read it or weep

read 1

The last two days of school I have been participating in workshops on literacy. The first day was about how the human brain learns, and what goes wrong in the learning to read and write process. Yesterday was about decoding, homophones, rime (not rhyme, though that is important), the important of learning to write and the evil of sight words.

This particular linguistic expert puts most of the reading issues that students experience down to lower socio economic households as they are more taciturn (less verbal communication and limited vocabularies), failure to understand rhyme (yes, those old nursery rhymes do have a large roll to play in learning to read) and then a major inability to sound out the vowels, consonants and syllables in words. Oh, and the confusion of being taught homophones at the same time – for example the word rain should be taught and then about three weeks later the word rein, so that they going into  different learning nodes with different memory pathways.

It appears that teaching sight words relies all on memory and a child may appear to be able to read fluently, but present them with a word they haven’t learnt, even simple words such as “just” and they won’t be able to read it. They don’t know how to sound out vowels etc and so come to a halt.

I am of course simplifying it all, and I am still grappling to understand many of the concepts, especially as I have two full days of workshops to complete early next week, but it does make a lot of sense. Of course, none of is it new to we of the older generation, as it is how many, if not most of us, learnt to read and write.

Each level of skill must be automaticised before going on to the next level, and automaticised to a certain speed. At the same time it is taught so that the child experiences success at each level, to encourage them to proceed.

The work load is very heavy for those teachers working at the lower end of the spectrum. Next year, I will be working  with the top percentile students, what might be called gifted and talented by some ( we do actually have a few of them by some miracle!) . I hope that on Monday, or Tuesday I am given some insight into teaching them too!

Data shows that about 60% of the students entering our our school next year fall into the areas as having some form of reading difficulty. That is a scary figure. These children have passed through 8 years of schooling, including prep, and yet still fail to read and write properly. It is hoped that by the end of one year that in many cases we will have advanced them three years and hopefully introduced the students to the joys of reading for pleasure. I guess time and effort will show the proof…may the force be with us!

14 thoughts on “read it or weep

  1. Pingback: read it or weep | Flamingo Dancer's Blog

  2. I think one of the biggest lessons that can be learned that carries on outside of schooling is being able to read and to write clearly. I think it has saved my job many a time.


  3. I really enjoyed your post today. I have just recently started volunteering as an adult literacy tutor, I really enjoy working with language. Enjoy the rest of your weekend 🙂


  4. Letter recognition, phonics and word families and then learning words that don’t obey the rules, alongside a love of reading. Any school that follows this path will always outstrip one that relies on word shapes and recognition alone. Utter drivel.. We covered this at college and were all scathing of this fad. It just doesn’t work. I despair of young people whose vocabulary is becoming more and limited as we speak.


    • Ah yes… I think word shapes and recognition was part of what I was taught as “whole language” as an elementary (primary grades) education student. I took it as an acknowledgment that children will pick up cues from environmental contexts, especially business logos, but it didn’t seem to be a replacement for the skills you describe.


      • So true. I’ve seen a game app which does just that, presents word shapes and you guess which corporate name it us. I was horrified to see how many I knew.


        • It does make me wonder about the notion that schooling is preparation for integration into the workforce. And then, what implications does that have if we are a consumerist society? In the States, there has been discussion about corporate sponsorship for media used in the classroom, and other funding. Then there are businesses that have decided to create and control schools themselves.

          Quite another topic, I’m sure. I can imagine why you were horrified.


  5. FD, I was wondering what your thoughts were on:

    – learning a secondary language (learning Spanish helped me understand the Romantic-based elements of English)
    – penmanship as far as literacy, and, do you think cursive handwriting instruction is crucial to that?
    (I personally do not favor cursive, but I learned a modified shorthand method once, based on cursive)


    • A second language has little bearing on literacy, but many other benefits. Latin roots are a great boost once they have got to the level of comprehension. As it was explained to us, writing comes after decoding and reading becomes automaticised, but is important. It doesn’t appear to matter if it is printing or running writing, as long as it is just one or the other and not a mixture of both as this shows that once again it is not automatic and therefore not a strength in the literacy tool kit.


      • Interesting.

        Cursive has its advocates, but my personal emphasis is on neat, legible penmanship. I think that is a skill that is still worth teaching, but I won’t cry if cursive goes by the wayside to become a more artistic script, like calligraphy.


  6. I am a lifelong reader who raised a son who disliked reading for pleasure. He will read bike repair manuals and similar materials, but he only recently began reading novels, mostly by Middle Eastern and Indian authors. I’ve been told by a number of education pundits that many boys don’t do well under the traditional classroom system, where students sit at a desk and listen to the teacher lecture and watch demonstrations and videos, then are expected to go home and do homework from a textbook. It’s been suggested many young men would do better with hands-on, interactive learning, and the textbooks should only be use as a supplement. Which leaves one wondering how they’ll ever learn to write clear, structured texts or read analytically. My son learned somehow—he fought my attempts to make him read at home—and he did well at a college with an alternative curriculum. But it disheartens me to see so many other boys struggle in the classroom with reading and writing. There must be some disjunct between the early years, when they’re so eager to learn, and the more critical years when they learn not only reading and writing skills but social sciences and history, both reading-heavy subjects.


    • Most textbooks are written at too high a level, or use language that is not accessible by most students. I think they are just a big money spinner – think how many times students report only using a chapter or two of their text? We hope to take our students right back to the level where there is a gap in their literacy (decoding, transition comprehension or strategy) and them progress them from there – and onto success we hope.


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