Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Automaticity and fluency.

Automaticity is the ability to recognise words automatically... that is- without making effort or taking time. Automaticity is a good predictor of comprehension and fluency. Automatic recognition of words marks the Stage 1, 2 in Chall's Reading staging. In stage one, the early reader begins to decode letter sounds and put them together to form words. This progresses to word recognition and decoding of Stage two. By Stage two, the early reader not only begins to decode the words but also begins to attach meanings to the text.

Fluency, however, is not only automatic word recognition but also addition of expression and prosodic features to the text being read ( rhythm, intonation and phrasing). Apart from these components that add to the comprehension of the written text, fluency also involves Anticipation. Fluency, thus, can easily be seen as a function of speed of recognition of words ( automaticity) and of the meanings there in ( prosody).

Both are vital to reading comprehension.

Reading is uniquely a human attribute and one that has no genetic basis! So... we do not have genes that decide whether we will read or not, or how we read. There is some evidence, however, that the brain wiring may play a significant role in the reading abilities or the lack of them. It is encouraging to note that reading, like several other behaviours CAN be learned. It may take a sporty child one evening to learn how to cycle and another not so sporty child a week to do so. Once the skill of cycling, or swimming, or driving is learned, however, it is yours for life... a spinal reflex. So is reading.

Exposing the children to written word early, repeating often and making it fun all go a long way in nurturing automaticity. A child who KNOWS more words verbally, is able to readily recognise them when exposed to them even if they do not follow the rules of phonics.

English is not an easy language to master. A set of twenty six alphabets presents us with forty phonemes. The same sounds may be represented by several letter combinations, or even letters. Consider Car, Kite. Both the c, and the k say the K sound. Circle and set both say the S sound. If this was not bad enough, ch can say Church and Chemistry, ea can say EAr, hEArt, hEAd, rEAd ( as in reed AND as in red!)

The clues provided by contexts in these situations are readily used by fluent readers to attach not only the right sounds but also the right meanings to those sounds.

Thus, fluency also involves abstraction and synthesis of teh written words into meaningful texts. The quiggles become words BECAUSE we are able to CONSISTENTLY attach teh same meanings to them. It is this attaching meanings that MUST be taught early and reinforced periodically.

Also important is the fact that struggling readers are working with a psychological handicap. Who, in his right mind, would WANT to do something that they are not good at?! It is, therefore, important to move in logical steps, presenting easy to decode age appropriate texts, allow the child to succeed(!) and progressively raise the difficulty level of material presented.

It is also important to emphasise on HOW a child learns not WHAT a child learns. This is a concept difficult to grasp for present day parents as they focus on Class appropriate scholastic skills. If a child is able to read and answer questions from their text books, they are smart! This could not be farther from the truth. Today, the schooling is, infact, killing creativity of our children. It forces them to conform. It does not allow them to make mistakes. And if they do not make mistakes they do not uncover anything new for themselves.

In the initial stages, the child is 'learning to read' and then goes on to 'read to learn' in the middle school. Orthographic knowlege and its application necessarily has to become automatic by this reading stage. While most readers move effortlessly from stage to stage, some students need special strategies to be taught in order to acquire word automaticity. This is most easily taught by
  • Introducing and expanding sight word recognition. These lists may be fifty to hundred word long for kindergarten and expand to 150- 250 words in a single academic year in class I. Language acquisition is rapid at this time. Repeat often.
  • Use syllable patterns to teach word vocalisation. There rae essentially six patterns of syllables. These can be introduced at progressive stages as the child begins to understands and recognise each pattern. These patterns are:
  1. Closed- where the vowels are 'closed' by consonants on either side- BaT. The vowel makes a short sound in these orthographic patterned words.
  2. Open- where the vowel is bounded by a consonant only on one side- Go. The vowel speaks its own sound here, except with the 'e' endings where the preceding vowel speaks its own sound... Mat v/s MaTe.
  3. Silent e- where teh e is not spoken but makes the preceding vowel say its own sound ( mentioned above)
  4. vowel combinations- these are a little difficult to teach and must be introduced with care and in clusters of words. EA- read, bead, head, plead/ AI- ail, bail, fail, grail, hail, pail/ EI/ IE/ OU/ etc.
  5. Controlled r- as in girl, bird, weird Here the ' i' is saying the 'u' sound.
  6. Consonent l + vowel e- as in table, able, fable, circle etc
English orthography can be seen to result in four major types of words:
  • Words that are read and spelt regularly. These words follow the phonics rules and are easy to read and write. Red, Bed, Mat, Ink, Drink etc
  • Words that are read regularly but can be spelt wrongly following phonics principles. 'Goat' may be spelt Gote; Head may be spelt as HED.
  • Rule based. These can easily be taught through well defined and consistent rules." i always after e except before c, or when said as A, as in neighbour and weigh". Or doubling for making continuous consonant ending words - run- ruNNing.
  • Irregular these are the words that do not seem to follow any rules nor phonics- cue/ queue, beautiful.
Each of these orthographic patterns must be presented to readers and reinforced and repeated for orthography to become an automatic response to the written word.

For fluency to become as reflexive as automaticity, functions of syntax, chunking, punctuation marks, intonations and emphases need to introduced early.

On a light note, we may end this heavy section by an anonymously writtena nd often quoted poem that once found its way into my mail box, too!

I take it you already know,
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps. Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead - it’s said like bed, not bead,
For goodness’ sake, don’t call it ‘deed’!
Watch out for meat and great and threat,
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt). A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up – and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword. And do and go and thwart and cart –
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start! A dreadful language? Why man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five.