Sunday, March 22, 2015

Linkedin – Forum on how to teach reluctant and struggling readers


This is an extract from a forum on literacy for reluctant and struggling readers on LinkedIn. I have changed all the names of the people who had commented.

I recently overheard 2 reading specialists hotly debating the use of r-controlled vowels in the phonemes er, ir and ur. One was insistent that they should be taught as one sound and the other as two.

Let’s use the example “Fur” – As a Brit living in the States, I’d be interested to hear the different opinions of whether this should be taught “f_u_r” OR “f_ur” – Any thoughts? Does this differ from State to State?

It`s the phoneme /ur/, a phoneme is a speech sound, and has 5 grapheme representations.
/ur/ir/er/or as in color or flavor and/ ear/ as in earth.

Teachers need to know this backward and forward to be able to do their job!

My thoughts: The above comment was written by a specialist and she knows what she is writing about and I do agree with her about the sounds made by those letter combinations.

All schools in Malaysia first teach the alphabet and its sounds. They, however, teach only one of the sounds of the alphabet and then start teaching kids to read. This is where the problem arises – children are not explicitly told that vowels and many of the consonants have more than one sound.

As for dyslexic kids, teaching them the ur/ir/er/or sounds will confuse them even more. My dyslexic students are bound to ask me – how then do you pronounce words like pure, fire, orange and erase? These words all have ‘ir/ur/or/er’ as part of the words but not one of them sounds like ur in fur. Let us remember that we are talking about reluctant and struggling readers. As I have mentioned many times, about 80% of the kids will have no problem learning to read no matter how one teaches them. It is the 20% reluctant readers that we should be concerned about. These kids shut down when things get confusing.

I am sure the specialist who gave that comment above will be able to explain to the kids as to when the sounds above apply and when they don’t apply. But that will be additional information for kids to memorise. I have been teaching my dyslexic students the alphabet and telling them that all vowels have more than one sound and introduce the sounds as individual alphabets or as a combination when we come across a word that carries a new sound. For example, I teach them that the sound of ‘a’ in cat is the sound of ‘a’ as in ‘apple’. Then when we come to ‘A cat’ I tell them that the letter ‘A’ has another sound as in ‘around’. I make a joke about how the Americans sound this ‘A’ as in the initial sound in ‘ace’. Now the kid has learned the 3 sounds of the alphabet ‘A’ and I teach the other 2 sounds as in ‘alter’ and ‘arm’ when we come across a word with that sound.

From then on when we come to a new word with the letter ‘a’ he will be told that if one of the sounds of ‘a’ that he has learned does not ‘unlock’ the word he should use the other sounds one at a time.

In no time my dyslexic students understand that the alphabet in the English language has more than one sound unlike in the Malay language.

I do not want to burden my students with long and short sounds. I believe they will shut down if I were to tell the long ‘o’ sound as in ‘oa, oe, oo and ow’. Then I’ll have to teach them the exceptions to the long ‘o’ sound as in shoe and canoe.

Later on, I’ll also have to explain that ‘oo’ sound above can also have the long ‘u’ sound as in ‘boot,  zoo, tooth etcetera. The long ‘u’ sound is made by ‘ew, ue, ui and oo’.

Then one student is bound to ask me the different sound made by ‘oo’ as in ‘book and hook’.

I prefer my simple way of teaching which has helped all my dyslexic students over the last 11 years.

I had posted on Facebook about my first student who had just obtained his results for his SPM (grade 11) examination. He obtained an ‘A’ in English and in Mathematics. This was the student who could not read a single sentence when he first came to me in 2004 after one year in kindergarten and one year in primary one.

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