Wednesday, February 16, 2005

How to Teach Children to Read, Part 1

When I graduated from Teachers' College (I'm not mentioning which one), I thought that they had taught me the current best teaching practices. After all, these were the experts. They had experience in the classroom, they had done research, and so they must know what they're talking about. I hope I'm less naive now than I was then.

My first clue to how wrong they were, should have been my first year as a teacher when I was describing to a 30 year veteran the latest and greatest in just learned, current educational thought. We both laughed when she told me that's exactly what she learned 30 years before, but it was called something different.

I didn't catch on to the joke until years later when I finally became frustrated at the constant failure of students to pass standardized tests in our "urban" school district even though I and the other teachers were doing everything we had been taught to do by the educational experts. After another staff meeting where we tried to come up with new strategies for success, I suggested that we visit "urban" schools that were successful. I had heard about them, but had never seen one. I was told by one of our administrators they didn't exist.

I was losing my naivete at this point, and thanks to the Internet, I was able to do my own research. I ordered a book by Samuel Casey Carter at The Heritage Foundation (and yes, I know they are a 'gasp!' conservative organization) called: NO EXCUSES, Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High- Poverty Schools.

I read it, visited some of the websites listed in the book, followed links to other websites, ordered samples, made phone calls, and finally bought everything I needed to teach The Writing Road to Reading, by Spalding, a phonetic language arts method based on Orton-Gillingham. I was urged to take the training but instead bought a Spalding how-to book put out by another publisher, since school started in two weeks, and I had just been moved from fourth to fifth grade.

I didn't realize how well Spalding worked until January of that school year when one of my students who was at a second grade level coming in sounded out a three syllable word. In the spring the class read Romeo and Juliet (the actual play, not a kid's version). When I finally took the training, I realized what an awful job I had done in teaching Spalding, but it still worked better than anything I had done before.

I continued my research, and found The Riggs Institute, who publish The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking. It's based on Spalding, but it's a more complete language arts method. I moved down to second grade to teach that. Parents were nervous at first, because while other classes were writing papers using "invented spelling" (a method that actually slows down learning) my class was starting at the beginning, learning letter sounds and letter combination sounds. Eventually though, the parents were loving it, raving about how their second grader was reading better than older siblings and cousins, and having to help these older students with their reading.

I took a Riggs training, and then did an in-class practicum. I taught these second graders again in third grade, and at the end of the year we read, THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW by Washington Irving. As with my fifth graders and Shakespeare, we read the real Legend, not a dumbed down children's version.

Stay tuned for part 2 and find out why Riggs works, and other methods don't.

NOTE: If anyone can offer me a dumbed down explanation of how to do the link code, you step by step as if I didn't know anything, I'd appreciate it.

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At 5:52 PM, Blogger Crazy Diamond said...

Congratulations! I didn't know there were any workable programs out there. My own family used a relax-and-wait method with my younger brother who, it turned out, had an odd form of dyslexia that made reading hard. But at age 10, it suddenly clicked, and two years later he was reading at a high-school level.

Any thoughts on how to know when kids just need more time for brain development before being exposed to school skills?

At 9:51 PM, Blogger Harry said...

That's a tough one. If you're talking about ages 4, 5, or 6, you would have to know the child really well. When they get older if they're still struggling, I would still recommend Riggs, but with a lot of patience. Every child is different (cliche, but true) and needs to be taught at their own speed. Don't get frustrated at having to repeat things over and over. Some kids need that before things click. On the other hand, don't be afraid to let a child take off running if they have the ability either. I hope that helped. If not, I may be able to direct you somewhere else.


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