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!