Showing posts with label Teach Your Baby to Read. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Teach Your Baby to Read. Show all posts

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Loose Ends in the Waning Days of Summer

It's the time of year, when parents and kids are stocking up on school supplies and teachers are decorating bulletin boards and scrambling through professional development days while poring over their new class lists. For me, it is a good time to say a last word on some disparate issues.

Teach Your Baby to Read
Awhile back, an entry here focused on the “Teach Your Baby to Read” program (Teach Your Baby to Read Blog Entry). I criticized those programs for fostering a mis-definition of reading as word memorization and said it was not likely to be effective. I pointed out the need for research. That turned out to be a controversial blog and it generated lots of response. Most critics were parents, two of whom even offered to bring their toddlers to me to see that they were reading.

It is hard to invest in something that doesn’t work; it creates “cognitive dissonance.” That’s just a fancy way of saying that people look hard for reasons to like those things that they have already bought into. Buy a new car and you start reading more car ads than before because you look for evidence that confirms your good judgment.

This week, Susan Neuman and her colleagues published, in the Journal of Educational Psychology, a randomized control trial of studies on baby literacy programs. Their conclusion: “Our results indicated that babies did not learn to read.” The programs had no impact on measures of early literacy and language. Nevertheless, the parents who delivered the programs were sure they were working. Cognitive dissonance strikes again.

Teaching Vocabulary to English Learners
My recent blogs on academic vocabulary elicited this request: “I love that you are addressing this topic! Any advice for those of us working with large populations of ELL students?”

It's a good question. Research suggests vocabulary learning supports reading comprehension, and this impact is greater with ELLs than native speakers. ELL students are less likely to know English words, so teaching words would have a particularly powerful impact for them. 

One thing that is different for ELL kids is that it is not just academic vocabulary that they lack. If we only teach book language or the words that aren’t usually heard in oral discourse, then ELL kids may be left out. It is essential that ELLs be assessed to determine their language status. If their language development is similar to that of their English classmates, then emphasizing academic vocabulary with them makes great sense.

More likely, however, their language will lag behind. In such cases, providing them with additional instruction in vocabulary would make sense. But this instruction should focus on oral language—not written. Claude Goldenberg has promoted the idea of having a daily period devoted to English language instruction for ELLs and that makes great sense to me. Give these kids a chance to close the gap with their English-speaking peers.

I would also argue that it is important to do more than teach word meanings. That has value, of course, but so do listening comprehension and grammar lessons. Language includes more than words.

My Daughters 
There have been many responses to my blogs about teaching my daughters to read. The most chastening was from my eldest who claims I attributed the anecdotes to the wrong daughters. That may be the case, as since they were little, I often would call them by the wrong names. I always told them they were lucky that we didn’t have a dog (who knows they might have come to think Fido was their name).

I also heard from someone who wanted to know the impact of teaching the girls on their later school performance. E., the oldest, who entered school reading at a third-grade level, was chagrined to find that the kindergarten teacher would spend the year teaching letter names and sounds (she enjoyed the inflatable letter people). They let her attend first-grade part-time that year which didn’t help much since those kids could read either. She loved the freedom of being able to leave kindergarten for first-grade and, to her thinking, it was a good year. She later skipped a grade to try to get a closer match (I wish we hadn’t done that, but it was the only choice given the teaching available to her at the time—not the case in all schools).


M., the youngest who was slow at language learning, entered kindergarten with more modest accomplishments (she was reading at about a grade 1 level). Her advantages were less obvious, but I suspect more valuable. There was a very real chance that M. would have struggled with reading when she entered school. Instead, her biggest weakness was a modest strength. I have long believed that if I hadn’t taught E. to read, she would have learned at school quickly and easily anyway. M., on the other hand, may have languished with the wrong teacher or program, and she may have played catch up in language from then on. Her reading levels might have been less remarkable initially, but her reading success was guaranteed.

Both girls did well in school, and one has a degree in law and the other in engineering. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Please Don't Teach Your Baby to Read-- At Least Not with that Product

In the morning, I turn on the television to catch the early news while I get ready for work. Often there is an infomercial on about, the Teach Your Baby to Read program. I’m a big believer in teaching young children to read and have done a certain amount of research and development on family involvement and parent teaching, so I’m interested, especially in a program that promotes itself as being produced by a “scholar” in the field.

As much as I want parents to guide their children’s early reading, this is a program I would not recommend; in fact, I would even discourage its use. It is just not the right way to go. Parents could do better things with their money and their time, including actually helping their kids in ways that could get them reading before they start school.

The National Early Literacy Panel conducted a thorough review of research on early interventions (implemented any time between birth and kindergarten). We found no research on this program, and I did a quick check for newer studies recently, and that came up zilch as well. In other words, there is no evidence that this program works.

But isn’t the creator a scholar in this field? Well, it appears that Dr. Robert Titzer does have a Ph.D., though he apparently has never done any work on literacy at any level (the four papers he has published in his career seem to not have much to do with any aspect of teaching babies or anyone else to read).

What troubles me more than the lack of research (most programs lack research) and the lack of credentials (you don’t need good credentials to come up with a good idea), is the lack of correspondence with what we know about teaching children to read.

We know that decoding-based programs give kids a clear learning advantage, and that such teaching can profitably begin as early as age 3 (perhaps earlier, but let’s get some studies on that before plunging ahead). Memorizing words does have a role to play in kids’ learning, but it is a relatively small one. Nevertheless, Teach Your Baby to Read instead of helping kids to understand the alphabetic system and to develop phonological awareness and decoding skills, puts its major initial focus on word memorizing. It’s not harmful to teach words like that, but that isn’t the most effective way to go.

We know that children need to develop a lot of language ability during these early years. The National Early Literacy Panel found that early language development was particularly important in later reading comprehension development. Focusing children’s attention on such a narrow aspect of learning so early on shows a real lack of priorities.

I started working with my own daughters on reading on the days that they were born. I read a lot to my children during those early years, as did my wife. We sang to them to, and told stories to them, and played language games. By the time they were 3-years-old we were writing down their “stories” and reading those back, and we were teaching them letters and sounds (and, yes, some words, too). We got them writing their own names and trying to write stories, and so on. Both girls were able to read before they entered kindergarten.

Parents if you are willing to spend $200 on your children’s literacy development then buy some books (and supplement these with what you can get from the library), magazines, writing materials, letter blocks , etc. But invest more than your money. Instead of locking your child up in a play pen and turning on a DVD (yeah, they really do that), read to them, talk to them, sing with them, carry them around the house explaining everything to them.

When they are toddlers and can talk so much that you are going a little out of your mind, try teaching them some letter names. By the time they are three you can spend a little time each day ( more if their attention allows) working on letters and sounds and words, but just a little (when they wander away, time is up).

Reading is more than just memorizing words; it requires decoding—and that is, decoding words you do not already know how to read. Reading is more than just decoding, it requires decoding text towards comprehending the message. The babies in the commercials are cute, but they are not reading by any definition that I know.