Teaching Gayle to Read (Part 4)
by Grace Vyduna-Haskins
Teaching children who lack background knowledge and specific skills that make learning to read easy is a much like a battle to reach the summit of a mountain. There are glorious views from every hilltop but there are sometimes deep valleys to be crossed between them. This is how I sometimes feel in my efforts to teach Gayle to read. As reported in previous articles, I started working with this first-grade student at the end of October and last reported her progress on January 17, 2002 (See http://teachers.net/gazette/FEB02/haskins.html).
Gayle and I have come far from the day she came to me knowing only a few words and completely devoid of decoding skills. Without her having these skills there was no way I could assess her ability to comprehend written text. She did have fairly well defined letter/sound knowledge and neat handwriting and we began to build on this base through daily spelling lessons. We opted to use a program similar to multi-sensory structured language to help her learn to read. The basic core of this program is a carefully sequenced developmental spelling program combined with reading from books with decodable text presented in a sequence very similar to that used in spelling. All of this is in addition to her regular classroom program that uses a more holistic approach with leveled books.
Two of the valleys of the last month have been a tonsillectomy for her and a week away on my part. She missed a full week of school due to surgery with her absence followed immediately by my time away. In spite of all this her progress is noticeable.
During the last month we concentrated heavily on blending beginning sounds with vowels in the manner of the ancient syllabarium (see Feb. article). She mastered consonant-vowel patterns easily and blends presented few problems. An interesting facet was her learning to use c before a, o, u and having to flip the beginning consonant card to reveal a k to create the \k\ sound before e and i. This one element required fourteen sessions before she began to understand the concept. In spite of this, blending beginning sounds with vowels has made a big difference in helping her read single-syllable words.
Reading of connected text varies from day to day, often related to her general health and attitude. Some days she is very lethargic, whether from lack of sleep or some physical ailment and this is reflected in her interpretation of the printed page. On other days she is attentive and even playful in her attitude toward her work. On a good day, she may read an entire 64-page book to me in about 15 minutes. Even on a "first reading," she will read about half of the pages with automaticity and fluency and will read another 40% of the pages accurately or with minimum self-correcting. During a second reading of a story, she is able to provide accurate details of what will happen next.
Error patterns in reading are interesting. One sentence is her book read, "Sam is dressed in black." She started to read, "Sam is bringing . . ." This seemingly strange substitution shows that she was attending to the beginning blend dr but was reverting to her earlier much more severe b/d confusion, then guessing a word that might work in telling about the picture on the page. Other substitutions include will for wish, was for has, pink for pig, and canít for can. All of these indicate that she is attending to portions of the words but does not always process them sequentially.
Both her classroom teacher and I surmise that there is not a lot of reading being done outside the classroom. On occasions when I ask her if she read some of her stories to her mother, she often offers an excuse of "We didnít have time," or "We had to go out to dinner." I can only look at this as another of the valleys that must be crossed and how it addresses the need for additional reading time being provided within the school day, whether this is a kind of buddy reading or sustained silent reading. On the plus side, during our tutoring sessions, she completed another six storybooks (approximately 400 pages) during the month just past.
The books we are using are becoming increasingly difficult to read as the author has chosen to use suffixed forms of words offered earlier. Words such as sing, sting, catch, pitch, scratch, and bring now appear as sings, singing, stings, stinging, catch, catches, catching, catcher, pitches, pitched, pitching, pitcher, scratch, scratches, scratching, brings and bringing. Much work will be needed to break these words into syllables so that she can see the chunks within them.
Her spelling work reveals some deeper auditory processing problems. Certain ending blends are difficult for her. In combinations such as ng, nd, nk, and nt, she often leaves out the n, a common problem with early learners. Consonant digraphs ch and sh are also still being confused in word endings. A very interesting substitution that Iíve never seen discussed in literature on the subject is her writing qu for wh at the beginning of words. Yet, as one considers the point of articulation for these sounds (hw and kw), it is easy how these can be confused and are generally considered beyond the realm of first grade spelling.
Bright spots occur frequently. After several weeks of ignoring high-frequency word checks, we began a review of these. I have a list of 140 high-frequency words compiled from various sources. Forty short-vowel words appear to have been thoroughly mastered. Through her leveled book reading in the classroom she has totally mastered 20 of 30 long-vowel high-frequency words and is doing very well with the others. She has learned these as individual words as evidenced by the fact that she does not seem to transfer the ay in day, may, and play to the same pattern in way and does not consistently use a final silent e to mark long vowels. A preliminary check shows that she recognizes 11 of 18 words with more complex vowel patterns and 22 of 52 words that at this point in time must simply be memorized as sight words. During one of these word checks, she very playfully composed a complete sentence using each of the words as she read them. I felt that this was her way of saying, "I know exactly what this word means."
So far we have completed 52 sessions lasting roughly 35 minutes each. This intense one-to-one tutoring seems to be making a difference in the life of one small child.
About Grace Vyduna-Haskins...
Grace Vyduna-Haskins is retired after spending 33 years as a classroom teacher, mostly at the first grade level. One of her greatest concerns was those children who seemed to fall through the cracks, those who failed to learn to read in spite of her best efforts. From 1980 forward she began to play with the concept of teaching systematic spelling to first graders and began to see dramatic changes in the reading ability of her students. She returned to graduate school late in her career, earning a doctorate in reading and language in 1991 from National-Louis University in Evanston, IL. In preparation for her dissertation she studied American reading/spelling relationships from 1607-1930, noting that in the early days of our country children were taught to spell before they were introduced to reading texts. She also looked at modern spelling research to determine the ways in which spelling can be effectively taught. She combined this knowledge with her classroom experimentation to produce The Spel-Lang Tree: Roots, a manual for teachers. This was followed by a second volume, The Spel-Lang Tree: Trunks. In retirement, Grace remains active, doing annual presentations for the Illinois Reading Council and has also served as a presenter at International Reading Association conventions. Other current interests involve working as a volunteer with ESL students and looking at ways in which decodable text can be made more meaningful.
The Spel-Lang Tree