Teaching Gayle To Read (Part 8)
by Grace Vyduna-Haskins
I have tremendously mixed feelings as I write this final chapter about working with the little girl I've been tutoring intermittently for the past ten months and documenting here in the Teachers.net Gazette.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 "Gayle" and I have spent 114 half-hours together in the process of bringing her from the point of being able to recognize two sight words to being able to read fluently in first grade texts. I am extremely pleased at the progress she has made and yet highly frustrated about the gaps that still exist, not only in her decoding ability, but also in the wide range of background information she needs in order to increase her comprehension skills. But Gayle has now officially entered second grade and I feel it is time to untie the cord that has bound us.
During our eleven sessions in the month of August we continued to work in the two trade workbooks I had gotten for her8, 9 and with stories from E. D. Hirsch's What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know10. The workbooks were definitely keyed to her instructional level. Unfamiliar words in these books could be broken into syllable to assist her with decoding and each one-page passage was followed by a page of activities relating to the topic covered in the text. Gayle became proficient at searching the text for literal answers and was often able, with gentle prodding, to relate the text to something she had read earlier. Through thinking aloud about them, she was able to number sentences in logical sequence. She could also correctly identify true-false statements, and complete cloze passages. She is learning to scan the text for information and for the correct spellings of words that she needed to answer questions.
The more complex vocabulary of the Hirsch materials was more difficult for her. Her comprehension workbook contained the fable, "The Rabbit and the Turtle," which she read very well. As an immediate follow-up, I handed her Hirsch's version, "The Hare and the Tortoise," in which she struggled with words such as tortoise, enjoyed, confident, steady, and discovered. After she finished, she thought a minute, looked up at me, and with an element of surprise in her bright eyes said, "It's the same story," as she connected hare to rabbit and tortoise to turtle.
Her general background knowledge is very lacking and each new concept constantly needs to be discussed. A passage about "bugs" led her to the understanding of the differences between insects and other multi-legged creatures, knowledge she retained once it was presented. She had no concept for mammals but after reading and discussing passages about seals, bears, and chimpanzees, she was able to identify and retain their common characteristics. While chimpanzee was an alien word, she was able to able to relate it to the family of apes.
A lack of time allowed us to complete very little in her math and reading connection workbook. We had reached a page about using money and she had no previous knowledge of coin identification. It took 18 mini-lessons before I felt confident that she could name and identify the value of pennies, nickels, and dimes, both alone and in various combinations. The book also contained passages that necessitated the formation of number sentences. Rereading the text to decide just what items need to be added and/or subtracted is a difficult concept for many first/second graders and Gayle is at the very beginning stages of developing this ability.
Gayle has learned much but so has her tutor. The one to one experience allows for much deeper probing into individual learning processes than does teaching a classroom of 20-30 first graders. It provides the opportunity to clearly assess and prescribe what is needed from day to day.
Working with Gayle has reaffirmed the beliefs that:
1) Using a systematic developmental program to teach a child to spell does transfer to success in decoding even though consistent spelling accuracy may not be one of the outcomes.
2) Using decodable text, especially when presented in the same sequence as spelling instruction, does facilitate the progress of a child's reading development and comprehension of material read.
3) Teaching a child about six kinds of syllables works well for base words but does not apply as well to affixed words.
4) Children need to develop a wide range of oral vocabulary as a second step to comprehending text.
5) Teaching children about contractions, compound words, and affixes is of extreme importance if we expect them to become skilled decoders of higher-level text.
Gayle has succeeded in mastery of the first three of these facets. Her oral vocabulary has expanded tremendously during the past ten months but still has far to go. She will need direct instruction on the elements contained in the last statement. I see these as components of a good second grade reading/language arts program and she is ready for them.
1. Vyduna-Haskins, G. (2001-02) "Teaching Gayle to Read" (Parts 1-6)
2. Home Workbooks: Reading Comprehension 1. Greensboro NC: Carson Delosa Publishing Company, 2002.
3. The Math and Literature Connection: Level A. Merrimack NH: Options Publishing Company, 2001.
4. Hirsch, E. D., Jr. What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know. New York: Doubleday, 1991.
5. Vyduna-Haskins, G. (1996). The Spel-Lang Tree: Roots. Johnsburg IL: The JEP Foundation.
Additional Gazette Articles by Grace Vyduna-Haskins
Is Learning to Read Easier Than Learning to Play the Piano?
High Stakes Testing
On Spelling/Reading Relationships
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