Friday, March 11, 2016

Death To Sound It Out!

When I was in college, I had a Teaching Reading professor named Christine Farris.  She was tough.    BOY was she tough.  I guess she had to be tough since she was the eldest sibling to the late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  She would come into the classroom sharp with her zebra print from head to toe.  She would say, "Whole language" in her southern drawl and discuss the ongoing debate of whole language versus phonics instruction.  I guess it was this experience that laid the foundation for my work as an early elementary teacher and later work as a literacy coach.

As a teacher, I watched kindergarten and first grade students struggle to learn to read.  They would memorize sight words, learn letter names and sounds.  When they would struggle, I would jump in and tell them to "sound it out."  Some would have success and others would continue to struggle.  As I travel from school to school, I hear teacher after teacher echo my same call to struggling readers, "sound it out, sound it out, sound it out, " with little or no success.    Sound out that sight word, which is designed to be just that, a word that you can recognize based on viewing the whole word.  Sound out millennium, a word that is multi-syllabic and should be divided into its syllables.    Why do we do this?  Why do we continue to use something that only proves effective a percentage of the time?  If we were doctors trying to draw blood, would we continue to prick the same vein if we're not getting enough blood to fill the vile?

When we say sound it out, often times we don't see this process from a struggling reader's point of view.   For instance, for a simple word like cat, a reader must look at the grapheme c, think about the sound it makes and say /c/.  Next, look at the grapheme a, think about the sound it makes and say /a/.  Then look at the grapheme t, think about the sound it makes and say /t/.  Then remember all of those sounds, blend them in their head and come up with a word that makes some kind of sense.  We are asking students to first segment /c//a//t/,  then blend /caaaaaaat/ when all we really need them to do is blend.   So when the student says, /c/ /a/ /t/ and says tap and looks at you for reassurance, please know that we've created too many steps.  For a struggling reader, simplicity is key. 

Segmenting is a skill more aligned to spelling.  With writing,  you need to think about each sound in isolation and write the grapheme that matches /c/ /a/ /t/ cat .  Blending is the skill that is aligned to reading because we want readers to seamlessly push the sounds together /caaaaaaat/ cat. We see this understanding of blending in reading intervention programs such as Reading Mastery and the little character word-solving strategies (stretchy snake).

I know what you're thinking.  If I don't prompt, "Sound it out," what exactly am I supposed to do, not teach them to read?  And the answer is, of course not.  There are many strategies that students can use to become flexible word solvers.  Here are some alternatives based on the developmental stages of reading that you might find useful:  (click here for a brief overview of characteristics of each stage)

For Emergent readers trying to use picture cues to make meaning of the text, try:
  • Look at the picture to figure out what would make sense here?
  • Does the picture help you figure out that word? 
For Early readers trying to use picture cues, letter cues and sight words to make meaning of the text, try:
  • Get your mouth ready to say the first sound  Look at the picture. Think about what would make sense here.
  • When you see a sight word, you can read it quickly.
  • Have you seen this word before?
  • Can you read the whole word at once?
  • Look at the sounds in the word and read through the whole word
  • Check the beginning and ending letters
  • Does that look right? Does that make sense?
 For Transitional readers trying to use parts of words (word families, blends/digraphs, differentiating between short and long vowels, syllabication) to make meaning of the text, try:
  •  Look for the parts of the word that you already know.
  • Do you know a word like that?
  • What word family might help you figure that out?
  • Does that make sense?  Is this what is happening in the story?
  • You said_____.  Does that look right?  Does that make sense?
  • Go back and reread it again.  Something didn't quite (look, sound, make sense) right.
  • Skip the word and keep reading.  Think about what would make sense here.  Then go back and try it out.
  • Do you think if you keep going, you could figure out what's happening in the story?
  • Did you try saying the vowel both ways(short and long)?  Does that make sense? 
  • Can you take that word apart? 
  • Look at the parts of the word you know.  You can break it into syllables.
  • Do you know the root word/prefix/suffix?
These are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of prompts we can use to help readers unlock their ability to be flexible word-solvers.   It's time to break the cycle.  Stand with me and say Death to Sound It Out!  If you're not into the dramatics, then maybe just try adding a few new prompts into your repertoire.

Until next time, Let's Get Kids Reading!
Word-Solving Anchor Chart

No comments:

Post a Comment