Teaching Gayle to Read (Part 5)
by Grace Vyduna-Haskins
There is light at the end of the tunnel and it glows a bit brighter each day in this process of working with a reading delayed first grader whom we call Gayle. We have come a long way since that last day of October when she recognized only a dozen high frequency words out of context. Earlier documentation of her progress can be found in previous issues of the Gazette (See references).
From the last week in February through the entire month of March we had only ten sessions of working together, two of these with a very lethargic child. These breaks in continuity were due to her being ill, school holidays and institute days, my attendance at Illinois Reading Council, and her spring vacation.
During this highly interrupted time we did daily review of word families involving ending blends nd, nk, nt. We also worked with words ending with suffixes s, es, ed, ing, er, est. These are appearing with greater frequency in the stories that she is reading and the decision to spend a block of time on them came from her reading miscues as described last month (http://teachers.net/gazette/
We were able to pick up the pace again, beginning on April 1. As I have experienced so often in the past, with multi-sensory teaching, her time away allowed for jelling of the word recognition strategies she had been taught. Many of the concepts we'd worked on over the winter are falling into place. Her b/d/p reversals occur less frequently in her attempts to write and read words. She can now discriminate between sh and ch in her spelling exercises.
New elements in spelling lessons are three-letter blends, both at the beginnings and endings of words. She uses slow-pronunciation to sound her way through these. I was overjoyed the day I asked her to write the word strength. I presented it in three parts, str-eng-th and had to offer no assistance as she spelled it perfectly. Examples of other words she writes with ease include throng, sprung, scratch, stretch, and squint. As we neared the end of learning short vowel word families, we came to words ending with -dge. I had to show her this spelling only one time and she was able to use this in combination with all of the vowels to spell the words in the lesson.
We've also moved into long vowel spellings, starting with patterns a_e and ai. This provides a good opportunity to work with homophones as made -- maid, pain -- pane, sail -- sale, stare -- stair, etc. My goal here is to present her with all of the legitimate long vowel spellings so that she will be well prepared as she enters second grade. Henderson (1985) notes that "Children who are progressing well typically begin to be ready to deal with the most common long vowel patterns toward the end of the first grade." Much of the spelling work Gayle is doing is definitely at the second grade level and will greatly enhance her reading progress.
I'm beginning to get positive feedback on her reading ability. Her classroom teacher commented both to me and to a long time school volunteer about the progress she's made. Her mother has also noticed the improvement. I even see an excitement on Gayle's part as she announced last week, "I read my whole book last night," and the following day stated, "I read both of my books last night."
The books to which she refers are Storybooks from the Sullivan Reading Program (1966). While these storybooks are no longer available, they offer a carefully sequenced presentation of vocabulary from the standpoints of controlled phonics vocabulary and generous repetition of individual words. Each book contains 64 to 80 pages and anywhere from two to five stories and each page offers one to six lines of print. Some can be considered chapter books since the stories relate to a central theme. Others are compilations of separate stories. The books are arranged according to levels. Levels 1 -- 7, with three books at each level, are considered the first grade reading program. Although Levels 8 -- 14, with two books at each level, constitute the second grade program, I am far more comfortable if a child reaches Storybook 10 before moving on to second grade. Currently Gayle is reading Storybooks 7 and 7A. This means she has orally read twenty books, approximately 1400 pages of connected text, during our tutoring sessions.
Gayle enjoys the stories and they offer many opportunities to enlarge her vocabulary and knowledge of the world. For example, one sentence read, "The bird is chirping in the spring." The illustration showed a bird splashing in a pool of water. This presented a great opportunity to talk about the multiple meanings of the word spring: a season of the year, a wire coil, and a place where water flows out of the ground. As word recognition and concept knowledge increases, so does her ability to make sense of the text.
We continue to work on words or two or more syllables as they appear in her stories. When she hesitates in decoding them, I write each word and have her underline the vowels and divide the word at an appropriate place between them as bet/ter or din/ner. Even marking words in a way that may be in violation of purely linguistic practices as mar/ker, cat/ching or scrat/ches is of great benefit to her. The teaching of this strategy is beginning to be internalized as she meets new challenges in her text.
On some days we review her knowledge of 140 high frequency words. These have been sorted according to levels of difficulty and can be found at: http://user.mc.net/~gsh/
140HFwords.htm. She has mastered all forty Level 1 short vowel words, identified all thirty Level 2 long vowel words at least twice, recognized sixteen of eighteen Level II complex vowel words at least twice, and identified all four Level 4 words at least once, as well as forty-two of forty-eight words which must be called sight words in first grade even though some of them fit into minor word families.
Seventy tutoring session, roughly thirty-six hours of contact time have brought us to this joyful place. Less than two months remains of the school year. It will be fun to see how much farther we can bring this child.
Buchanan, Cynthia D. (1966). Sullivan Associates Readers. St. Louis: Webster Division, McGraw Hill Book Company.
Henderson, Edmund L. (1985). Teaching Spelling. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company
Haskins, G. (2001-02) "Teaching Gayle to Read" (Parts 1-4)