Thursday, 18 December 2008

How can parents help childen read more fluently AND more confidently

We have already touched upon these two aspects of reading in the last few posts. But it bears repeating and elaborating.

Children learn oral language skills quite naturally by interacting with their care providers. Richer this experience, richer is the memory bank from which they can draw later. Earlier the deposit, more is the benefit of interest accrued.

The age old bonding activity of reading bed time stories goes a long way towards promoting a reading interest in the first place. The children begin to understand that a word that is spoken may be written and it is always written in the same manner. Conversely, the written word is always written the same way and is spoken the same way.

Initial leveled readers that introduce the concept of words and reading are based on two to five word per page principle. These words are repeated over and over on each page. There is at most one word change per page. ( I still remember the Lady bird series and the title Chicken Licken! The words " sky is falling down" were written on each page. Each facing page had the same reaction from a new animal that Chicken Licken met. Chicken Licken met Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Drakey Lackey, Goosey Loosey and Foxy Loxy. the animals were ( conveniently) named in rhyme to reinforce the name, the reactions were ( conveniently) always the same. "I am going to tell the King" " I will come too!")

By the time my pre- readers finished the first or the second reading, they had picked up most of the words by memory. This brings us to the next controversy in teaching reading. Is it not promoting learning by rote to provide such repetitive reading material? Is that a good idea?
All reading is a phenomenal memory game!

We learn to read by remembering some symbols and by associating that to the sound that symbol will almost always make. I say ALMOST because there are exceptions to the symbol sound consonance. CH can be CHURCH, CHEMISTRY, CHIMERA ( ch, k, sh) We then read by recalling what we have learnt. The brain must first perceive, then hunt its data base for the sound corresponding to the written symbol, then read aloud ( or mumble or even just read 'in your head!') Promoting the learning of words goes a long way in promoting fluency later.

The two strategies of teaching by repetition and reading by phonic-phonemic correspondence promote reading- decoding and improve the child's performance at age appropriate tasks of reading.

This also introduces words to the child that build his/ her vocabulary. Greater the initial deposit= greater the the returns! Good spoken language and good vocabulary make the reading infinitely easier. The word recognition then proceeds rapidly and the retrieval system of the brain does not fumble when reading a new, as yet unknown word. The brain simply recognizes what it already knows.

Exposing the child to print early also enhances the connectivity of the brain cells. The brain activity when it simply sees a symbol is vastly different from when it sees and attaches a meaning to the symbol.

In the first instance the cells of the Occipital cortex ( the brain area that deals with the eyes) is activated as can be seen on functional MRIs or PET scans. While in the latter, in reading words and attaching meaning to them, the neural activity flares out like a forest fire to involve all the surrounding areas that are often called the Visual association areas well into the temporal and the parietal lobes but also involves specifically the language area deep within the tremporal lobe as well as the Frontal association areas. The vast area stimulated in the task of reading ( and decoding) testifies to the complexity of the process involved.

Thus, any activity- rote or repetition and the step by step decoding of the phonics approach promote creation and activation of several connections in the brain.

Such repetitive activities as learning music and playing the same games over and over again also reinforce the brain connections. Is it a surprise then, that the child can hear the same story of Cinderella OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER again without a hint of boredom whereas the adult may dose off while repeating the same story to the child so many times!

For the child who likes to experiment with the concept of being able to write or draw the symbols himself or herself, the first thing to be done is to promote the pincer frip. We shall come to the concept of writing and the pre-writing skills and abilities a little later.

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