Let's Discuss Reading!

I've written a lot of stuff over the years related to teaching reading. I've noticed a push lately to discuss how teachers aren't really taught in teacher school how to actually teach reading based on research. I think I'll start sharing some of my writing and some links. To start it off, here is a Quora response of mine to the question "What are the best ways to teach kids to read?" If you manage to read all the way through there is a bonus link to an excellent podcast.

I absolutely love to discuss the process of learning to read!

After having taught first grade for five years and teaching three children to read, I definitely have some entrenched beliefs on teaching children to read. Much of my belief system is based on experience watching children learn to read.

There is often this idea that children best learn to read on their own. Of the roughly 130 children I taught in first grade, there were under 10 of them that learned to read on their own. One of them was reading at the 6th-grade level. She was awesome. And one often hears adults telling how they learned to read on their own by age three, so it does happen.

Most children that were read to and talked to by their parents on a consistent basis learned to read readily regardless of the two methods I used during my time teaching. Their parents did a good job preparing their children to learn to read.

But then there were the children that barely knew how a book worked. And there were a lot of them. The idea that those children are going to learn to read on their own or “when they are ready” is false. They don’t have the tools to make it happen.

I mentioned that I taught using two different methods. As a beginning teacher, I used the resources made available to me. Lots of worksheets and the books we worked on were done as a class. So the really good readers and the really bad readers were left out to a degree. It was a basal series by one of the big education companies. I hated it.

Then I discovered a program called “The Writing Road to Reading” which very explicitly taught 70 phonograms and their 108 associated sounds as well as around 30 spelling rules. The change was amazing. Children could now learn at their own speed. Once they learned the sounds and were able to blend, they started reading books at their level and took off. Even the children that struggled improved markedly with hard work. People often question this method as if it somehow stamps out the joy of reading.

My response to that is to say that children absolutely love success. As they learn the phonograms and start reading successfully at their own level, they keep reading. It was not 100% true, but in my experience, the level of success was higher with this method versus the method I had been using. Spend a little time in a classroom and you will soon understand that some children just struggle. For many different reasons.

Substitute teachers in my classroom marveled at how well my students read. We did a presentation for the school board and I was told that was the most impressive presentation one member had seen in 20 years. I don’t share this to blow my own horn, trust me. I was not getting such feedback prior to using the phonograms.

So, as to how children learn to read. I believe they need to learn the parts that words are made up of (phonograms), blend those parts together to get the words and then keep reading. It is amazing how quickly children learn words and quit sounding them out once they have seen them a few times while actually reading. It sure happens faster than getting whole words flashed at them on a card repeatedly.

I absolutely acknowledge the need for children to be read to and talked to and have reading modeled for them by the adults in their life. This is all of the utmost importance in learning to read and should be done for years before they are ever introduced to the phonograms.

Here's that link:

At a Loss for Words: How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers

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