Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Learning to Read

When I was a kid parents were told they shouldn't try to teach their kids to read because they'd probably do it wrong and the kids would have to unlearn what they'd been taught before they could "really" learn to read. My parents did teach me to write my name and the alphabet when I was a little kid, but they "knew better" than to try to teach me more than that.

Because because most mothers stayed home only some rich kids went to "nursery school," which was just about playing together and not academic anyway.

Kindergartens didn't teach reading and writing either. Instead those students learned things like how to get along with others, take turns, stand in line, raise their hands and wait to be called on, and play games, etc.

So, like most people my age, I learned to read in First Grade. When I started second grade I was one of several kids in my class reading at Fifth Grade level.

How did that happen?

Our first grade teacher was newly graduated from teacher college and there were 42 kids in our class, half of whom hadn't gone to Kindergarten. Since half the class wasn't learning from the sight reading method used at that time, she had them chant the letter sounds over and over again while the rest of us worked at our desks on other subjects. Somehow hearing the letter sounds in the background made them sink into our minds.

As a teacher I once tried playing phonics records and tapes while my preschool students fell asleep at nap time, and some of them spontaneously started to read even though the only academic teaching I did was to point to the words as I read them big books and tell them the sound of one alphabet letter each day. (Kids become ready to learn at different ages and I don't believe in trying to push academics on little ones who may not be ready.)

Of course another thing that had helped me and the others in our First Grade class learn to read well was that our parents had read to us every night from the time we were toddlers.

Years ago I read about a scientific study seeking to discover which method of teaching reading worked best. They questioned the highest functioning students at the most respected universities in America and discovered the only thing they had in common was that their parents had read to them every night when they were little kids. Of course maybe more intelligent parents were more likely to do that and the students had inherited the ability to learn easily.

However I'm sure the fact that I read picture books to my preschool students every day did help the ones who were ready to learn.

If you're a good reader as an adult do you think either background phonics or being read to as a young child was a factor in helping you learn to read?

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