Friday, March 27, 2015

My current 'Shut down' student - Part 2


We agreed to teach Steve 3 times a week for one hour each time. We also informed his parents that we would be able to teach him only until the end of March.

From day one (25.1.2015) we started writing out 5 Dolch words a day and asked his mother to make sure he knows how to spell those words on his next visit.

After the 4th lesson on 1.2.2015, we were not satisfied with Steve’s progress and requested his parents to send him over for additional 3 lessons per week. We were afraid that Steve would not be able to read by the end of March. We came to this decision as Steve would simply make out words without attempting to sound out the words. We believe that this is a coping mechanism that he uses to ‘trick’ his teachers into believing he could read. Despite us telling Steve not to guess words and that the words can be learned to be sounded out he kept guessing words. As I have mentioned in another post, bad habits are not easy to change.

By 13th February, however, we were confident that we would be able to get him to read by the end of March. After 13.2.2015 Steve came only 3 times a week. On the six extra days, we decided to just read to him and he did enjoy those 6 days as we read story books which were slightly above grade level. These books were above grade level for reading but not above his vocabulary level. He could understand all the words that were read to him.

By 12th March 2015, after 26 lessons Steve could already read quite well. He has only memorized 100 of the 220 Dolch words as of this date (no Dolch words were introduced on the 6 extra days). By the time he finishes the remaining 120 words in the Dolch word list, we are sure he will be able to read fluently.

One of the ways we teach him to read besides using his phonics skills and the Dolch words is by guiding him to look for letters in a new word that he is already familiar with. I am sure my friend Jane from the LinkedIn group will frown upon this method as it probably is not in her ‘Science of Reading’. However, when using this tactic I am reminded of the late Premier Deng Xiao Peng’s famous words: 

   “It does not matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”.
1. When we come to a new word like say; chair – we ask him if there is anything here that he already knows  and he sounds out air. We then ask him to close the letters ch with a piece of cut-out paper.
We then ask him to move to the left and now include the letter ‘h’ and its phoneme and he easily says ‘hair’. Now remove the paper and say the word and he confidently says ‘chair’.

2. Broom – We ask him to select ‘oo’ and close the br and m. He will sound out the phoneme for ‘oo’, then take off the paper from the right and he will say ‘oom’ move one step to the left and he easily says ‘room’ and with the next step he reads ‘broom’.

In this way, we have taught our students the ‘br’ sound (consonant blend) and one of the many ‘ch’ sounds (consonant digraph) without having to teach them as a combination. After a few such examples they will automatically learn the sounds of such combinations.

I don’t want to have to burden these children with learning the consonant digraphs, consonant blends, long vowel words, short vowel words, diphthongs, r-controlled words, schwa and whatever else there are in the English language. He can learn these in school or on his own at a later stage.

I am sure there are readers here who learned all the above terms much later in life. As such why flood the minds of reluctant and struggling kids with these terms?

Note: Unfortunately not all words in the English language can be taught in the above manner. We, however, tell our students that this is one of the options they can use to decode new words. Within a short period they can look at a word and do the above exercise without the use of cut out paper or their fingers. With repeated exposure to a word the word becomes a sight word and the child can read it effortlessly.

                                               "seek truth from facts"
The above is a Chinese saying "shí shì qiú shì". It is a historically established expression (chengyu).  Originally, it described an attitude toward study and research. It means to be practical and realistic.

Additional notes: There are many combinations that the child will now easily pick up as he has been reminded time and again that letters and even combinations of letters have more than one sound. For example, when you read out the word said in a lesson and later the word maid he will automatically know the sound of the ‘ai’ combination. If he were to see a new word like raid, paid and laid he would read it with no prompting required. As such there is no need to get bogged down by teaching a child what is not required to be learned at this age. I am not sure if in a written test the child will be asked questions like “Write down 4 consonant blends”. In this case one may need to teach a kid these terms.

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