Saturday, September 06, 2008

Literacy Lessons for my Year 1 children

I have been using this phonics book, Word Mastery (public domain) for phonics work. You can get a slightly different pdf version on Don Potter's site. From reading the teacher's instruction chapter, I don't think the first version of WM was meant to be a stand-alone. She says you can use it with any reader.

By the way, I've gotten very interested in the history of teaching literacy. I waded through many public domain primers and first readers last year, and found that very few teach "straight" phonics. Some of these 19th century books, from the day when "everyone" was literate, are straight "word-calling" type formats. They have to be, because they introduce phonetic irregulars from the first page. It is very difficult to find one that doesn't. I have to heartily admire the one-room school teachers who used these primers, often not particularly well organized or thought through IMHO, to teach such disparate crews as probably showed up at the classroom door.

Also, they taught cursive script from Day One. They wanted children to learn to read and write script from the very beginning. This idea has had a revival in modern days.

Florence Akin, who wrote the manual laid out above, thought as many past literacy experts did in her time that there should be phonics lessons taught rather separately from the regular reading lessons. In the phonics lessons you learned to decode and spell words by phonetic rules. In reading lessons you learned to read, often by using twaddly primers. Occasionally I found a primer or first reader that tried to start right in with simplified versions of literary folk tales or fables or nursery rhymes.

My grandparents are no longer alive, so I can't ask them how they learned to read. But my mother says she learned "word calling" -- the Dick and Jane type format. She said that in her day, eventually you generalized to phonics rules. She said that I learned from a mixture of phonics instruction AND sight reading. My husband learned from whole words format. He jokes that this is why he still can't attack a new word phonetically, OR spell well. It could be that he is right, who knows?

I sometimes wonder if Scout Finch's first grade teacher was a phonics enthusiast? It might explain her sour reaction to the fact that Scout showed up already reading fine just from watching Atticus Finch's finger tracing through the lines of the newspaper as he read aloud to her. The teacher complained that parents shouldn't teach their kids to read because they taught it all "wrong", but Scout said Atticus never taught her -- ever since her earliest memory she was reading.

Off the point -- anyway, I guess I came the long way to thinking that a combination is best, and Paddy at about three requested on his own that I teach him by the Atticus Finch method. He ALWAYS wanted me to trace my finger on the words as I read to him. And now he can read a little, though he prefers to listen.

Here is what I've been doing with Aidan.

I take a few of the phonetically regular words from Word Mastery and he reads a few of the words. Here it is written out already, but often I write it as I sit with him, so he is involved in the process.

Sometimes we do "rhymes" or "rimes". He is actually quite good at this -- that is, I mention a construction -- say, "AT", and then I introduce consonants "C" and he fills in the rhyme. "CAT".

Then I make up some sentences, using a few filler "sight" words so we don't end up with excrecable sentences like "Ann can nab a cat" (I'm sorry, but I just hate "phonics-prose"). Of course, you will say these sentences I am making up are nearly as twaddly and meaningless. However, there is a difference. For one thing, he is involved in the process. I am writing them out from my head, depending on his interests to some extent. For another thing, these sentences are simple but real. They make sense. I want the kids to see that words make sense. The etymology of "sentence" is the same as the etymology of "sense" -- ie, Latin sententia -- thought, meaning, judgment, perception.

Now, in Spell to Read and Write, she doesn't have them read sentences at all until they know enough words to actually read decent simple prose. I admire the principle. The problem with this for my family is that I have one special-needs child and one very young reader. Isolated word drill just does not stick in their immature memories. Nor does "deductive phonics" -- learning the rules first, then applying them. My kids are not analytical yet. I still work on the phonogram cards with them, but in a "time capsule" fashion. I do not expect it to thoroughly pay off until they are older.

And using context clues in sentences to decipher meaning is a legitimate strategy, though not meant to stand alone.

If you go to Montessori Materials, and particularly glance at the pink, green, and blue cards, you will find something that can be helpful for "single word phonics". We used these a lot last year for Aidan. They paid off in the sense that he enjoyed them and learned to do it quite well. However, it did not generalize for him. Probably he was not quite cognitively ready. And I was not using the cards in a general context -- I'm not sure how MOntessorians actually use them.

Starfall was the same -- he can do the rimes and has done them for a couple of years. But it does not generalize outward. Still, I think with a special needs child in particular, the more roads in the better. If he enjoys something connected with phonics and words, we go for it, as long as it doesn't seem to push him backwards.

This "story writing" has evolved into both my boys embarking on "story telling". After I have worked with Aidan a bit on these types of stories shown above, he wants to tell his own story. "We picked Liam up at the train station. Our car broke down...." etc. I write these down but of course, the phonics of these sentences is not yet comprehensible, so then when I read them over to him I only ask him to read the words he has a chance of being able to decipher.

After Aidan's "lesson" I usually sit down with Paddy and the completed page as shown above, and he zips through the story in about a minute. Then he asks questions about the story. Then he wants to write his own story, too. Next time I write about this, I'll take pictures of some of their stories -- I couldn't find them this time. We have papers all over the house.

Here is what Aidan did for writing last week.

My models are on the left. The one in the middle is his first attempt. You can see he doesn't know how to end his tails. This is a recurrent motor problem of his. When he was little he didn't have physical boundaries -- when we were outside, he did not naturally gravitate around me like all my other kids did. Over time, he learned to set himself boundaries, and he does it very well now.

Remembering that, I made a box and told him to try to keep the "a" inside the box. You can see it was helpful to him. He managed to curtail the tail quite effectively. His OT works with him on coloring and mazes, for the same reason.

Very long, but I wanted to write this out. It is interesting to me that I've been more "hands-off", but more "conscious" of these youngest ones' literacy process. The other kids all had different roads to literacy, but I basically used a textbook -- 100 Easy Lessons -- plus whatever else worked with them. Winging it a bit more has made me more conscious of the process, and I am wondering if this is a general truth or just that I was so busy when I was teaching the older set that I blocked much of the process out of my memory! LOL.

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