The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

One Way to Teach Reading to Young Children

As a successful reading teacher for first graders, I can’t help being bothered by the fact that older students in many schools have difficulty with reading. Apparently, it takes so much time and hard work for them that many leave school without becoming readers. As a result, they wind up doing as little reading as possible for the rest of their lives and never have well- paying jobs or intelligent friends. In my opinion, this happens when reading doesn’t begin at home

Ideally, the reading process begins at home when young children become aware of written language. One good way to make that happen is for parents to read aloud to their children. But an even better way is for parents to get the habit of posting written labels around the house and encourage their children to identify them. For example, they can put labels of children’s clothes on drawers in the bedroom or on toy boxes in the living room. With such actions children’s fluency will develop quickly and become strong. They will also get them to want more written symbols around the house and to start making their own messages. And because those symbols are made of paper they will be easy to change or remove when no longer needed . 

In addition, parents won’t need to demand that their children read the words written. That will happen when they are interested. For example, a child might ask, “Where are my socks, Mom?”, and all you would have to say is “look for the labeled sock drawer in your bedroom”. Even if he has to open several drawers to find the socks, he will eventually locate them and remember where to look the next time around. Some children may also want to have names written on the drinking cups or seats at the dining table, and that’ would be great. Parents can also emphasize the importance of such games by asking their children to bring them certain items that are not identified by pictures, just words. 

Another good process for parents to use in order to help their children become readers, is reading aloud to them regularly at times when they want to be entertained, and will join you in reciting a poem or singing a song. When you read to children it is also important to let them see the written words as you speak them. 

History shows that learning to read and write are natural processes for children involved with reading at home. But parents shouldn’t demand that they read and write alone. Instead they should introduce reading as a type of game to be played with others.

Ultimately, we all must see reading as a normal human development. Birds, cats, dogs, and other animals learn early to communicate with their offspring, so why shouldn’t parents do the same? Most children will become healthy, smart and happy when they learn to speak for themselves; and they soon come to understand many written words. Although life is complicated, it is easy for children to learn when their parents communicate with them in both speaking and written language..

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A Principal Has to Be Tough to Do a Good Job

Todays post describes my experience as a teacher and a school principle. It also explains why some school practices work well and others do not. I hope it helps parens to understand school changes.

When I first became a school principal I quickly gained the reputation of being a “witch.” My problem was that I wanted to form classrooms for students who were having trouble learning, while parents wanted to have only the best teachers for their children.

My position was not a matter of showing parents that I was the “boss,” but my conviction that carefully constructed classrooms are the best places for students to be successful and happy learners. Fortunately many parents finally realized that I was right when their children were doing well in the classrooms I had chosen for them.

In order to plan for placing students, I met with teachers of each grade level near the end of every school year. Our task was to decide where students should be placed for the following year. We considered not only their abilities but also their interests and behavior, because we believed that when kids are similar in those areas, none of them would be isolated or unhappy. Instead they would find partners for learning, playing games, and taking care of each other.

In contrast, many elementary schools today work to establish ability-based classrooms throughout their buildings without any concern for students mixed personalities. They believe they can do a good job of teaching if all students in a classroom have similar learning abilities and meet the same work level. 

My experience taught me that teaching to the presumed ability of a whole class never works because even the best students have differences in their work habits, learning paces, social interests and personal experience outside of school. But there is also a more serious problem: Kids placed in low-ability classrooms know why they are there and deeply resent it; while kids in regular classrooms are also aware of the situation and label it. So in the end, low-level classes can create a self-fulfilling prophecy: “Since everyone thinks I’m here because I’m dumb, I’ll show them just how dumb I can be!”

Do other types of mixed ability classrooms also create problems? Not when they are structured like a symphony orchestra, or a professional sports team. When kids are placed in classrooms that have supportive and harmonious structures, each one plays his best role and learns successfully.

In contrast a significant number of public schools across the country have decided –in respect for the “Common Core State Standards”–to form classrooms where all students are of similar ability, because that makes teaching easier. But even if classrooms are not marked for their teaching levels, students quickly figure them out and then recognized by which room they entered, who were the “smarties” and who were the “dummies” Although the system of separating students by ability is still common in schools it is not popular with most students or their parents.

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What is The Best Way to Teach Reading?

Today’s post is a copy of the comments I made in response to phonics supporters statements in Dianne Ravitch’s blog. I’m repeating them here (revised) in order to be clear about my beliefs

In response to Michael Petrelli’s recent article, which recommended phonics based teaching, I believe that phonics is more difficult for young students to learn than becoming familiar with written words and acquiring the ability to name them. 

Unfortunately, Michael Petrilli is not the expert we can trust when it comes to determining the best way to teach reading. Continually, he denies the reality of readers’ instant word recognition, and maintains his own belief in the necessity to blend letter sounds together until they become a word. Then, he suggests repeating that process until the words grouped together become a sentence, and then all sentences become a message. 

As a successful teacher of reading in four elementary schools, and later, a school principal in two states, I am disturbed by Petrilli’s descriptions of the reading process and his claims of successful instruction using phonics. Even though teaching phonics has never been prominent in our public schools, its supporters have consistently claimed that it is the right way to teach reading there. 

In phonics based teaching, students are expected to sound out letters, which are grouped together and translate them into a single word. In contrast, the whole language approach teaches students the pronunciation of words, not their spelling. Thus, these students are able to make sense of many written words quickly and to remember them without sounding out their letters. The latter system system turns out to be much easier for teachers to use, and far more successful for students to learn than the former.

What good teachers in regular classrooms do is take students through the process of recognizing and remembering new words.  In addition, steady and pleasurable practice with poems, songs, and games provide them with the ease and satisfaction of recognizing and remembering words when they see them again. 

Although learning to read may take more time for children who are not familiar with the pleasure of books or have not been read to regularly, they can become readers by remembering the appearance of written words that were earlier heard, understood and liked. That is the normal way all children ultimately learn to read and write. 

Ultimately, I believe that students of all ages and abilities must recognize that neither spoken nor written English is what it used to be. 

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