Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Cat

Courtesy of kitchen table math, here's a great video of a kid "learning to read" using Whole Language. Notice the dull-as-dishwater "leveled reader" the kid is using, and the way the kid is encouraged to guess the word by looking at the picture. ARGH!


  1. Suburban Chicken FarmerOctober 30, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    I like this video. Clearly the mom and daughter are enjoying themselves. As far as the content being dull- it doesn't seem like it's dull to the three year old. And if you need more proof people enjoy cat pictures, just search "cat" on youtube.
    The idea put forth in your last blog that "A child taught by look-and-say will go through life and miss all the interesting and unexpected stuff in print" is pretty preposterous. We know many people who were never "taught" at all, and yet read perfectly well.

  2. Sure, as I've said before, if you're lucky enough to be highly verbal so that you can intuitively figure out phonics for yourself, you're good to go.

    What bothers me about this video is that it makes it painfully clear how I wound up with an eight-year-old child who had no clue what reading was. She thought it was all about looking at the first letter and then guessing what the word might be. She's better now, after a great deal of hard work with us.

    This video was made to demonstrate the correct strategies for teaching reading, and to me it just demonstrates all the problems of the whole language approach.

  3. The point behind calling the book dull is that Alfie Kohn claims that one of the benefits of Whole Language is that you can use real literature. But that's not the way it actually plays out. People mostly use limited-vocabulary books like the one in this video.

    At the end of this exercise, can the girl read "Cat" in the absence of a picture? I doubt it. All she ever looked at was the first letter.

  4. Suburban Chicken FarmerNovember 1, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    Yeah okay, I don't see the little girl reading independently either. Some of the strategies don't seem particularly valuable to me either- based not just on the video but in my experience with youngsters.
    So what I like is: kid and mom are relaxed, apparently enjoying themselves, kid seems to understand words are made up of letters which combine to be specific symbolic representations for things, we read them left to right (in English,) Not exactly thrilling stuff, and I don't think it proves or disproves any learning to read methodology but I suppose it's possible a mother might see the video and be inspired to read with her preschooler in a similar way. That would be a good thing IMO.
    Now, you could do a purely phonetic lesson on 'cat' let's say- and teach the hard c, soft c rule- then move onto the long a, short a rule- then the 't' sound- I don't think you'd need to show how it changes when followed by an 'h,' so I'd probably leave that out-. put them together, viola! We've got "cat."
    "Collar" is going to take some more rules. (Is the last 'a' a schwa?) but yeah, you could. BTW I was taught by phonetics in 1st grade, the method was- words were written as they sound (with short or long symbols, no silent 'e's etc.) and did fine, though if my memory serves, I never encountered pure "phonics reading" again. So I'm not against pure phonics. I'm just sayin'

  5. I don't know how people convince themselves that they actually shouldn't do the obvious thing -- namely, spell the word out. The mother never says "CAT -- C, A, T." Wouldn't that be the obvious thing to say? She's going out of her way not to say it, because that would be phonics, which she's been convinced is wrong.

    BTW, this isn't just anybody, casually reading with her kid. The video was made by the child's father, who is the principal of an elementary school, with the very express purpose of demonstrating the "right" way to teach reading to children. Watch the subtitles -- the mother is carefully walking through an approved script of how to teach reading.

  6. BTW, I'm not at all sure that the "kid seems to understand words are made up of letters which combine to be specific symbolic representations for things, we read them left to right (in English,)".

    The kid knows that the FIRST letter of the word is somehow important, and after that you look at the picture and take a guess. She isn't being told to make the sounds of all the letters, in order, and to blend them to make a word. In the end, she can't even put "mm" and "ee" together to make "me".

  7. Suburban Chicken FarmerNovember 1, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    Well without watching it again, I recall at the beginning of the video, the mom explicitly teaches "y makes the "igh" sound to read "my"
    Phonetically, why would she put 'm' and 'e' together to make "mee?" Wouldn't "me" actually be pronounced "meh?" using the rules?

  8. Phonetically, why would she put 'm' and 'e' together to make "mee?" Wouldn't "me" actually be pronounced "meh?" using the rules?

    No, because "me" is an open syllable. (The letter e isn't closed in by a consonant following it.) Vowels in open syllables are usually long.

    With the watered-down form of phonics taught in whole language, kids are usually only taught one sound per letter. (Maybe the long and short vowel sounds, but long vowels only in connection with silent E.) And when you only know one sound that the letters are "supposed" to make, it makes it easy to ridicule phonics as having "too many exceptions."

  9. Suburban Chicken FarmerNovember 1, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Oh, okay. Thanks Rivka. So the mom could teach her three year old that vowels are long in open syllables. Got it.

  10. Rivka, thanks for the explanation! I'm not as strong on phonics rules as I'd like to be. Can you point me in the direction of a website that would explain more about "open" syllables?

    I was thinking we have a bunch of words in English ending in a single but long "e" -- me, he, she, be ... any more?

    (Back to the video -- at the end, the mother gives the kid the "mm" and "ee" sounds, but the kid doesn't manage to put them together to make "me".)

  11. SCF, I take it you're being sarcastic about teaching a 3-yr-old about open syllables?

    I actually don't know how much in the way of phonics a typical 3-yr-old can understand -- I didn't try to teach my kids at that age. I just read to them, and much more interesting books than "My Cat".

    If I were going to teach a 3-yr-old to read, I would spell words out for her: "Cat, C, A, T." I certainly wouldn't tell her to look at the picture and guess, and let her think that's what reading is. It just gets her into a bad habit that she'll have to get out of later. This is exactly what happened to us with Younger Daughter!

  12. PsychMom says

    That video looks like a teacher teaching a child to read.
    This is how a mother and child have fun these days? Who exactly is having fun? I must be missing something.

    I didn't read with my 5 year old that way..and that was the age she was "reading" books like that.

  13. FedUpMom, here's an explanation.

    For one-syllable words, yes, the ones you mentioned, but also words like go, no, so, and hi. But open syllables are also relevant in multisyllable words: baby, hotel, baker, item, evil. Each of those words has an open first syllable, and so the first vowel sound is long.

    SCF, how about if you come up with a good reason for why a three-year-old needs to learn how to read, and then I'll tell you how to help them understand phonics rules at that age.

    I've got a 2.5-year-old. And no, I'm not planning to teach him about open syllables when he's three. I'm going to start him on learning the sounds for various letters, and I'm going to read him picture books with a rich vocabulary, like Bread and Jam for Frances and Curious George Rides a Bike and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Not, as FedUpMom also says, My Cat.

  14. Suburban Chicken FarmerNovember 2, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    Rivka, I haven't got a good reason for why three year old children need to learn how to read. Personally, I don't believe it so why should I argue it? (another plus for not arguing, I don't want you to tell me how to help with phonics rules, thanks though)
    I do believe it's human nature to try and make sense out of, through ordering and classifying, the world around us, even as young thinkers. I reckon that's why books of all types can be appealing to a lot people. Some very young kids do want to read on their own yet haven't broken the code. A parent has several viable options to help her child.
    So you will teach your kid "me" after he has the sounds down pat for "m" and "e." Go on with yo bad self. Me? If my kid wanted to know what 'me' was, I'd probably just tell him.
    Sneering at "look and say" preschooler books does not a great literary critic make. But then one man's Bob Book is another man's cure.

  15. SCF, if this was just a random mother teaching her kid out of a book I don't particularly like, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But it's a video that was made to promote a particular version of teaching reading, a version that is used and promoted all over the country, with bad effects for many kids, including my daughter.

  16. @Rivka, thanks for the link. Looks like a lot of useful info there ...

  17. Typing From an iphoneDecember 26, 2011 at 9:53 PM

    Here's how I would have taught that particular book. My students already know that letters have sounds an letters make up words. They know the short vowel sounds, hard consonant sounds, and a few blends, digraphs, and vowel combinations that haven't been formally taught but we have seen in our classmates names (sh says shhhh like in Shakerra, ea says long e like in eat). They also know several sight words because I write them in my morning message and we see them in books often. I woul have no explanation for how to sound out my. Not at 5 yrs old and not at 3. A kindergartner is not ready for useless rules. They see "my" and know it is my. I might start "we are going to read a book about cats. Where have you seen a cat? What do you know about cats? What do cats like to do? " Let's read the title. (maye child reads my kitten). Oops. Let's look at that word carefully. You're right, there's a picture of a kitten but the picture doesn't tell the whole story. We have to read the words too. Let's sound that word out. C-a-t. Cat! Then I might do a picture walk and highlight vocab from the book. Then let the kid read the book themselves and insert teaching points as needed based on how they are reading. I they can't figure out has I might model a question or open ended sentence that says has (I alsomight model sounding out has as hasss not haz and then say wait, the cat hass a bed? That doesn't make sense. Oh the cat haz a bed. Sometimes s sounds like a z. And move on. A 5 yr old doesn't need to know every rule for phonics yet. For an extended lesson, we might talk about or make a list of words that have tricky endings. Anyways, it's a short 12 min lesson to a small group. I'd the kid still has trouble sounding out cat, we might practice sounding out more Cvc words.

    All in all, I think this video was a poor example of teaching a guided reading lesson. To. A. 3. Year. Old.

  18. And to comment on the dullness of this book. I wouldn't use this book to read aloud to my whole class. Readers workshop had many components. I read aloud a book to my class from the library or my library. Real literature. Yes, curious George, miss bindergarten, chicka chicka boom boom, the little red hen, etc. I teach and model reading behaviors, think aloud how I make conclusions, invite predictions and questions. Shared reading- we read poems and sing songs Guided reading- we read books in small groups with yes, limited vocabulary, limited lines, very specific text features that expand as the text gets harder. Topics include colors, pets, family, school, food