Imposing a learning format that strips children of independence
Will that be a Mac or PC format (the operating system), desktop or laptop style (a preference)? As adults we are offered the choice of both format and style whereas, children entering school are offered only a choice in learning styles. Independent concrete-logic based learners within the schools' memory-based learning format, whether the 'learning style' is visual, auditory, or kinesthetic memory, become dependent on the teacher for answers. The child-centered, selectivity and experimentation format of learning, an ‘in-side-out’ system that made children effective learners prior to formal schooling is replaced by a teacher led "pump-in-the-knowledge" format, an ‘out-side-in’ system that puts as many as 40% of learners at risk. As the pressure to memorize supersedes children’s need to make sense of their learning, inherent skills of processing new information and continually asking “why” is replaced with “that doesn’t make sense” and eventually “I don’t remember”.
The Alphabet Song – sends the wrong message
As the child's first teacher, parents are encouraged to teach their children the Alphabet Song.
The song is effective in establishing a reliable auditory reference for letter order as it teaches the names of the letters. However, the Alphabet Song also teaches that all letters can say their own names when in fact only the five vowels “A, E, I, O, U” can say their own names. The remaining twenty-one letters, although they may appear to say their names in words like ‘envy’, ‘elf’, ‘be’ etc., can only make their sounds. And so, the Alphabet Song gets letter knowledge off to a wrong start, and sets children up for failure by establishing patterns of learning that plague many adults today.
“Rimes” – establish misleading literacy patterns
To aid children in learning to blend new words,
a simple pattern of letters used to teach vowel-consonant combinations, continue to be a favorite teaching strategy. One such rime is ‘ig’, used to teach words like 'pig', 'wig', ‘big’, by having the child
add the consonant onsets ‘p’, ‘w’ and ‘b’, to the rime ‘ig’. The words learned are then set into sentences, such as "The big pig
has a wig." to create controlled reading materials that make for accurate and fluent reading practice. Using such rimes to construct controlled reading material, however, establishes patterns of literacy that sets children up for failure as many of these single-syllable word-rimes, also appear in multi-syllable words but not with the same sound values. So children who have internalized the rime ‘ig’ will transfer the 'ig' pattern to the word “tiger” and turn that ferocious animal into a “tigger”.
Small words – are among the most difficult
The tradition of starting beginning reading instruction with small words is built on the mistaken assumption that the small words are the easiest to learn because they are short. Small one- and two-syllable words such as ‘when’, ‘why’, ‘always’ ‘shoulder’, ‘between’, & ‘again’, however, are amongst the most difficult for children to decipher as they do not correspond to the one-letter–one-sound pattern typical of bigger multi-syllable words. In reality, most single-syllable words contain unique letter patterns –including vowel pairs like ‘ou’, ‘ay’, ‘ee’, ‘ai’ ... that cannot be transferred to 90% of the words in the English Language. Children internalize the unique word patterns of single-syllable words and then transfer them to “all “ words with the result …
a quarter or more of U.S students experience difficulty translating print to sound and sound to print… most other students can
cope with the decoding task, although if effective spelling were the criteria for mastery, fewer than one in ten would pass the test.
The Case for Phonological Awareness
Small books – make reading a guessing game
Small books generally keep both sentences and words short with the aim of making them easy to read. However, most short words are high frequency, abstract and non-phonetic and, because words like ‘does’, ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘to’, ‘you’ etc., cannot be illustrated as an object or an action, they offer little visual clue to their meaning so children learn to guess at how they might sound, based on context. For too many children this process of guessing becomes a habit that sets them up for failure as sentences become longer, more complicated and the words become longer and less predictable.
Small words inside big words – turns syllables into words
For children learning language, meaning is paramount and so the practice of building on past learning by teaching children to find small familiar words inside bigger unfamiliar words – “analogy phonics” continues to be taught in decoding multi-syllable words. However, this approach to syllabication is designed for multi-syllable words, formed by adding prefixes and suffixes to a root word: i.e. “form”, “in-form”, “re-in-form”, “re-in-form-ed”, un-in-form-ed”.
By treating syllables and words as the same, and looking for small words in big words, children routinely:
- parse and read the syllables of multi-syllable words as if they were stand-alone single-syllable words
- spell the syllables of multi-syllable words as if they were stand-alone single-syllable words.
And so, children start to:
- read the word "bedraggled" as 'bed', continue with 'rag' and conclude with 'led'
- spell the word “tomato” as ‘tow’, continue with ‘may’ and conclude with ‘toe’,
showing the brain's natural inclination to preserve those ‘units of sound’ that have been so carefully programmed.
Phonics rules – imply one formula fits all
As the corner stone of traditional reading, phonics rules like the once referred to in the graphic, “When two vowels go walking the first one does the talking” are designed to assist children in deciphering unknown words. The rules when set in a jingle are easy to recite and readily become established in memory. However, not only are such single-syllable based phonics rules confusing, they do not apply to multi-syllable words.
In a multi-syllable word each vowel:
forms its own syllable so:
the single-syllable word
two syllables of a multi-syllable word
co in ci dent
co a li tion
a li en
me an der
Children who have internalized the rhyme typically read the pair of vowels as one unit of sound and so the word ‘li on’ is pronounced as li n, ‘tri al’ as tri l, and ‘co a li tion’ is read as co li tion. As correct pronunciation in reading forms the basis
for spelling accuracy, it is clear why currently fewer than one in ten are effective spellers.
sounds in accordance to its position in the word, so by simply reversing the vowel order:
the single-syllable word
a two syllable word
Invented spelling – a mixed blessing
Invented spelling is temporary spelling - designed to offer children a way to record their ideas quickly along with a golden opportunity to edit their work. However, if the inaccurate spelling is not analyzed as to why English words 'can not' be spelled in that way, such incorrect patterns become ingrained and that "teachable moment" to learn analytical thinking skills from invented spelling is lost. Learners remain impoverished as they are being deprived of the opportunity to apply the critical thinking skills
that make 85% of the words in the English language predictable.
Erroneous labels – are misleading
- Because "E" is the only vowel that can be made to be silent when placed at the end of a word, it has been labeled a "silent E", implying to the children it has no function and no sound, with the result that children indiscriminately tack “silent E’s” onto the ends of words. However, "E" has three different important roles and is far from silent when a consonant is placed to the right
of it in words like 'horse' to give that “silent E” a voice, when the word becomes 'horses'.
- Because the letter 'Y' cannot say its own name - "Why", it should not be dubbed a "sometimes vowel". In reality the letter ‘Y’ is a "substitute" for the vowels “E” and “I”. Although the letter “Y” only substitutes for the vowel "E" on the end of multi-syllable words like 'baby', the “Y” routinely substitutes for the vowel “I" on the end of single-syllable words such as 'try', and in multi-syllable words like “mystify”, where it can say both the sound and name of the vowel “I”. Based on function, “Y’s role” amongst the vowels makes sense to children when it is correctly labeled a substitute vowel.
- The English Language is not logical – a self fulfilling prophecy
Phonics is not a teaching method. It is an extremely important skill because 85-90 per cent of English words are spelt as they sound. But it is a skill that has not been taught systematically in our schools for at least three decades.
Teaching children analytical critical thinking skills and strategies can render the English language both logical and predictable when these techniques are taught in a way that integrates what children know and understand with the Alphabetic Principle and literacy concepts they need to internalize. Take for example the vowels E - the most misunderstood letter albeit the most used letter in the alphabet. Once children discover how the “E” acquired its sound based on its shape, the “E’s” behaviour (whether it says its sound, name or is silent), as well as the obscure roles “E” plays in English words, becomes both logical and predictable.
Despite our best educational efforts, commercial programs today, even those that systematically teach decade-old skill sets, still share in, One of the most fundamental flaws found in almost all phonics programs, including traditional ones, … they teach the code backwards. That is, they go from letter to sound instead of from sound to letter.
Click on the computer icon to move Forward to the Fundamentals and learn more on
how the English Language can be taught in a way that is both logical and predictable.
Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S. & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children.
Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press
The Riggs Institute - The Riggs Institute Literacy Tips, Literacy tip #8