Teaching Gayle to Read (Part 2)
by Grace Vyduna-Haskins
This is the second in a series of articles dealing with the progress of a first-grade girl I'm tutoring. The first article can be found in the December Teachers.net Gazette.
To briefly recap, Gayle (not her real name) was progressing very slowly in first grade and our tutoring sessions began on October 30, 2001. A test of phonemic awareness skills showed her to be quite low in this area. She had a tendency to look at the first or last letter of a word and make a wild guess at its identity.
At the time of first reporting, we had completed eleven sessions. As of December 14, we have completed twenty-four sessions, approximately 35 minutes each. We've had a rather irregular schedule with time out for Thanksgiving, two additional days of her being ill, and one day when she underwent allergy testing. She tells me that the next time she goes to the doctor, he will take out the things that bother her. She has much nasal congestion and problems with airflow due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
These past weeks have revealed a bit more about materials used in Gayle's classroom. The school uses Discover Intensive Phonics which is a highly structured phonics program. It also uses the Sitton spelling program in workbook form in first grade. This program is based on learning high-frequency words. Reading consists of using leveled readers. With this variety of materials, one generally concludes that there is a balanced approach to literacy. Phonics readers are used only by LD resource teachers. Since Gayle had not been identified as learning disabled, this is one part of a truly balanced program that is missing for her and a hole which I am able to plug.
At home, Gayle's mother has come to realize the importance of reading to her children and, in spite of her personal struggles, is attempting to make time for this on a daily basis. One day, when we encountered the word huff in our spelling lesson along with the sentence, "The wolf said, 'I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in'", Gayle said, "I have that book at home."
Our tutoring sessions consist of her reviewing sound/symbol cards, writing 24 short-vowel words from my dictation, reading selections, and reviewing flash cards containing short-vowel high-frequency words.
While Gayle "knows" the names and sounds for letters, we continue to review the sound/symbol cards daily. This gives her the opportunity to really cement the relationships while learning to read 30 proper names and 30 words denoting pictures. It also gives me insight into how she processes two-syllable words and allows me to work with her on this concept as well as subtly addressing possessives. For example, one card reads Oscar's octopus and she still tends to say Oksar's. She has also pronounced Quincy's as Quitny's, Yetta's as Yetty's, and Zelda's as Zazy's. On a separate chart, I've broken all of the names into appropriate syllables with hyphens between them. Seeing them as individual syllables is helping her articulate them correctly. She sometimes places her hand under her chin as she says the words so she can feel the jaw drop as each syllable is spoken.
Since her dictation lessons now incorporate all of the short vowels, we do a quick review of the vowel names. It has taken her a couple of weeks to learn these in spite of our mnemonic, A-E (lady), I O U some sugar.
So far Gayle has completed 15 dictation lessons and 4 assessments. Because she knew how to write most letters correctly, we skipped the first two lessons. The first five lessons included a total of 120 predominately three-letter \a\ words. In addition, she learned to double f, s, and z after \a\. No words with blends are included in the first sets of words offered. After these lessons we did Assessment 1 in which she spelled 13 of 24 words correctly. Her spellings of the other nine words reveal what needed more work. Her spellings of particular words are enclosed in parenthesis: rap (rab), can (ckan), tag (tack), bad, (pad), sap (sab), Jack (Jag), pass (bass), jazz, (jass), vat (zat), wax (wack), & nap (nab). These spellings reveal consonant confusions between b/p, ss/zz, and some insecurity over the use of ck. A real strength was her ability to capitalize names. She needs only to be given a clue that it is a name. She knew how to spell her first name correctly but in this assessment, in spite of my helping her write it correctly each day, she spelled her last name Abtn (Alberton). This indicates that she is still at an early phonetic stage in spelling development.
After three more lessons offering \i\ words (72 new words) and one review lesson of words with \a\ and \i\., she did Assessment 2. She now wrote her last name as Abrtin. She was able to write the correct vowel in every word. With 18 of 24 words spelled perfectly, letter substitutions included fizz (fiss), bag (pag), quill (qill), jab, (jap), bad (pad), & quick (qick). The b/p & ss/zz confusion continues but this is the only time she has omitted the u after q.
There are very few \u\ words so after two more lessons (48 new words) and a review of the three vowels she'd worked with, she did Assessment 3. Her last name became Aberton. Again all 24 assessment words contained the correct vowels and all three names were capitalized. There was an obvious improvement in b\p reversals but the ss/zz confusion remained: buff (puff), rub (rup), fuzz (fuss) & jazz (jass). She does well with doubling consonants f, s, & z.
There are also a limited number of single-syllable words containing \o\ and these were covered in two lessons (48 new words). After a review of the four vowels presented so far, she completed Assessment 4 on December 13. She now wrote her last name correctly. Daily work on syllables and teaching her that every syllable needs a vowel seems to be having a positive effect. The closeness of the sounds \o\ and \u\ created a bit of a problem for her as did a bit of carelessness in the use of upper and lower case letters. Minor errors continued in Bob (BoB), hop (hob), cap (cab), bog (bug), not (Not), fog, (fug), & lull (lol).
While the number of errors in each assessment remains fairly constant, there is much evidence of growth in her spelling ability. Almost every misspelling consists of a single letter in each word. What is also not evident in this report are the dozens of words she does spell correctly in daily work and in assessments. Much of her spelling progress is observable in daily sessions as she vocalizes the consonant sounds she hears and rehearses b, Betty and p, pizza, popcorn before writing words. In an article, "Traditional, Developmental, and Structured Language Approaches to Spelling: Review and Recommendations," in the 2001 Annals of Dyslexia, Bob Schlagel reminds us that the b/p concept is difficult for some children because the point of articulation is so close. Occasionally Gayle also uses her sound/symbol cards to verify other sounds and the letters which represent them as she chooses the ones she will write.
On a couple of occasions I have taken time to dictate whole sentences to her. She handles these very will and already knows that sentences begin with capital letters and that she needs to put a space between words.
Gayle's reading ability is developing rapidly. As we continue to work together over time she is much more outgoing in her responses to queries. After reading three little stories which I wrote for her, we have moved into a set of very old books, the Sullivan Associates Storybooks, published in 1966 by McGraw-Hill Book Company. The books Gayle has read so far incorporate basically \a\ and \i\ words but affix some of these with -ing and -s intersperse other words such as on, the, no. They also include a few words with blends (i.e. fast). She has completed two books containing 126 pages and nine stories. We do a quick "walk" through each story and then she reads it. In the first few of these stories we first read the text in unison before she tried to read it on her own. Each day we review one or two stories before moving on to the next. She has moved from sounding each word before pronouncing it to doing a "cold" read with perhaps a single miscue on every other page. She does not take these books home for two reasons. The first has been that these are now rare books and I hesitate to loan them out. The second reason is that she takes home three or four leveled readers each day and I feel the extra books might be an overload. Her work with me is the only practice she does with phonics readers. She is eager to read new stories and we discuss concepts as they arise. A current concept is relating the pronouns it and that to their antecedents.
One of her favorite activities is using the high-frequency flash cards. We work for about five minutes daily with these. There are forty cards with short-vowel closed-syllable words include am, an, and, as, at, back, big, but, can, dad, did, get, got, had, has, help, him, his, if, in, is, it, its, just, long, mom, not, on, red, than, that, them, then, this, up, went, when, which, will, & with. When we first started the tutoring sessions she could recognize only four of these words and would look at either the first or last letter of a word and make a wild guess. Since that time she has recognized all 40 words on at least two occasions. Many have become very automatic for her and with others she first sounds through the word before pronouncing it. She still struggles with get, help, long, which, & will. Articulation of than and then is not yet totally clear. We've not yet worked with the \e\ sound in her dictation work but one day I described it as the sound made by a creaking door (\e\, \e\, \e\). Now when she sees the letter she "plucks" her vocal cords to produce the sound.
During Session24, I started introducing 30 high frequency long vowel words: be, he, me, she, we, I, go, no, so, came, made, make, here, these, like, time, home, more, use, day, may, way, each, eat, see, three, tree, by, & my. While we know that letters represent sounds rather than speaking, it's sometimes easier to present them to first graders as "saying" a sound. There are several generalizations at work in these words: 1) vowels at the ends of syllables are usually long (be, go); 2) final silent e reaches around the consonant in front of it and pinches the other vowel to make it say its name (came ,etc); 3) long-vowel pattern ay; 4) highly irregular ea, 5) consistent ee, and 6) final y representing long i at the ends of single-syllable words. Presentation of these words will be much more difficult since she won't soon meet them in her daily spelling work.
I've discovered an interesting activity at Gayle's school that I'd like to share. Each Friday morning the hall in which we work is filled with small chairs occupied by parents and grandparents who have come to hear first-graders read. Each classroom is virtually emptied for a few minutes as students read familiar stories to their eager listeners. Each child must read a story to two separate people. When one class is finished, another begins the rounds. Yet, in spite of all the activity around us, Gayle remains focused on her own lessons.
Life's rewards come in small steps as we help children learn to read. I have great hopes. Stay tuned.