My current student Steve (not his real name) came to us on 25.1.2015. A mother of one of our former students had introduced Steve’s mother to us. (I have given him this nickname as he is well built and if he does body building exercises he will be like the legendary Steve Reeves).
Steve will be 9 in October this year and has been retained in primary 2 because he was not able to read at grade level.
On his first day with us we realized that he had no problem whatsoever with phonological and phonemic awareness. He speaks way beyond his grade level as his parents speak English at home. He uses a lot of words that even students in grade 6 may not know. Give him a chance to talk and he can go on and on and we have to find a convenient point to bring him back to reading. His imagination is remarkable. He is a very pleasant, well mannered boy. Anyone who meets him will like him.
On that day we started him off with the first book with family words bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat and sat. He could read all these words with ease. He could also sound out the sounds (phonemes) of all the letters (graphemes) of these words. As such I was beginning to wonder why his parents had brought him to us in the first place.
I then decided to stop asking Steve phonemes and we went on with the next two books and just asked him to read. He could read until we came to the word ‘to’ which he read as ‘toe’. I stopped him and wrote the word ‘do’ on a paper and asked him to read it and he read it as ‘doe’. I then proceeded by asking him why he read those words as ‘toe’ and ‘doe’ without telling him that he had pronounced them wrongly. He cheerfully told me that his teacher had taught him that ‘O’ stands for octopus and also the fact that he was born in October.
I knew then that his was also a ‘shut-down’ problem as were almost all my other students whom I have taught over the past 11 years. I believe Steve had shut-down somewhere along the line when what was being taught to him did not make sense. He had not been specifically told that certain alphabets have more than one sound. Shut-down kids are kids who shut-down when things taught to them are confusing. They can learn very complicated things as taught in physics and mathematics if they understand what is being taught to them. They however shut-down when a teacher had said that ‘a’ is for ‘apple’ and then teach him words that begin with the letter ‘a’ but carries a completely different sound as in ‘arm, ace, around, all’. I repeat myself when I say that about 80% of the children learn whichever way a teacher teaches them but not the remaining 20% of kids. They need to be told explicitly that all vowels and some of the consonants carry more than one sound (at this age they won’t understand words like ‘phoneme’).
……To be continued