Thursday, May 27, 2010

Learning to read.

Jenna's love for books started at an early age!

Just the other day Jenna climbed into the car with a reader from her friend. It was a reader which I had used when teaching Grade Ones to read so I knew it's level was more or less beginner Grade One level. Now, as I've mentioned before, I knew Jen could read but I've never really sat down with her and asked her to read a book to me. I've always left it to her to initiate it if she wanted to read to me. So when I saw the reader I thought: What should I do, should I ask her to read it to me? I think she'll cope with it. It would help me to see what she does know and give me a bit of a yard stick to measure her abilities by.

So I did! And she read it! And was very proud of herself too! Part of me was amazed and another part was saying: You knew she could, why are you so surprised?!

Well, why was I so surprised? In short because I can't really pinpoint when she did start reading. You see I've always taught children to read in the past. I've watched the process happen. I've been a big driving force behind it happening. 

In schools there are generally two trains of thought when it comes to teaching reading: reading is either taught by a Phonetic approach or a Sight Word approach. Here in South Africa most schools teach with a Sight Word approach. This means that the children learn words by repeatedly seeing a word. In the beginning they remember the word more for it's shape and not by identifying the letters which make it up.
A Phonetic approach is started by first learning individual sounds, then blending sounds together (am, at, an, ap etc.) followed by building simple three letter words. From here the children read simple sentences made up of simple words by learning to sound out a word. There's lots of debate as to which method is the best but this is what I found:

When I taught children to read in schools I believed that you couldn't really rely on one method to teach them. So I relied on a combination of the Sight Word and Phonics approaches. So how was it done? We used the Sight Word readers for reading and taught Phonics as a separate subject. (Which is a very typical approach in South African schools as opposed to some countries which use a Phonics approach to teach reading and therefore have a Phonetic reader.)
This is what I observed: Those children who had good visual memory (or whose visual memory was mature enough) were the ones who learnt to read quickly using the Sight Word reader.

In a classroom setting this would mean that your Visual learner would seem to be the more advanced learner as they could read before the Auditory or Kinaesthetic learner. But with time and maturity they did all seem to catch up to each other.

What does this mean to a home schooler? For me this has meant:
1) Discover how your child learns. (Auditory/Visual/Kinaesthetic) NOTE: A Visual Learner could possibly do well with both methods. An Auditory learner may start to show signs of being able to read at a later stage as their visual memory isn't their strength. They could be more suited to a phonics approach.)
2)Don't choose your method to teach reading based on someone else's report on a good method-your child may learn differently to theirs.
3) In the beginning expose your child to phonics and sight word type books/games/activities-in this way you'll discover where their strengths lie and which method may suit them.
4) It is possible to teach your child using one of these methods only,
5) or you could use a combination of the two!

Charlotte Mason encouraged the introduction of phonics first through simple games played with letter tiles. She then moved on to blending and word building. Her next step was to use a simple poem which the child could relate to, to teach reading using a sight word type approach. (This is a very basic explanation of her method). BUT she also said that just through playing with letters and exposure to good literature some children would learn to read on their own and would therefore not need to go through a method.

This last part is mostly how I approached Jenna's reading experience: lots of playing and lots of being read to. And the rest was all left up to her to learn in her own style!