I have written about a British who could read fluently in Japanese and yet was ‘dyslexic’ when it came to reading in English. I have articles by researchers saying that Italians who could read fluently in Italian could not read well in English. I personally have taught many dyslexic kids who could read well in Malay and yet were dyslexic in English. Now, my friend Bob has said that a Harvard professor who wrote the introduction to the 1912 English translation of The Montessori Method also wrote "That (handwriting fluency) might work for Italians, but it would never work for Anglophone students".
How can we incorporate handwriting with what I have been writing in my blog on teaching ‘shut-down’ learners?
As explained in my post on shut down learners a majority of kids shut-down when things taught to them are inconsistent with what they have learnt earlier. Why do they shut-down when it comes to learning to read in English but not when they learn to read in Italian, Malay or any other orthographically consistent language? Let us take Malay for illustration purposes. Each letter in the Malay language has only one phoneme/sound except for the letter ‘E’ which has 2 phonemes. This does cause a little problem for students when they come across a new word with the letter ‘E’. But, other than words with the letter ‘E’ anyone can read Malay by the time he goes to grade 2.
As explained in my earlier post, this is not the case with the English language where all vowels have more than one sound and even consonants are not spared.
How then may we combine handwriting and learning to read fluently? My suggestion would be to teach the names of the letters of the alphabets which the kids can learn to write while they sound out the names of the letters.
The teacher should then teach the kids that all vowels have more than one sound. Start by teaching words commencing with the letter sounds first. For the letter ‘A’ they can start by learning to write and sound out words like: Ace, ate, add, age etc and then the teacher can even teach them to write words with that particular sound in the word like: face, race, lace etc.
On another day the teacher should introduce another sound of the letter ‘A’ while saying that this is another sound of the letter ‘A’, for instance: Ago. Again, Agree, Around, Ado etc.
Similarly the teacher should teach the kids words with the letter ‘A’ which has other sounds.
The fact that the teacher has taught them that all vowels have more than one sound will open up the minds of these kids and they will be prepared for different sounds of the alphabets thus preventing them from shutting down.
In fact after teaching just one sound of the letter ‘A’ as in the family words bat, cat, fat, mat, pat, rat, and sat we can teach them to read sentences just by teaching them 2 sight words like ‘on’, and ‘and’,
My first book on phonics which I had written with pictures drawn by some school students, I teach the following and my dyslexic students are elated that they can read.
My first book is something like the following:
A fat cat
A fat cat sat on a mat
A fat cat and a rat sat on a bat
Having taught the kids that the letter ‘A’ has more than one sound and having taught them the sound of ‘a’ as in cat and fat, I introduce another sound when I teach them the words ‘A fat cat’. Now, I tell them that the sound of ‘A’ as in ‘A fat cat’ is different from the first sound of the letter 'a' they had learnt.
The above is all a teacher needs to ensure kids do not shut-down. NOW they have been told that some letters in English have more than one sound and when a new sound is introduced they are informed. They do not shut-down. When kids do not shut down they will learn to read like students who learn Malay and Italian. Illiteracy will be reduced.