Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is your child a word guesser?

Many of us know that poor reading instruction is often disguised as “balanced literacy” (revisit When Phonics Isn't). Schools like to sell it to parents this way because it sounds safe and well, it's balanced. How bad can it be? Throw in a little phonics and it's all good, right? The balance thing appeals to that nagging danger-of-extremes fear. On some level, balanced literacy sounds reasonable.

When parent-teacher conferences are limited to fifteen minutes a couple of times a year and the school is not open to allowing you watch the teacher teach or bring home the reading materials for careful review, how do you recognize the signs of poor reading instruction? How can you tell whether your child is being or has been taught to read the whole-word way?

Jessie Wise of The Well Trained Mind recommends observing how children read (and not just what they sound like).

Children who read by the whole-word method often did not learn to move their eyes from left to right through words and sentences. If you notice that your child’s eyes are wandering all over the page when he is reading, he is searching for clues to guess words.
So, your child's a word guesser. What can you do about it?

The only cure for word guessing is to go back to phonics.

How do you break the guessing habit?

If your child persists in this habit, you may have to sit across from him at a small table where you can see his eyes. This will allow you to move your pencil or finger above the line of print, so you will not get in the way of the child’s vision. You may also want to cut a window out of heavy paper that will reveal only one line at a time. Then, have the child run his finger under each word from left to right, sounding out each word as he comes to it. If a common word is too irregular to be easily sounded out, (such as come or said) tell him that word so that the sentence makes sense.

When the child gets to the end of a line, watch his eyes and make sure they move quickly back to the left, looking for the beginning of the next line rather than searching for “words I know.” Some children may even move their eyes down to the end of the next line. Both of these are common errors used by children who have been taught whole-language techniques. Have the child read out loud to you as long as necessary to make sure he gets into the habit of moving from one line to another.

These recommendations are from Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington’s book, The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading in which they argue that “It is a tragedy that many school-based reading programs actually encourage guessing as a learning-to-read strategy.” Look closely because there’s a good possibility that your child’s school uses a program that does precisely that.

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading
Jessie Wise and Sarah Buffington

Cross posted at Kitchen Table Math

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