Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reading Instruction and Reviews

Pretty formal title, right?

In my seemingly never ending quest to be the perfect homeschooling mother I tend to over-research and over think nearly everything. Reading has been no different.
Fortunately for the sanity of everyone around me and the ease of use for myself and Sweet Pea we were able to work together to weed through the options and settle on things that worked for us, and things that in general just seemed silly.

First on phonics vs. whole language vs. sight words vs. whatever else is out there- I am a firm and staunch supporter of phonics with a few, select sight words thrown in. I do not like "pure" phonics that waits to introduce every single word until you have discussed the applicable rules and the child can sound it out. It's not a horrible idea, but it really limits the available reading material for the child and keeps them only in the phonics program, and in my experience it gets exasperating for the child. Who wants to be limited to, "A rat sat" longer then needed?

Whole language and the thankfully no longer widely used sight word only methods are too far in the other direction. Some children DO learn to read just by being immersed in a language and print rich environment and pick up the rules rather instinctively. Some of these children learn to read very early and without their parents knowing exactly how it happened, and some learn later. For these children as long as they don't run into future problems a spelling program when appropriate seems to be enough.

Most kids need methodical reading instruction in my experience, and in the experience of most moms I know. So if you don't have a self taught reader and you are facing down the scary prospect of welcoming your child into the wonderful world of literacy- this is for you.

Sweet Pea learned to read simple words at 4.5 and now at 5.5 is between a late 2nd and early 3rd grade reading level. For a free and simple reading test I really like : which is by no means exhaustive, but provides an excellent starting place- especially if you click the samples at the bottom when your child is at the top level to see if they can read the page as well as the list of words. Words in a vacuum is not the same as comprehending a sentence!

How did we get there? Did my hair go white in the process? (It did not.)

The very first, earliest foray into reading in this home was through Starfall, and I really like it. It's phonics based, mildly interactive and keeps the attention of older toddlers and young preschoolers. We used it mostly to pique Sweet Pea's interest and to cement the names of letters in her mind. There's a big jump between knowing letters, knowing letter sounds, and being able to blend letters together. For us this was perfect way to learn letter names and letter sounds. It does not really help with letter order since the alphabet is so often taken one letter at a time on the site. And that was fine with me.

After we were solid and Sweet Pea was showing readiness to being the blending journey we introduced new things and left Starfall behind. First thing that I tried with her was How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. I had read a lot of reviews on reading programs- pages and pages and talked to many mothers online and in real life. I heard some really great things about this book, and I was fully prepared to love it.

We HATED it. Sweet Pea cried when it would come out. I disliked the special markings around the text. I found it condescending, too scripted, and loathed that it included writing as an important part. Sweet Pea was ready to read, but not to write. It was a really poor fit, and after we realised that I came across a swarm of other people that had the same complaints. I know some people have great luck with it, and it's not an unsound approach- it just didn't work for a child not ready to write and who didn't like all the extra markings. And I was a poor teacher of it.

I cast my net around a little desperately, feeling mostly like a failure. Reading is so basic, so needed- so intergal to schooling that I had to teach it well or I'd feel like a failure and despair. See the drama?

I came across the Hooked on Phonics kits by chance at this point, and latched on. The exact kits we used are the ones linked- I believe that they have retooled and I am not familiar with what is in the new packages. I had no experience with the program outside the commercials I had seen on TV, but I was willing to try. And it was a perfect fit. Relief. It blended sounds, introduced short stories for interest right away, and had some flash cards with sight words that really opened up our available options. We didn't use the computer program, and didn't use the audio CD. Some pages we rushed through and some we were stuck on for quite a while. We completed the whole Kindergarten package and then the 1st grade package, and although we also had the 2nd grade kit I began tentatively looking around for other options.

It was becoming a little tedious- Sweet Pea was ready to move forward at a more brisque pace and I was looking for something that didn't just introduce sounds but also told the rules- and explained them.

At this point I tried the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington. Jessie Wise is the co-author of the Well Trained Mind, along with her daughter Susan Wise Bauer. It was exactly what I was looking for at that point. It would have been too dry and to the point when Sweet Pea was just starting, but at the point where she could get her fun from easy readers, it was perfect. It was pretty easy to figure out where in the book we needed to start and surprising there wasn't too much we'd missed.

This book is what we are currently meandering through. Our daily intense phonics instruction has fallen a little since Sweet Pea is reading so well, but we're still addressing the lessons and will probably until we dnish the book. It goes through about a 4th grade level from what I've read.

So that's what I know at this point. I have successfully taken one child from pre-reading to reading confidently and happily, and will soon begin gently introducing the pieces to a second. My way works for my family- we have enough programs that I think we can address differently learning styles, but it doesn't mean it would be exactly the right way with your family. My point is more that with reading programs- don't feel tied at all to one program or approach. If it's not working or you are spending a lot of time tweaking and changing and altering, it may be the sign that it's time to switch. Throw it overboard and cast the net on for the right fit.

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