Friday, September 09, 2005

Thoughts on Teaching Letter Sounds or Letter Name

A homeschooling mom wrote to a chat list asking for advice about teaching reading. Should the letter be called the name of the letter then be taught the sound(s) of the letters or should they be told the name of the letter is the sound of the letter. If you weren’t aware, some ‘experts’ say to not teach the child the name of the letter at all, when teaching reading.

Here is my reply, with some edits:

Definitions to make this make sense, in case you aren’t familiar with these notations:
This /a/ means the sound of a.
The notation “a” means saying the letter name “a”.

Some ‘experts’ are in the camp of teach the letter name first then the sound. Others are in the sound only camp. Example: Alpha Phonics directs the parent/teacher to teach letter name first, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons says to teach the sound only and bypass the name of the letter’s symbol.

Based on my personal experience, I found that not using the name was impossible. For example in the teaching and the sounding out/decoding phase I’d have to say, “no, that is ‘c’-‘a’-‘t’- and that sounds like /c/-/a/-/t/ which makes the word “cat”. (For example if he was sounding out /c/-/e/-/t/. I felt that eliminating the letter name and saying “that is the /a/” was ridiculous. This method also makes no sense when a child is taught the long sounds of the verbs, they need to know that the letter has a name and that the letters sometimes make more than one sound. At that point would a person say the /short a/ also says /long a/?? Another example is when you teach blends such as ‘th’ you can say, “when t and h are next to each other, they sound like /th/---note that /th/ does not sound like /t/ and /h/, like /tttt-hhhh/.

During my experience with teaching my own children I felt that for an expert to assume that a child is too dumb to grasp that a letter has a name that we call the symbol and has a different sound when it is read out loud, was insulting and really was assuming stupidity on the part of the child. Hey, that sound like something Charlotte Mason would say!!

Neither of my children had issues with this. I taught my two children to read, one at 4 and one at 6. Teaching each was unique and a very different experience. The 4 YO was teaching himself at 3.5 years old, and he was mad at himself for not being able to read 100% of the content, so I taught him and it was a cinch. The 6 year old, I taught at that age because he had all the signs of reading readiness and I felt it was “time to do it” but it was a much slower process (9 calendar months with summer break in the middle of it) and also a slower reading fluency ease-level afterward.

I was a teaching-reading phobic mom who really was worried about things such as ‘this expert says to do this’ and ‘that expert says to do that’. I wanted to know the very right way, the one right way to do it as I thought then it would guarantee that the process would be easy and smooth. I now know a large part of the process is the unique child and their response to the teaching, not the tiny nuances of the teaching method or the teacher.

I still hold firm that systematic phonics is the one right method, though.

But anyway---we are homeschooling---and that means YOU get to choose which way sounds best for your family and you can do it the way you want, even if I don’t agree or your curriculum doesn’t agree.

Great Resources That Every Parent Should Read

The best summation of teaching reading and exposure to reading from birth through the end of third grade, I feel, is Ruth Beechik’s “A Home Start in Reading”. This 28 page, small format booklet is a fast and easy read and can help all homeschoolers and also is helpful for parents of schooled children. It is very affordable at a full retail price of $4.00. Beechick also wrote a booklet on math and another on language arts (penmanship, writing and grammar). The three booklets are bundled together and re-named “The Three R’s”, and full retail is $12.00, but Amazon was selling the bundle pack for $9.60 the last I saw. I recommend these three booklets very highly!

Also the best source of information about methods of teaching reading and information supporting systematic phonics is Don Potter’s site. There are many great links here and even free, downloadable, systematic phonics curriculum, which is an antique teacher manual-textbook.

1 comment:

mpg said...
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