Archive for Teaching Reading

Illiteracy and Outsourcing?

Much has been said and written about American jobs being outsourced  to other countries, and many reasons have been given as to why this is so. Here is one more reason to add to the list — illiteracy.

What on earth does illiteracy have to do with outsourcing? What’s going on, anyway?

According to a recent article by Robert Reich (http://robertreich.org 7-18-12) America isn’t educating enough of our people well enough to get American-based companies to do more of their high-value added work here. He states our K-12 school system isn’t nearly up to what it should be, and that American students continue to do poorly in math and science relative to students in other advanced countries.

Take a closer look at Apple, for example: low wages are not the major force driving them abroad. The components Apple’s Chinese contractors assemble come from many places around the world with wages as high if not higher than in the United States.

More than a third of what you pay for an iPhone ends up on Japan, because that’s where some of its most advanced components are made. Seventeen percent goes to Germany, whose precision manufacturers pay wages higher than those paid to American manufacturing workers because German workers are more highly skilled. Thirteen percent comes from South Korea, whose median wage isn’t far from our own.

Sadly, workers in the United States get only about six percent of what you pay for an iPhone, which goes to American designers, lawyers, and financiers, as well as Apple’s top executives.

And the share of R&D spending going to the foreign subsidiaries of American-based companies rose from 9 percent in 1989 to almost 16 percent in 2009 according to the National Science Foundation.  (http://robertreich.org 7-18-12)

And to think it all begins way back in first grade, with teaching reading! Because first, you read. Everything else follows. And if you can’t — it doesn’t.

The mightiest mountain in the whole world is easily climbed by taking only one small step at a time and keeping on going, and the biggest book in the whole world is easily read blending one letter sound at a time into syllables, words, phrases, and sentences using direct, explicit phonics.

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

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!

 

Spelling? Hmmm…

Should a reading program include spelling rules? And if so, how many? Should it include all of the spelling rules, even complex rules applying to only a few words? Or should it include just the main rules that apply to most words? Or should spelling even be taught?

Good questions all! It’s enough to make one’s head spin. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of various approaches used to teach spelling:

Teach Spelling Rules AFTER Reading

Waiting to teach spelling rules until after the student has learned how to read has the advantage of continuous reading instruction uninterrupted by learning how to spell at the same time. Attention is totally focused on learning how to read. Spelling is considered a separate skill, and is taught later.

The disadvantage is that of course students must learn how to spell sooner or later, and this only postpones the whole idea of spelling until a later date.

Teach ALL Spelling Rules WITH Reading  

If all spelling rules are introduced in the beginning, when students are first learning how to read, while it has the obvious advantage of teaching spelling it can slow students down considerably because they are learning two skills at the same time, dividing their attention between learning how to read and learning how to spell.

For example, there are about half a dozen rules for adding E to the end of a word, with up to nine subcategories—not to mention all the exceptions. It might be daunting to try and learn all of this material at the same time one is trying to learn how to read! Focusing on only one task at a time greatly eases learning and prevents getting bogged down in minutia.

Take the plural of octopus, for another example: it is not octopi. A little knowledge of Latin and Greek can be a dangerous thing and sometimes leads people into error. While some Latin plurals are formed by changing the -US ending of a singular noun into -I for the plural, octopus is ultimately borrowed from a Greek word and not a Latin one, so it’s incorrect to form the plural according to the Latin rules. If you wanted to be ultra-correct and conform to ancient Greek you’d talk about “octopodes” but this is rare: the Anglicized plural, “octopuses,” is absolutely fine. (“Tricky Plurals in English,…” Oxford University Press).

Teach MOST Spelling Rules With Reading GRADUALLY

Nevertheless, reading and spelling enhance one another and are best taught as a single unit. Marilyn Adams wrote: “Accurate spelling is critical to the reading process. To the extent that this knowledge is inaccurate or underdeveloped, it is strongly associated with learning disabilities.” (Annals of Dyslexia, Vol.47, 1997)

So how then should spelling be taught? A happy compromise is to teach the major spelling rules that apply to many words one by one, when the sound or spelling occurs. For example, here is how the rules for /K/ are taught in Phonics Pathways: (The first rule is not even taught until students are already reading three-letter words.)

1. /K/ is spelled -C or -K depending on the vowel that follows it:                Page 53  (cat, keg, kid, cop, cup)

2. /K/ is spelled -CK at the end of a single-syllable word:                         Page 55  (back, deck, pick)

3. /K/ is spelled -C at the end of a multi-syllable word:                            Page 118  (picnic, fantastic, frolic)

4. /K/ is spelled -ICK when adding a suffix to a multi-syllable word:            Page 118  (picknicking, frolicking)

There are two more spellings of /K/ which are spelling patterns, not rules:    /K/ = CH (chorus, school) and /K/ = QU (quack, queen)

When we are introduced to a whole roomful of people at once it’s difficult to remember all of their names. But when we meet them one at a time it’s much easier. The same thing is true when teaching spelling rules—just teach one at a time, and the simplest rule first.

I’ll close this post with a teaser: Why are some words spelled -ABLE and others -IBLE, as in “appeasable, horrible, lovable, visible,” etc.? There is one simple rule that is true over 90% of the time.

It’s so much easier knowing one spelling rule for many words than it is having to learn each word individually, one at a time!

After basic decoding skills and basic spelling rules are solidly learned and mastered, those wishing to learn more about our language can pursue great resources such as “Vocabulary Through Morphemes” by Susan Ebbers, and other such publications.

Happy hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“B” and “D” Confusion Solution

One of the most frustrating roadblocks to learning the English language is, and always has been, confusing the letters “b” and “d”. They not only look alike, but unless you listen very carefully they even sound alike.

On page 37 of Phonics Pathways there is a solution to this dilemma which has been helpful to many people throughout the years. The mattress on this graphic “bed” card is held up with a “b” and a “d.” It has to show the “b” facing to the right and has to show the “d” facing to the left, in order to hold the mattress up!

This has been so helpful to to many people that I have also had many requests for a larger version of this card to use with a whole classroom of students. And so, in response to these requests, here is a large “bed” card for your use and enjoyment—and in glorious living color as well: bed

I hope you enjoy this little teaching tip!