Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Thursday, January 26, 2012
A mother is doing her marketing with her 5-year-old in tow. She stops by the magazine rack and sees some children's workbooks aimed at teaching phonics. She pages through one of them and drops it into the grocery cart.
This kind of scene plays out daily across America. Mothers want their kids to do well in school, and in grade 1 being able to read is "doing well." (It is no accident that so many grocery stores, drug stores, etc. sell such workbooks.)
Such materials help kids to see the match between letters and sounds and a lot of kids like "playing school." I'd be hard pressed to say that those workbooks teach reading, but they do help give kids some purchase on letters and sounds.
And then there are ABC refrigerator magnets, letter blocks, posters, Sesame Street, and these days, various electronic games and activities -- the best equipped preschoolers wouldn't be caught dead without their PDA, Blackberry, or I-Phone these days.
Some of my colleagues discourage parents from buying such materials. I don't. Kids often find them to be kind of fun, and I don't think they do any harm. In fact, I think they help kids to learn some things that need to learn if they are going to be readers and the more opportunities kids get to learn these things the better.
Which brings me to some new digital materials that parents can use in helping their children to learn to decode--that is to sound out words. The site is called Reading Bear and it is free to anyone who wants to use it.
It has some pretty good features. Probably the best is that it sounds words out for the children, showing them graphically how the sounds match the letters (try to do that with a workbook). There are lots of electronic flashcards, activities, and quizzes, and the particular exercises change items a lot which can help keep kids interested.
While I don't think this program will teach your child to read, I think it could help.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Back in the 1990s, there were lots of arguments in reading education between those who believed that explicit phonics was helpful in teaching reading and those who advocated whole language (whose views ranged from no phonics to occasional mini-lesson phonics as needed.
These days, those arguments don’t happen quite as often. The National Reading Panel reviewed data on phonics studies; the National Early Literacy Panel reviewed data on phonics; and phonics studies continue to accumulate. It seems pretty clear that phonics instruction is helpful in getting reading started quickly and appropriately and so most teachers in the primary grades usually try to deliver such teaching.
But there still are arguments about that from the second-language community. The thought among some experts on English language learning is that such teaching may help native speakers, but it isn’t beneficial to those who don’t already know English.
Are they crazy? No, they are not crazy, but it appears that they are wrong; or at least partially wrong. Their fear is that teaching students to focus on sounds instead of meaning will derail things for kids who need to be intensely focused on meaning. They also, again quite rightly, point out that those phonics studies reviewed by the various panels did not include English learners; therefore, we can’t use that evidence to determine what is best for such kids (seems like a fair argument to me).
However, phonics research on English learners has been accumulating for the past decade (I’m in the middle of meta-analyzing that), and it seems evident now that such teaching is beneficial to those kids, too. Phonics not only appears to improve their decoding, but this decoding advantage carries over to comprehension as well.
But I said that those English Language Learner experts weren’t entirely wrong. How does that work given those findings? One of the main reasons that those experts bridle at phonics for second language learners is because schools often only have one plan for helping students who are low readers. That means the English learners are always stuck into the phonics group, no matter what assessments would show about them.
I just read some terrific studies by Sharon Vaughn and her colleagues. They came up with an intervention that explicitly taught phonics, but also explicitly worked on English learners’ vocabularies and comprehension. And that makes sense. Even if these kids struggle with decoding, they still will need help with oral language and comprehension. None of the studies that have shown the benefits of phonics to English learners has done this in a vacuum; these kids were getting language and comprehension support too.
By all means, teach phonics to English learners who are beginning readers or who are struggling with decoding, but teach that phonics along with substantial high quality instruction in meaning as well.