kitchen table math, the sequel: Is your child a word guesser?

Tuesday, December 16, 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 suggests paying attention to how children read.
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.
What can you do to 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.
“It is a tragedy that many school-based reading programs actually encourage guessing as a learning-to-read strategy,” say Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington of The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Reading. You might be surprised to find that your child's school uses a reading program that does precisely that.

You may not even realize there's a problem until your reader hits second, third or fourth grade when books have less pictures and the vocabulary becomes more complex and difficult to guess. The sooner you work to break the guessing habit and teach your child to depend upon a well-stocked phonics toolbox instead, the better for your child.

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

Well-Trained Mind


Catherine Johnson said...

This is fantastic!!

Thank you so much for writing this post!

This is exactly what I need -- I learned just last week that our K-3 school is using balanced literacy.

They have decodable books (simple books kids can read with beginner phonics, like the Bob Books) but they don't use them.

concernedCTparent said...

Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer both recommend the Bob Books. I am certain we have the same situation in our district, "water, water everywhere, but nothing to drink".

Last year my friend's first grader was identified with some sort of reading issue and referred to the specialist. He instantly became a reader. Why? Because the specialist taught him to read phonetically. His mom said, "Well why didn't they teach him that way in the first place?"

I don't think this child ever had a reading issue, it was a "balanced literacy" issue. He wasn't properly taught and once he was, problem solved.

Imagine how much money they could save doing things right the first go-round. Even more important, imagine how many children slip right through and NEVER get caught up for no fault of their own.

It makes me ill. Ill, and very, very sad.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine is a Reading Specialist. She remediates poor readers with phonics (Explode the Code and Orton-Gillingham resources) and poor spellers with MegaWords.

A few of these resources she obtained from my home-schooling library.

When she was in college, she'd argue that balanced literacy was far superior to phonics!! She has seen the light (what works!).