Friday, 6 February 2009

The next milestone... Fluency

Once the child begins to decode easily, (s)he must then achieve a smooth flow. It is this smooth flow that is often termed Fluency in scientific jargon. Fluency is the important bridge between decoding and comprehension.

Many readers read in a flat monotone without stops ( or with too many stops), without a thought to punctuation and with little expression. This makes the reading aloud difficult to follow and almost impossible to retain. These difficulties of comprehension are a result of poor fluency.

Most parents and some teachers look askance when this subject is broached. There are many children who have cracked the code, who speak fluently, are intelligent... but... their reading does not match their intelligence. These children, along with those who fail to crack the reading code, are often branded lazy or even plain insolent. Basket cases.

This is, in fact, the saddest treatment of otherwise intelligent children. Among the key performance areas of a teacher, the most important should be to be able to reach a child who fails to reach the teacher. Sometimes, often, the teachers simply call the parents and deliver a verdict. Your child does not read. Your child cannot read. Your child is lazy. etc.

It is the teacher's responsibility to teach. Period.

Parents may go the extra mile because it is their child in question. However, the teachers are trained to teach. It is their job. For children who can- the teachers are merely providing a direction. The rest is being done by the children, themselves. For those who are struggling, the teachers need to adopt strategies that can help and lift.

The foremost among these is to raise the bar! Yes! Surprising as it sounds, raising the bar actually raises the standards achieved. When a teacher talks as if she is speaking to kindergarten kids, she gets kindergarten results. When she raises the level of communication to a level of middle or high school, the students begin to use the words they hear and improve their linguistic and vocabulary skills. These are the most important prelude to fluent reading. My four year old son called me at work one day to tell me that their Karate class was canceled due to inclement weather. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I asked him where he had heard the word. His answer was quite simple. "Mom, you were telling Didi ( his elder sister) about the swarming clouds and how the weather was inclement. I liked the sound of the word!"

Make a note of the last line- I LIKED THE SOUND OF THE WORD! Children are naturals at learning You just have to pique their interest. That is the next strategy. Vocabulary, the way it is taught is hardly the way the children will remember it! Even grammar. Vocabulary and grammar are best taught not as Black board sessions but as activities and games. The most common game played by children based on a grammar activity is Name Place Animal Thing. One child is to go thorough the alphabet in his head, the opponent stops him anywhere. Where ever the pause, that letter forms the cue. All the participants have to give a name/ place/ animal/ thing with the same alphabet. This is a sure fire game to teach simple nouns.

Instead of reading a lesson out loud or making the children do the same, teachers would do well to make it fun. Literary techniques like Alliteration and rhyming can generate a lot of laughter when the tongue twisters start rolling out. " The sixth sick sheikh's sixth sheep is sick!" The same letter as the start of the student name could be the prompt. So, Alice would have to generate a line with A alliteration. This exercise can further be used to teach parts of speech more effectively. Each sentence generated must have a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition etc. The funny alliterative sentences are more likely to form and cement memory circuits than simply reading and expecting to be remebered. For something to be remembered, it has to be memorable.

Reading teachers must introduce the concept of sight words to promote fluency. For a decoding child, phonics become the natural method to tackle new words. Howeevr, if these words do not follow the standard phonics, fluency takes a beating. Once switched on, reading does become so automatic that it is difficult to turn off. In some cases, teachers and parents have to work extra hard to achieve this.

Try this exercise. Read the following words
Now ignore the written colour name and speak out the colour it is written in.

How did you fare?

Overall, it is the interested teacher and the devoted parent who help a child achieve all of the components to crack the reading task- phonics, sight words, phonemic awareness, syllables and fluency can all be improved. It only needs patience sometimes. At those times, it is helpful to remember that the human brain is not genetically geared to read! Yes! There is no specific gene that can be linked to reading skills. And written language is a fairly recent adven in human history.

But, as I said earlier, once turned on, the reading is a largely auomatic skill that is difficult to turn off!

So happy reading...

No comments: