Thursday, August 25, 2011

Unlearning Unteaching

One of our ongoing problems in teaching Younger Daughter to read is that we must first unteach the bad habits her teachers got her into.  The worst of these is a strategy that she was actually taught at school:  read the first letter of the word, then look at the picture, then take a guess as to what the word might be.  We are striving with her to get out of the guessing habit, and instead to sound out ALL the letters of the word.

Sainted Husband had a conversation with Younger Daughter that went like this:

Sainted Husband:  No guessing!  That's not what reading is!

Younger Daughter:  But that's what the teacher said.

Sainted Husband:  They taught you wrong.

This morning I was working with Younger Daughter, reading Chester, by Syd Hoff.  She was doing pretty well, with coaching.  She read the title character's name, "Chester", correctly several times, until she suddenly read it as "chicken".  Why?  There was a chicken in the illustration.  She was reading the first letter, looking at the picture, and guessing, just as she was taught at school.  Ugh.

8 comments:

  1. You've written about truly odious teaching methods before on this blog, but this one is the worst I've seen since the oxymoronical Chris Biffle Whole Brain Teaching "Critical Thinking" video. With teachers like the one(s) you mention in this post out there, it's no wonder that when students get to me in the 11th grade, they cannot read well confidently, especially considering that 11th grade novels don't have pictures.

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  2. Maybe you could try typing up the text on the computer so you get the text alone, without the pictures? It would take some time, sure, but it should hopefully get her out of the guessing habit.

    I always wonder what people who are taught this way do when they are confronted with random made-up names... like my pseudonym for Blogger, for example.

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  3. Suburban Chicken FarmerAugust 26, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    Hey FedUpMom, The guessing by connecting to pictures method is probably an effective reading strategy for a significant portion of learners. If I remember correctly, around thirty per cent of learners are able to break the code whether they are taught phonics or whole language.

    I probably got that number from here-

    http://www.childrenofthecode.org/

    Which leaves a whole more people that have to work at learning to read.
    It's a pretty recent invention in the history of mankind; not a natural instinct. But kids don't know that.


    I think you should be cautious about assigning any blame to her teacher, or anyone else for that matter, around your daughter because the risk of her internalizing and seeing herself as inferior is great. By that I mean, she probably saw peers reading easily, getting rewards and praise with the teacher using that same guessing method.
    When my seven year old says he's reading better because of Ms. Ho, his reading specialist, I try to always tell him, "She is a fine teacher, but you are reading better because you have worked at it, you practiced."

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  4. I do think reading (and learning to read) makes more use of contextual clues than a pure phonics approach would acknowledge, and that it's not a bad idea to make the kids aware of that. But clearly encouraging the kids not to look beyond the initial few letters is going too far . . .

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  5. Suburban Chicken Farmer says:

    ***
    I think you should be cautious about assigning any blame to her teacher, or anyone else for that matter, around your daughter because the risk of her internalizing and seeing herself as inferior is great. By that I mean, she probably saw peers reading easily, getting rewards and praise with the teacher using that same guessing method.
    ***

    My dilemma is that Younger Daughter has already internalized that there's something wrong with her, and she certainly notices that many others have learned to read more easily than she has. I think we're doing her a favor by saying the teacher taught her wrong. For one thing, it's what we believe, and for another, it gives her a way to stop blaming herself.

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  6. Thinking about this some more ...

    It's clear that some very verbal kids can learn to read in a context-heavy, phonics-light system. That was true for Older Daughter, and I suspect that's how I learned to read as well -- I definitely remember "Dick and Jane" books at school, which, if I understand the history, were the leading edge of "whole-language".

    However, for some kids, like Younger Daughter, reading (and language in general) doesn't come easy. These kids need explicit coaching in starting at the left of the word and sounding out all the letters of the word, left to right.

    If the subject comes up again, I think I'll tell Younger Daughter that the teachers weren't using the right methods for her. The methods might work for some of the kids, but everyone learns differently, and different people respond to different kinds of teaching. Our goal is to find the teaching method that will work to get her reading.

    I read with her again today. I started with a little pep talk -- "I know you're smart. I know you can learn to read. You just need practice" -- which might have helped (I never know for sure!) -- anyway, she did quite well.

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  7. "There were spaces for reading, math, spelling, and social studies, and something about getting the homework log signed. Hoo boy."

    In the immortal words of Nancy Reagan, JUST SAY NO.

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  8. Please delete above. My comment landed here by mistake and I've already moved it to the correct spot!

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