Schools here and in most parts of the world teach the alphabets as follows: a is for apple; b is for bed; c is for cat; d is for dog …….. z is for zebra. All kids whether prone to shutting down or not will easily learn these letter sounds. After this has been taught the teachers begin to teach simple words and then simple sentences and slowly start building up the vocabulary of the kids.
The problem is that, this way of teaching does not go down well with children prone to shutting down. Allow me to explain this with the way I teach kids who had shut down.
I start off teaching family words which you can find in the internet. I start with bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, sat and rat. The kids learn these words in no time at all.
Then, when I read to them the words ‘A cat’, I have seen many of these kids staring at me as if I have said something weird. After sometime when more and more kids did this I began to realize the reason for their bewilderment. When I sounded out the alphabets in the family words, I sounded out the alphabet ‘a’ in each of the family words as the ‘a’ sound in the word apple - B-a-t, c-a-t, f-a-t and so on.
When I read out ‘A cat’ they stared at me as the sound of ‘A’ now is different from the sound of ‘a’ in the family words they had just learned. Here the sound of ‘A’ is as in the word ‘around/ about’ etc. This is when shutting –down begins.(In some countries the 'A' here will be pronounced as the letter sound 'A' in Ace.
I then tell my students that in the Malay language each letter has only one sound except for the alphabet ‘e’ which has two different phonemes (as in berok – monkey and besok - tomorrow) In Romanised Mandarin each letter has only one phoneme/sound but not in the English language. All vowels in the English Language have more than one sound and so do many of the consonants.
Each time I come to a new sound of the alphabet I point it out to my students and they have no problem accepting what I say and thus are able to read.
The 80% of kids who are not prone to shutting down learn and pronounce words the way the teacher tells without questioning but not these kids who are prone to shutting down. They need to be told explicitly that the alphabets have many sounds.
Here are examples of words where the sound of the letter ‘a’ is different in each list below the first list.
A as in abide, ablaze, aboard, abode, around (listen to the sound of the letter a)
A as in apple, abattoir, absolute, accident, (the sound of letter a here is different from that above)
A as in arm, arctic, arch, ( ditto )
A as in all, also, alter, (……………………..ditto…………………. )
A as in ace, ate, ache, (…………………….. ,, …………………..)
These kids could have learned without shutting down if only the teacher had said that all vowels and many consonants have more than one phoneme/sound but this is not done and the kids shut down.