Friday, 21 November 2008

Reading first? Or writing?

Now it is the right time to re-examine that first question which launched this blog.

What comes first reading or writing?

It is the classical hen or egg situation.

Neurophysiologically speaking, the verbal behavioral responses precede motor skills in all major ares of childhood development. The child smiles BEFORE he begins to speak. He begins to identify BEFORE he begins to call for it. It stands to logic, then, that the child should read BEFORE he begins to write.

Reading itself is an extremely complicated physiological process. Writing is infinitely more difficult, however, as it requires the child to HOLD a stylus such that it does not slip, exert just the correct amount of pressure on the paper, keep it steady in the process and hold this motor position for long enough durations.

Reading may be better understood as being composed of three main components- decoding, comprehension and retention. Decoding itself is a highly complex neural activity. This involves perception of the written signal ( letter) , identifying it, putting the several letters together, 'speaking' the same group together in the mind and then constructing a word out of all these activities. Then comes the difficult task of remembering each preceding word with the next, retaining it in the short term, making sense of each word combination- making meaningful sentences out of the written material.

That does not look too simple, does it?

Consider the writing task. First, the child must form a pincer grip... between the thumb and the forefinger. Thereafter, the remaining three fingers have to curl up to support both the stylus and the writing hand on the paper. Then, a specifically directed activity of moving the stylus in a remembered pattern results in a written word. It is essentially a motor action which is a culmination of neural training that MUST precede it.

Most schools try to teach writing before they start teaching reading in earnest... or at best simultaneously. The debate of phonics versus lack of it is still alive and unresolved. I would probably favour the mixed view. There are distinct and frequently used words which do not follow Phonics. The counting numbers are an easy to fathom example. One? Read the way it is? And two? Four? Not FORE?! Eight?

We need dedicated teachers who choose and DECIDE they are going to connect with the students. No matter what. It is not going to be easy for a child who has specific problems focus or respond to the class room stimulus as the other 'normal' students would. This does not make them any less normal- only different. Once they crack their individual code- decode process, they behave, read and write fairly normally.

These children have to be helped to do so. The responsibility that these children learn and follow the class room teaching is the sole responsibility of the teachers.

Parents need to help the process. The parents need to be able to help the child realise his or her own potential. Failure to be able to fit the square pegs in round holes is not the children's fault. If they are the square pegs, we have to create square holes for them.

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