Teaching Gayle to Read (Part 3)
by Grace Vyduna-Haskins
Life's rewards sometimes come in small packages, especially when we are dealing with children who are reluctant learners or those who lack the background knowledge and skills that make learning to read easy. These tiny rewards continue daily 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 December 14, 2001 (See http://teachers.net/gazette/JAN02/haskins.html).
Gayle came to me with almost no reading skills. At a preliminary conference her teacher told me she had recently learned two words, the and like. She appeared to have no idea of how to sound her way through simple words, often looking at the first or last letter and making a wild guess as to what the word should be. We went back to the beginning stages of instruction, verifying letter name knowledge, letter sound knowledge, and handwriting skills, most of which seemed to be in place. Separating the sounds in spoken words, attending to left to right progression, and pronouncing words of more than one syllable were difficult for her.
During the early weeks we did a daily review of sound/symbol cards by naming a letter, saying the sound it commonly represents, and reading the name of the picture (Adam's apple, Betty's ball, etc.). Gayle had many problems with b/p confusion and pronouncing of proper names but on January 8, her 31st session with me, she had finally mastered most of these. She still wanted to say Ok-sar's for Os-car's octopus but I considered this a minor problem and we moved on to other activities. She still had daily access to these cards and often uses them to verify which letters she wants to write during dictation time.
At that same time we had just finished sorting out the vowels in the alphabet. While she could name them all, their short sounds within words sometimes still confuse her. After winter break, we started singing the vowels using an adaptation of the vowel song from the Sing, Spell, Read, and Write program but using our sound/symbol cards to identify them. I also provided her with a small Ferris wheel from SSRW on which there are ten seats with each vowel represented twice, once going up and again coming down. She holds small beginning consonant cards next to the vowels and attaches the consonant sound to the vowel, ba, be, bi, bo, bu, bu, bo. bi, be, ba, always using the short vowel sounds. This teaching of the syllabarium goes back centuries to when hornbooks were used in children's reading instruction but can be very effective even in our time. Gayle enjoys singing the syllables and it helps us sort out and work through small problems such as a confusion between \o\ and \u\ that had showed up in her reading of connected text. Placing a c before the vowels necessitates turning the card over to reveal a k that must be used before \e\ and \i\. After she has mastered the connection between single consonants and vowels, we'll work with consonant blends in this position.
Each day brings a fresh challenge in her spelling of new words. With writing 24 words each day, during seven sessions we moved through 46 word families, creating four-letter words by attaching vowels to 14 ending blends -- ct, ft, lf, lk, lp, lt, mp, nd, nk, nt, pt, sk, sp, & st. An assessment of this work revealed exactly what can be expected, a missing l or n before the final consonant, using c for k at the end of a word, or a vowel substitution of o for u or the reverse. Children often lose this penultimate (next to the last) consonant as they attempt to spell longer words. These consonant blends will be revisited continuously as work continues. In addition, we have started spelling work with the all word family and beginning and ending digraphs, ch, sh, & th.
Gayle is gaining confidence in her reading of connected text. A very pleasant breakthrough came on Tuesday, December 18, when, in the middle of reading a storybook from the Sullivan Associates Storybooks, published in 1966 by McGraw-Hill Book Company, she excitedly asked, "Can I take this book home?"
I told her I would have to think about it because the books we are using are very old and new ones are no longer available. I did tell her that I would see her mother at lunch on Friday and would talk with her about it. She got very wide-eyed and said, "You ARE? Are you going to tell her I can read?"
Of course, not just that book, but the three books she had read went home with Gayle's mother on that Friday afternoon and were returned after winter break.
By the end of our 38th session, Gayle has read six hard cover books, a total of almost 400 pages of connected text. Most of these pages have one or two lines of print. I use a variety of ways of presenting the story to her. Sometimes we do a picture walk with her supplying details of what seems to be happening in the story. On other occasions I either read or tell the story to her. She usually rereads one story each day and/or adds a new one, depending on the length of the story and time available. At this point she is reading upwards of 60 percent of pages correctly on her first reading and often reads as many as 75 pages perfectly on rereading. Errors on other pages usually consist of only one word that is new to her or that contains consonant blends or suffixes such as -ing, possessives, stark similarities as in singing, stinging, standing, and sitting, or minor word substitutions such as this for that.
Her fluency, intonation, and comments as she reads provide evidence that her comprehension skills are good. She handles new vocabulary well and appears to retain new concepts. For example, when we came to a story about a sandman, she had no idea of what a sandman might be. After our first discussion about him, now, when the sandman appears again, she tells me how he puts people to sleep by throwing sand into their eyes. On another occasion, her voice reflected her comprehension as one of the story characters said, "I can't STAND red!" Several of the stories feature dream scenes and she is able to sort out the difference between dreams and reality.
Progress sometimes seems slower than I want it to be. We sometimes have minor regressions but the consistency of building upon prior taught concepts seems to be working well. When I feel discouraged, I return to my notes from the first weeks and I am reaffirmed that we are, indeed, making progress.