Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Does It Make Sense?

As many of us know and something I have previously mentioned in this blog is that it is oh so common to instruct children to "sound it out." What this phrase actually means can be dissected into various strategies like chunking and using the first letter of a word to figure out what the word is. When a word like "this" or "know" come into a reading, without previous memorization a child will not be able to simply "sound it out." This is when a child can turn to the strategy of filling in the blanks with a word that makes sense.

Using context clues can often be the most powerful method for students to use when learning more complicated words. This strategy also encourages reading comprehension, which is the true reason for achieving fluency and accuracy, right?

Encourage children to become investigators and detectives as they discover unknown words! Through practice, this strategy will become natural and students will be able to much more accurately identify unknown words and reach higher levels of comprehension.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Read What You Want!

We hear it over and over again as educators to run with student ideas, tweak your lessons to fit a stduent conversation, do activities that children are interested in and care about. What a wonderful world of education it would be if all of these things were happening all of the time! Although we know that these methods are the best ways to reach children and help them grow as students, we often fail, and one area that it is made easy for us to fail is in literacy. We have been given an "out" to adapting our instruction, and as a result, struggling readers are still struggling, and the education gap is widening.

This "out" that I am referring to is called leveling. Leveling is when texts are matched to readers based on the level that the student has tested into through generic assessments. Some of the leveling programs take many factors into account in these assessments, but many are based strictly on oral reading accuracy. How many of you think that reading level is based only on a child's ability to accurately and fluently read out loud?

That's what I thought.

So why is it that we turn to a system that uses instruction that we know is not the best way to help our children reach proficiency? There are many answers that can be found to that question when the system is disected, but the most simple answer is that in such an overwhelming, complex situation such as leveling, a techer is likely to get overwhelmed, abandon her personal strategies, and simply go by the book. Teachers are stripped of their independence and flexibility to engage when placed underneath a strict system. Either a teacher feels too overwhelmed or he is simply being too lazy to overcome the rigidity of the system.

Either way, there is an overreliance on materials and an underreliance on teacher abilities to take the task, the learner, the materials, and the context into account when giving reading instruction. Once a teacher is able to look past the system and see every outside force as a factor in a student's success, she will be able to choose appropriate, engaging texts for individuals and lead them to the proficiency we have been searching for.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rethinking, Rephrasing, and Reconsidering

As teachers and parents, we all have memories of moments when a child is reading with you, and when they have a question about a word, the only answer that you have is, "sound it out." Sound it out... what are you telling a child to do when you are telling them to do this?

This is a question that a cultural model has left us to not ask. We have grown up being told this and this is the same instruction that we are continuing to give to out students, even though it is not the most effective. Studies have shown that the strategy of sounding it out by using individual letters or chunks of recognizable sounds are not truly the strategies that children naturally use. As teachers fostering the minds of these young children, we want to keep them from making as many mistakes as possible in their journey to reading. Common struggles that readers fall into when instructed to "sound it out" are the following:

-Recognizing the first letter of a word and replacing it with a different word that starts with that same letter
-Taking the context of a story and replacing a word with a word that has similar meaning
-Using the incorrect structure of a word
-Replacing a word with one that looks similar but may have a few different letters
-Asking for help to solve an unknown word
-Using individual letter sounds to come up with a word's whole sound
-Using chunks of words to come up with a word's whole sound

These are struggles that we need to identify in chidren and can word to steer away from by coming up with new, more beneficial strategies to help them. We need to be innnovative and rethink, rephrase, and reconsider the methods we are using.