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Teaching Reading


									Teaching Reading
                The Good Teacher: Teaching Reading From Birth On

                                      by Jessie Wise

This is an edited version of Jessie‘s conference workshop, Teaching Reading, Birth-4th
Grade. Click here for Jessie‘s speaking schedule!

The last year I taught sixth grade , I had 2 sixteen-year-old boys in my class who had not
yet learned to read. I‘d never heard of home schooling, but I remember thinking, ―If I
ever have a child, he will know how to read before he goes to school.‖

So when my oldest child turned 4, I said to him one day, ‖ Bob, would you rather take a
nap, or would you like to learn how to read?‖ He chose reading! I started him on the old-
fashioned phonics I‘d been taught when I was a child. I‘d lie down with him on his little
bed after lunch and work on letter sounds. (Since I also had a two year old and a thirteen
month old, I was always glad to lie down.) We practiced vowels and consonants, and
sounded out new words that year. We called it ―doing kindergarten.‖ The next year, my
middle child was three,and she wanted to be included. ―My do kindergarten, too,‖ she‘d
say. I would boost her up and let her repeat the sounds after me. She learned to read that

When I had the children tested two years later, Bob was in school in second grade and
reading on a 7th grade level. Susan was in school in kindergarten and was reading on a
5th grade level. This is what I had produced by my careful preparation for school.. The
psychologist suggested I teach the children at home because they were so advanced. This
was in l973, and I had never heard of modern home schooling, but I began that academic
journey. I believe early reading instruction played a major role in producing three
children earning three college degrees. The two oldest have between them three masters‘
degrees, and one is now in a doctoral program.

And it is spreading to the grandchildren! My daughter Susan and I started formally
teaching reading to Susan‘s two oldest when they were 4. Christopher is in second grade
and is reading 4 & 5th grade books. Ben is still 5 and is reading on an advanced 1st grade
level. Daniel is 2 and already knows all of his alphabet and most of the sounds. We plan
to start him in a primer and systematically teach him when he turns 3. They are all
exuberant about their accomplishments and are happy, playful children.

I hear parents say, ―I don‘t want to push my child.‖ Making sure your child is a good
reader when he is young is not pushing; it is opening before him a world of information,
pleasure, and opportunity for a lifetime. I think it is common for parents to underestimate
what a very young child can learn easily. I know I was surprised at what I had done with
my children‘s reading abilities.
When can you begin reading instruction?

Pre-reading activities start from birth as a child learns spoken language from family. A
child learns first to understand language, by being talked to and read to. Then he learns to
talk and sing. Now he is ready to begin learning symbols that represent sounds. The first
exposure to the alphabet comes most easily with the parent singing the alphabet song
often — when rocking him, when riding in the car, just in play. Put an alphabet poster in
his room where you can sing the song and point to the letters. My daughter Susan, whose
2-year-old recognizes all the letters of the alphabet, put the alphabet on the wall just
above the changing table. She sang the alphabet song and pointed to the letters when she
changed his diaper–that was often!

Another important exposure to the alphabet comes with the reading of alphabet books.
Read the same ones over and over. A favorite of my children and grandchildren is Dr.
Seuss‘s A B C. It starts off ―Big A, little a, what begins with ‗A‘?‖ Read rhymes.
Especially traditional nursery rhymes. Read large colored picture books, pointing out the
object as you say the word. Read books onto tapes, along with your child‘s comments so
that he can listen to you read over and over again. Get an infant-proof tape recorder so
that he can listen to you reading, singing, talking, telling stories, and reciting poems while
he plays in his crib. Read, read, read to the child .Let him snuggle in your lap. Start
bedtime early so you have time to read.

Talk, talk, talk to the child, telling him what you are doing. ‖ I‘m putting your red shirt on
you. Here it goes over your head. Now, let‘s put on your socks. Here‘s your left foot. On
goes the white sock.‖ Talk out your daily activities.

In summary, I am saying the way you teach pre-reading is exposure, exposure, exposure.

By two years of age a child that has been talked to and sung to, read to, often and
consistently will begin to mimic language. A very small percentage of children may have
a medical disability. But there are common reasons why a child of normal ability may not
begin to talk by age two. One mother told me,‖We never talk when the children and I are
home alone unless it is to give a direction.‖ Both of her children were late talkers and
very slow to learn to read.

When you get to the place with your toddler that you can hold up a round, sweet treat and
the child can say ―cookie,‖ he is ready for you to start holding up an ―A‖ and learn that
the symbol is an ―A‖ Use a wooden or cardboard ―A‖ . The naming of a letter is just like
naming ―nose,‖ fingers,‖ etc., all the things you teach little children to name. There is no
pressure. You are not pushing your child. Children love to learn new things.

At any time when the child is learning the name of the letter, you can also teach him that
―The letter‘s name is ―M‖ and it says ―mmmmm‖. Because of M & M‘s and
McDonald‘s, this is often the first letter that the child learns both the name and the sound.
Children have little trouble learning that the letter has a name and it says something. They
soon learn that the name of their pet is ―cat‖ and that the cat says ―meow‖. They easily
learn that ―A‖ is the letter‘s name and that it says ―a‖ as in apple. Use the same approach
for ―e‖ as in egg, ―i‖ as in igloo, ―o‖ as in octopus, and ―u‖ as in umbrella.

Put corn meal or grits in a cookie sheet with sides. Guide his finger to draw the letters.
Some children will try to use a pencil at age 2 or 3, others are not physically mature
enough. IF your child shows interest in ―drawing‖ with a pencil or crayon, teach the
correct way to hold the pencil from the beginning so there is no habit to break later.

The words I remind parents of when I discuss repetition in early learning are: PATIENT,
PATIENT means you don‘t show disapproval when he doesn‘t know it. You just say it
yourself and move on to whatever else you are doing.
FREQUENT means you do it often throughout the day.
CONSISTENT means you continue without long periods of not doing it. You don‘t do it
for 3 weeks and then don‘t mention it for a month.

Phonics Instruction for the Threes, Fours, and Fives

Start with five minutes every day. Work up to fifteen minutes. Don‘t ask, ―Do you want
to do your reading now?‖ unless the alternative is truly awful, like my son Bob‘s opinion
of taking an afternoon nap! Plan it as matter-of-factly as you would plan toothbrushing.

Around 4, certainly by age 5, I would start a systematic daily phonics teaching session.
Most five year olds are capable of learning to read, which doesn‘t mean that all of them
will want to do it instead of playing. A child who squirms, complains, or protests isn‘t
demonstrating ―reading unreadiness,‖ he is simply being five. If the child doesn‘t want to
learn to read, tell him that you‘re going to do ten minutes per day anyway. Susan‘s 4-
year-old boys were like this and within a year they were reading.

The beginning stage, when the child is learning to sound out three-letter words for the
first time, is the most difficult. Persist. And it begins to click. You have to be patient until
the break- through but use common sense. If you‘ve started on three-letter words, doing a
faithful 10 minutes per day for a month or so and the child shows no comprehension, and
he hasn‘t made the connection between print and sounds,drop it for a month or two and
then come back to it.

A primer that systematically teaches the sounds of the letters and then shows the child
how to blend them from left to right into words is all that is necessary. I have used
Phonics Pathway, the Victory Drill Book,and Phonics First, by Modern Curriculum

Many of the programs that contain reinforcements were originally designed for classroom
use. A teacher teaching a whole group of students to read can‘t sit down with each one
and teach each letter. That is intensive one-on-one process. The teacher of a group has to
resort to reinforcing correct sounds through secondary aids in a nonreading context. If
you want to do a phonics workbook you can use Modern Curriculum Press‘s level K with
a 3 or 4 year old who can manage a crayon or pencil. Use their lst grade workbook with
your 5-year-old.

Some good phonics programs insist that you combine writing with reading and tell you
not to progress on until the child is able to both read and write sat, fat, bat, from dictation.
I think this tends to frustrate very young readers. Your goal is to get the child to read
quickly, easily, and early. Many children are ready to read before they have the muscular
coordination to write as fast as they can learn to read. I have done the reading and writing
drills separately until first grade. Teach one letter (always do capital and small letter
before going to next letter) at a time.. you can just go through the alphabet, or you can
follow the order in your primer, going back to the beginning with the writing, but forging
ahead with the reading. It is important to closely supervise the forming of the letters in
the beginning. It is more work to break incorrect habits later.

For a good list of phonics resources, visit the National Right to Read web page.

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