kitchen table math, the sequel: palisadesk on phonics and multi-syllabic words

Monday, January 2, 2012

palisadesk on phonics and multi-syllabic words

A propos of the “Fourth Grade Slump,” it can occur for several, quite different, reasons. Kids who have learned to read with solid synthetic phonics can still experience difficulty when they have to decode multisyllable words.... Even in the famous Clackmannanshire study (pdf file) (where all the students were taught a systematic phonics approach similar to Jolly Phonics), a number of students had to be specifically taught how to read multisyllable words in Year Four. They developed a program called “Phonics Revisted” to deal with this. It included, IIRC, learning to segment multisyllable words, some morphemic strategies, and emphasis on less common correspondences. Unfortunately the Clackmannanshire report doesn't provide many details.

However, the Clackmannanshire study only replicates what has been found on this side of the pond as well. Many students who are good decoders, because they have learned (or intuited) basic phonics skills, come to a screeching halt at mutisyllable words especially, as in examples by Allison and Chemprof, scientific terminology. These skills can be systematically taught, of course.
continue reading
and see:
K9sasha on Sopris West REWARDS
palisadesk on Orton-Gillingham compared to DI and Sopris West REWARDS


Allison said...

palisadesk, i left this as a comment but it got lost.
" If they sound out “label” as “labble”, they are taught to try the vowel name as the second choice , and get “label.” This strategy works very well, and no need to teach even “long” and “short” vowel terminology. Most students I have put through REWARDS showed a 2-5 year improvement in their reading (fluency was also measured)."

interesting! So they are connecting the word to something they've heard, something they already comprehend (aurally or orally?), is that the idea? How much other or additional instruction is needed in getting these words said out loud for your students, do you think? Do you do something special in the classroom for these kids if they are ELLs, or otherwise won't hear/won't have heard these words at home? Does it seem to you that if they can connect the syllables to words they've heard, then they are implicitly learning the rules? Or is it a kind of "sound words" rather than sight words for them--they can now read anyword they've heard?

My personal experience with names and with various other languages is similar to this--again, I can't really remember words/names I can't "hear" myself say properly; at some point, I'd listened to enough educated people speak the names of Greeks from antiquity out loud that I finally figured out how to read/pronounce a Greek name written down in front of me by trying it and then getting some sense that "aha! this is that name I've heard".

palisadesk said...

It’s hard to know simply from observation just how students are processing and integrating new learning. You’re doubtless familiar with Richard Feynman’s short essay, “As Easy as One, Two, Three” which describes an experiment he and a colleague at Princeton conducted on themselves. It turned out that even an apparently “simple” task like rote counting to 60 could be carried out in very different ways, using different cognitive processes, by individuals.

Oral language is the foundations for reading, and that this is so is evidenced by the difficulties profoundly deaf individuals have in acquiring written language skills, either reading or writing. But the ability to sound out a word doesn’t, so far as I know, depend on having the word in one’s recognition vocabulary. Many very young kids who learn to decode well can pick up a medical text, for example, and “read” from it, with most words pronounced correctly even though the child has no comprehension of the text. My father would sometimes get me to “read” his law books (in front of guests) to impress them – sort of a parlor stunt. I didn’t seek out such material for my own reading however. When I came across a word in text which I had never heard spoken – a common occurrence – I would “sound it out” to myself, often incorrectly. "Melancholy,” for instance, I pronounced to myself as muh-LAN-chully for years. Talking with friends who were also good readers early on I find many of them did the same. One coined a term for these mispronounced words: “readerisms” – words you knew, but have never had occasion to use, or hear, orally.

I rather doubt, but haven’t much data, that students figure out the “rules” of grammar, syntax or spelling on their own – but they seem in most cases to have a sense of the patterns of English grammar, encoding, syllable stress, and so forth. They can tell what “sounds right” but would be hard pressed to explain the “rule.” It’s not a consciously articulated process. I was an excellent speller, but I didn’t know most of the “rules” either, until I taught “Spelling Through Morphographs.” It alerted me to the reasons for the spellings which I already knew.

Most of my students have been ELL, but after a few years in school their oral English is as good as that of native speakers from the same SES background. When I did REWARDS with a group of 6th graders I also used Abecedarian Level C and D which teach Greek and Latin roots and their meanings. REWARDS teaches the affixes and roots like struct, junct, fer but does not emphasize the meanings. Adding in the Abecedarian materials augmented REWARDS by giving the student more tools to expand their vocabulary as well as their decoding skills.

I am not aware of research that conclusively demonstrates this, but I would hypothesize that a close connection between print processing and oral language is usually a necessity for fluent reading of complex text. When an expert adult reader “hears” the text internally, s/he is not usually sub vocalizing –researchers know this from the amount of time (in milliseconds) it takes to sub vocally pronounce the words, and proficient readers read much too fast to be doing this, or to be serially decoding already known words – they visually process all the print on the page, but do not “sound out,” even silently, known vocabulary. If they did this, they would not be able to read 600 wpm or so without skimming.

As Feynman’s essay demonstrates, however, there are individuals who process print differently. A few do manage to learn to read using visual memory entirely. I had a student like this about 6 years ago – a very interesting case. I’ll look up the specifics.