. See? Now you can read Russian!

Ernest Hemingway once said it takes a man half a lifetime to learn the simplest things of all. It took me that long to learn how to simplify and teach the English language.

Teaching reading is really very easy — anyone can teach it, and everyone can learn!

 

The Math-Reading Connection

The ability to think clearly, logically, and sequentially is a prerequisite for success in math/science. This skill is acquired, and is not innate.

Currently, reading is thought of as an innate, inborn skill such as walking or talking. It is believed that students will pick up this skill automatically if they are taught a few letters, but words are learned randomly, as a whole. Phonics is taught implicitly, and students are encouraged to guess at unknown words:  Implicit Phonics  Skill-based instruction and precision in reading are thought to be redundant to reading and comprehension.

Stastics on illiteracy rates clearly show otherwise. There is increasing evidence that systematic, skill-based instruction is indeed vital not only to the reading process but in our very ability to think logically and reason clearly. Sometimes it’s the brightest students who experience the most difficulty because they need to perceive patterns and relationships, and see how things fit together. Their minds rebel against a system that has no logic.

On the recent News Hour a savvy teacher said students don’t fail in high school, they fail in second grade because they have not been taught explicit phonics and are subsequently just carried along through school. She is absolutely correct!

When students learn the sounds and spelling patterns comprising over 95% of the English language in an incremental, progressive fashion math scores frequently improve without tutoring. Spelling improves dramatically! (Example: Why do we double some endings and not others in words such as “submitted, visited, marketing” and “compelling”? One simple rule covers over 90% of these words.)

Reading and reasoning develop simultaneously and synergistically. Moreover, brain imaging shows that dyslexia frequently disappears after students are taught how to read accurately with explicit phonics!* Accurate reading trains students to extract meaning from text, rather than insert meaning into text:  Explicit Phonics

Skill-based reading instruction is urgently needed and long overdue, but for the most part has not even been included in teaching colleges for over 50 years. Most of the old phonics texts have long been out of print. Once we provide this missing link in today’s reading curricula math/science skills will follow as has been demonstrated, because students have been taught to think logically and sequentially.

As the old Greek Herotimus once said:

“We are dragged on by consistency—but a thing may be consistent and yet false!”

 

*Dr. Guinevere Eden, Nature Neuroscience, 5-18-03