09 10

18 April 2017

5 Days of Books: Supporting New Readers

In order to learn to read, new readers must internalize a number of skills. They have to recognize that letters represent sounds, and master about 44 sounds which are represented by a mix of individual letters and letter groups. As they learn to recognize which letters make the various sounds, they need to have enough practice to gain fluency with those words - research into how kids learn to read tells us that most kids need between 4 and 14 instances of seeing a new word before recognizing it becomes automatic. Give then number of words that kids need to learn to be able to read well, it is clear that they are going to need a lot of practice. Teaching kids systematic phonics helps them to progress through the various letters and letter combinations in an easier-to-harder order, and it also assists the teacher in knowing what kinds of words they know, so that we can find them books that are suited to their reading level. We want to consistently provide good books that are not too hard, not too easy, but just right.

At first, kids need books that are written with a limited vocabulary. I am a fan of the Bob Books because the first book requires only 4 letters to read successfully: kids are able to read a real book very early in the teaching process.  We use a combination of Happy Phonics and The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading, and I have adapted the little stories in TOPGTR into little books that I made up for my kids. These homemade books are great because they continue with the limited set of sounds that the kids have already learned, and finding ready-made phonetic readers is difficult. Fortunately, they're not hard to make, and kids are not demanding as far as the pictures go: no amazing art skills are needed. Stick figures will do.

After that, I get out our box of "easy books". These are leveled readers, which I usually pick up at Half-Price Books. Because we're getting them used, they're not expensive, and that means that we can make sure that there are books in our box that are interesting enough to be worth the effort of reading. The jump from phonetic readers into Step 1 books has been a big leap for my kids. I will sit next to my kids and help them read these, but I do not read books from the Easy Box. I will help, and I will read our regular picture books, and we consistently keep a chapter-book read-aloud going, as well as various LibriVox titles that the kids ask for, but I do not read books from the Easy Box. If they want to know those stories, they have to do the work themselves. This incentivizes them to make that jump -- I am careful to make sure that there are books in our box that are worth their effort to read! For Hero, this meant that I located easy books about superheroes: nothing else was worth it. Dragon is much less demanding. 

It's tempting to stop at this point, and consider the child a reader when they can read the leveled readers and start to branch out into the regular picture book collection. However, until they are reading chapter books fluently and voluntarily, they still need support and encouragement, as well as books that have a somewhat limited vocabulary and syntax. 

Early chapter books sometimes get a bad rap as being twaddle, but I think that's overly harsh. I consider them a bridge. They are not literature, exactly, but neither are Bob Books. To me, books like Magic Treehouse , or D.C. Heroes that Hero loved when he was learning, are an extension of the same concept of the Step 1 readers: books written with deliberately limited vocabulary and syntax in order to facilitate early reading. For Hero, we had an additional step between the stepped readers and easy chapter books: graphic novels. Those helped him get used to a book-length work, and they have a larger word count than picture books, too. 

None of them, Bob Books, Step readers, graphic novels, or easy chapter books are fantastic literature. But I won't call them twaddle, either. I looked much less at the style, syntax, or vocabulary used, and more at the type of story. He wanted heroes; I wanted stories that had a clear good vs. evil, where the good guys were square jawed heroes, and the bad guys were bad -- none of this grey, likable villain garbage. I wanted to see the heroes winning; justice being done. I liked to see ordinary people doing heroic things; I really like the older versions of Batman, and the kids' versions: he's a normal guy that works hard, thinks hard (oh, and he's filthy stinking rich), and that work, and his mind, those are what make him special. In the older Batman stories, and the kids' stories, then you see him when it's not so dark and gritty -- they haven't made him almost a bad guy himself, and he's much more relatable than some of the super heroes that are mutants. I think that, in a lot of ways, the superhero tales we have are the modern answer to fairy tale quests, and we have encouraged both superheroes and fairy tales. Superheroes were the only thing that Hero found to be worth the considerable effort of reading, there for a while. Now, Dragon is reading the hero books that I bought for his big brother, and they're helping him bridge into the more difficult literature that I've got in store for him.

An emerging reader needs support. Some take to reading quickly and easily. Others are more reluctant readers and they need works that help them. Building fluency can take time, and it plain old isn't fun to struggle through a book that's too hard. We want reading to be a pleasant activity that they do voluntarily, and giving kids books that are appropriate to their skill level, even as they move into chapter books, is an important support. For some, it's critical. Hero was a very reluctant reader for a long time. If I had not been willing to give him books that had a somewhat limited vocabulary and syntax and that he found interesting, he may have never made it over that hump. This is not to say that we put just any old thing into his hands; I still didn't give him books that are based on rude humor or other twaddle. Meanwhile, the feast on real literature continues in our read-alouds, same as always.

For my kids, I aim to get them reading well. Fluently and voluntarily. Without tearing apart the groundwork we lay in hundreds of hours of snugly stories from birth, establishing reading as a pleasant thing, a great leisure activity, I want to make that transition to voluntary reading, which means that my emerging readers chan have limited vocabulary & syntax for a time if they need that kind of support for a little while. 

All this week, I'm going to be posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic to see what other Crew members are writing about.

5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017

1 comment:

Rozy Lass said...

I always felt that reading to my children books that were a much higher level than they were currently able to read helped them with language and vocabulary also. Although all of our five children can read fluently, not all of them do so now for pleasure (they are all over 18). Everyone is different! And thank goodness for that. Keep up the good work.


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