Teaching Gayle To Read (Part 7)
by Grace Vyduna-Haskins
It's been two months since I last reported on Gayle's progress in reading. Gayle has now completed first grade and is a far more confident competent child that the floundering non-reader I first met at the end of October, 2001. Information about Gayle and earlier documentation of our work together can be found using the links at the end of this article.1
Up through the last report (May 7) we'd focused mainly on getting her to identify words -- to decode. When children have difficulty with sounds, oral language, background knowledge, and the mechanics of reading, it's wise to achieve automaticity in one area before moving on to the more complex aspects of comprehension. Through daily spelling lessons and reading decodable text, Gayle has become very proficient at figuring out most one-, many two-, and several three-syllable words. She also uses a fair amount of intonation in her reading, a sign that she comprehends how the characters feel in certain situations.
From May 8 through May 20 I was able to meet with Gayle only six times. I didn't see her again until June 25 and was thrilled to see in her a kind progress that just seems to escalate independently once a child masters the basics of decoding.
It was time for Gayle to leave decodable text behind and move into more traditional reading materials. I also wanted to lead her into reading informational material that will enhance subject matter instruction as she moves into second grade. I purchased a simple reading comprehension workbook2 in which she reads short stories and answers questions. I also found a first grade math & literature connection workbook3 that weaves together short stories and poems with problem solving. In addition, I'm using E. D. Hirsch's What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know4 to provide a bit of classical literature. Using this variety of materials reveals several strengths and uncovers areas of weakness.
The reading comprehension workbook presents a few science concepts and Gayle does very well with these. She reads the passages correctly, writes answers to literal and higher level questions, sometimes writes in complete sentences, and retains new information she gathers about fish, insects, etc. She is adept at rechecking the text to find answers to questions but higher level questions sometimes still leave her bewildered. This book is probably the closest to her instructional level.
The math and literature connection workbook provides challenges and has helped me uncover some real deficits in her basic knowledge. For example, she could not name a single coin nor did she know their value. This offered an opportunity to teach her what most first graders should have mastered in this area. Each day she does one of two activities relating to money. A coin page from an old math program is glued to the bottom of a shallow covered box and the value of each set of coins appears on bottle caps. She has to name and count the value of the coins and place the proper cap on the coin set. In order to accomplish this she is learning to count by 10s and 5s and to adjust her counting as she encounters the various coins (10, 20, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34).
Classical literature is also a bit challenging. E. D. Hirsch has included nursery rhymes and fairy tales in his collection for first graders. Gayle has not previously heard many of the fairy tales and finds some of the affixed and multi-syllable vocabulary quite difficult. Rereading fairy tales, however, helps her fluency and lets me know that she is absorbing new vocabulary.
A technique we use to work through multi-syllable words is to underline vowels and draw vertical lines through the words. If there is only one consonant between the vowels in a word we draw the vertical line in front of that consonant. The first syllable is called an open syllable with a free -- or long -- vowel. If there are two or more consonants between vowels we draw the line between the consonants, trying to honor consonant clusters and she discovers that the vowel followed by one or more consonants forms a closed syllable. The vowel in this kind of syllable most often represents its short sound. In this way she is able to approximate the pronunciation of the word. If it makes sense we accept it. If it doesn't sound like a word she knows we explore other options for pronunciation or, if the word has been pronounced correctly, interpret its meaning for her. For example, she worked her way through the word cupboard but had no idea what it meant. I drew a board with cups on it and explained that this kind of open shelf was used long ago before cabinets had doors on them. This verified its status as a compound word, literally a board for cups.
She enjoys reading nursery rhymes. These are a bit easier for her but also offer rich opportunities for advanced decoding. I had never previously thought about using them to teach _le syllables. Words like diddle, fiddle, buckle, cockle, candle, nimble, little, and cattle can be listed and divided between the pairs of consonants. While this is perhaps not linguistically correct for buc-kle or coc-kle, it is of little consequence if it helps a child recognize a word.
Gayle's formal spelling instruction during tutoring sessions came to an end toward the end of July as she completed all 82 lessons in The Spel-Lang Tree: Roots.5 Many of the concepts she learned through those lessons will reviewed and reinforced as she moves through her school's spelling series. Informal work with syllables and affixes will continue through the summer.
In May I bemoaned the fact that there was so much yet to do and so little time to do it. Any doubts I had at that time about her ability to function in second grade vanish bit by bit as the days pass.
1. Vyduna-Haskins, G. (2001-02) "Teaching Gayle to Read" (Parts 1-6)
2. Home Workbooks: Reading Comprehension
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. (1991). What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know. New York: Doubleday.
5. Vyduna-Haskins, G. (1996). The Spel-Lang Tree: Roots. Johnsburg IL: The JEP Foundation.
Additional Gazette Articles by Grace Vyduna-Haskins
High Stakes Testing
On Spelling/Reading Relationships
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