Sunday, 8 March 2009

Identifying a struggling reader

Dyslexia is a widely used and as widely 'un'- understood term of the modern day education system. Many use the term to denote several different disabilities. This is the classical Humpty Dumpty situation of Alice in Wonderand. Humpty Dumpty had, in a gruff and summary manner told Alice that the words he used meant what HE wanted them to mean. Nothing more and nothing less. Nothing else! I may mean something and say it; yet I cannot hope to be understood if my words mean something else altogether to the reader.

The first step, then, is to identify those children who might need attention, even special attention.

There are a few children who can make sense of the various phonemic representations in English without noticing the paradoxes. The language has come naturally to these children and the automaticity of reading is well estabilshed. These children rapidly move higher along Bloom's heirarchy and face little or no challenge in reading tasks.

There are some children, however, who cannot figure out why Sir and Cir-cle both make the 'sur' sound. They are decoding rather than reading. They have to be helped to move beyond the stage of decoding into fluency. For these children, the sight word lists would necessarily include these few words that strictly do not follow phonics. It is also helpful to do word groups like CIRCLE and CIRCUS to reinforce the letter combinations like CIR. Several such combinations can be worked out by any teacher who spends only a vfew minutes on levelled readers.

Thus, children who have reached the level of the short vowel sound can progress to long vowel sound. Thereafter, they can move on to letter combinations like SH, and CH. This makes it easy for the child to progress from HIP to SHIP and CHIP. The problem comes for the child who cannot decode HIP!

These initial letter combinations then make way for letter blends- BL, BR, TR etc. Now, the child progresses from LACK to BLACK or TRACK easily. It is always more effective to provide a context and a peg for the child to retain this memory. So it does not help very greatly to simply say ( or write) all these words for the child and expect him to remember not only the words but also make sense of their usage. The strategy I follow is to read the levelled readers with the children. This provides the context. From the levelled reader I pick up any one ( or a few- upto three) letter combinations and write down the high frequency words that follow the same phonemic principles for the children. This provides the story as a start. The word from the story provides the context and the remaining words can be pegged to this word as an aid memoire.

The steps to follow, then for the bveginning reader are:
  1. Alphabet names and sound recognition.
  2. Introduction of the vowel sounds through rhymes like Old Mac Donald
  3. Short vowel sounds - BAT, BET, BIT, POT, BUT
  4. Long vowel sounds- MAT- MATE, MET- METE, BIT- BITE, DOT-DOTE, CUT- CUTE
  5. Letter combinations- SH- Ship, Shock, Shape, Shake
  6. Note here that the above words can be used as starters for another journey! SHIP- HIP, SHOCK-ROCK, DOCK, LOCK. Your imagination and the child's pace of picking up the new sounds is the only limiting factor!
For beginning readers, try to find or make (Yes! more about this in just a little while) books that follow the following principles:
  1. One to three words per page, ten to fifteen pages in all
  2. One word change per page
  3. High frequency words
  4. Words from day to day activities of the child.
  5. Easy to follow rules of phonics. Avoid sight words at the very beginning. Gradually ease into sight words in an age appropriate manner

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