An Approach to the Teaching of Reading — Part 2

An Approach to the Teaching of Reading — Part 2

by Craig Smith
To review briefly: teaching reading is not like teaching
a subject. Reading is a skill one must master thoroughly,
whereas subjects such as history and geography
and science are academic disciplines or bodies of
knowledge that do not need to be mastered in order to
grow as a Christian and fulfil both the Dominion Mandate
of Genesis 1:28 and the companion Great Commission
of Matthew 28:18-20. Let me just restate that
for clarity: if one does not have the skill to read, he
cannot even read the Scriptures. Such a person generally
will be greatly hampered in his grasp of God’s
Word as well as its availability to him. Having no
knowledge of science or history is tragic, but not
nearly as tragic as not being able to read. One can master
the skill of reading, but one can never master more
than a small area of science or history or geography,
for these bodies of knowledge are just too big and are
growing all the time.
Last time we also said that the prerequisites for teaching
reading are: be a reader yourself and read aloud to
your children. After that we covered teaching the alphabet
and then began a discussion on teaching the letter
Because I’m not a purist in this area of letter sounds,
my system is fairly simple. It has made good readers
out of my children, and in fact they shot way ahead of
me as I was teaching them, so I have never actually
finished going through it ever.
Just as we had flash cards to teach the children to recognise
each of the letters and their names, so now we
have a different set of flash cards to teach them the letter
sounds. But before we start working with this new
set, get the children to thoroughly master the recognition
of the vowels and the consonants, in both capital
and lower-case letters, using the old set. The vowels
are: A/a, E/e, I/i, O/o, U/u and sometimes Y/y. The
consonants are all the others. The letter Y/y can be in
either camp.
Each vowel makes more than one sound in English. In
some of the other common languages we are likely to
learn (Maori, Spanish, German, etc.) the vowels only
make one sound or will have some kind of mark on the
vowel to indicate how it is to be pronounced. This is
not like English where you have to work out the pronunciation
of the vowels by their position in the word
in relation to other letters. This is why some say English
is very hard to learn. While most of the consonants
in English have only one sound each, there are some
significant exceptions. And again, the pronunciation
rules of these consonants are based on where they are
in the word and how they relate to other letters in the
To teach the sounds of the letters, start with some of
the most common consonants first: B/b, D/d, F/d, K/k,
L/l, M/m, N/n, P/p, R/r, S/s, T/t. Ooops, maybe most of
you native Kiwis better set that letter R/r off to one
side just now, for you pronounce it differently depending
on where it is in a word or what the word is…not
like Southlanders who more consistently roll their Rs.
Most pronounce the Rs in “Arrow” and “spruce” but
leave them out entirely in “Car” or “Far”.
Anyway, get the children to learn the consonant sound
for each of these few consonants using both the capital
and lower case flash cards.
And now for the vowel sounds flash cards. These are
different than the ones for the names in that we’ll have
some marks above the letters to indicate what sound
we want them to learn. For the long sounds, we’ll put a
straight line above each letter, both caps and lower

Long Vowel Sounds:

A/a = ay (as in say, may, play);
E/e = ee (as in see, me, meal);
I/i = eye (as in sigh, kite, mine);
O/o = oh (as in soap, rainbow, go);
U/u = you (as in uniform, cute, use).
Y/y never actually says its name, but it comes close in
words like myopia, sky, trying.
There’s a reason we call these “Long Vowel Sounds”.
It is because each of these is a diphthong; that is, to say
the sound, we actually start with one sound and glide
over to a different sound. We count the starting sound,
the glide across and the finishing sound all as one
sound. For example, say I/i as in “eye”: notice how
your tongue moves — that is a diphthong.
For the short sounds of the vowels, use the little smile
above each letter:

Short Vowel Sounds:

A/a ~ (as in cat, fan, crab);
A/a ~ as in car or father
E/e ~ (as in bed, step, elephant);
I/i ~ (as in sin, in, grim);
O/o ~ (as in hot, slot, ostrich);
U/u ~ (as in run, under, cuddle);
Y/y ~ (as in silly, simply).
Notice I used one more symbol, a wee dot above, for a
third sound of the letter A/a. Dictionaries will show a
lot more sounds and symbols for the vowels, but as I
say, I’m not a purist, and my objective here is to teach
reading, not Kiwi or Australian or American or South
African accented English pronunciation.
Drill these sounds with your children using this second
set of letter sounds flash cards. Again, full mastery of
the sounds and instantaneous, unthinking response
times are what we’re aiming for here.
Some people will start getting the children to sound out
words at this point, having learned just enough
consonant and vowel sounds to form simple words. Be
careful here: some children simply are not ready to do
this yet. If they are, go for it! But others will not have
the brain development to handle it as yet.
We found that this step, blending the sounds of several
letters together from left to right, was the most difficult
aspect of learning to readfor our children. If they
couldn’t get it, we’d just leave it until they’d aged a
wee bit more and then try it again. This particular
ability seems to be a function of brain development and
physical maturity, something I don’t think you can
hurry along to suit your own convenience. This is
probably why so many children, especially boys, get
labeled as dummies at school: they struggle with
reading for the simple reason that they are being
expected to do something they physically cannot do:
decode and blend the individual sounds of several
letters in order from left to right into words. It is more
of a boy problem because girls develop and mature
faster than boys in this area, yet the prison/school
system insists on herding them according to age.
Parents will also find that some children quickly
memorise many words by sight, especially as you read
to them and they follow along in the text. This is how
the state prisons/schools teach reading: look-say or
whole-word it is sometimes called. This is treating
English as if it were not a phonetic language, which it
most definitely is. Chinese is not a phonetic language,
and one must simply memorise thousands of unique
symbols in order to read a text. Because English is
phonetic, one need only learn around 50 sound/symbol
combinations and can then read virtually any text.
Don’t discourage your children from memorising
words by sight, but keep in mind and definitely let
them know that you will require them to master the
technique of reading letters from left to right, blending
the sounds into words, and then reading the words
from left to right to read sentences and thereby gain the
meaning of the text. It could be that reading problems
such as dyslexia are caused by faulty training: when
children memorise words in a child’s reader, they
memorise it using all sorts of cues: the picture that
goes with it, the familiar flow of the words just before
its turn to come up, its position on the page, the general
shape of the word, the first letter, any bits that stick up
higher than the rest, any bits that hang down lower than
the rest. So their eyes are scanning each word as a
whole — not from left to right — and scanning further
afield to work out what the word is. This is not, not,
NOT how they must learn to read! It is absolutely
essential, in learning to read English phonetically, that
they train their eyes to scan each word systematically
from left to right, blending each letter in a set sequence
from left to right to get the individual words, and then
setting each word in a set sequence from left to right to
understand what the text is saying.
Our children learned this technique and went straight
onto the King James Bible; the archaic language
simply did not present a problem in reading. They were
somewhat unfamiliar with the vocabulary…until we read
more from the KJV and until we read Gulliver’s
Travels and Pilgrim’s Progress in the Old English.
So finish off the rest of the alphabet sounds on flash
cards. We’ve dealt with the vowels. The following
consonants should present no trouble, so they have no
symbol above: B/b, D/d, F/f, H/h, J/j, K/k, L/l, M/m,
N/n, P/p, R/r, S/s, T/t, V/v, W/w, X/x, Z/z as each has
only one sound. OK, the S/s in “this” and “sing” is
different from the S/s in “these” and “is”, but your
children will figure that out. You could indicate the
buzzing S/s with S/s as I do with th below.
Then there are some slighly awkward consonants: the
ones with no symbol above have a sound similar to
their name.

Awkward Consonant Sounds:

C/c ~ (as in centigrade, scene, mice);
?/? ~ (as in cake, crumb, micro);
G/g ~ (as in gem, hinge, hedge);
?/? ~ (as in go, gate, haggle);
Q/q is always followed by U/u and pronounced as in
Y/y ~ (as in yellow or yak).
And add in a few common special blends (sounds like
coffee time, eh?), using underlines to identify them:

Special Blends:

ch ~ (as in church);
ph ~ (F/f sound as in photo, graph);
sh ~ (as in shoe, mash);
th ~ (softly as in with or thistle);
th ~ (buzzing as in these or other);
wh ~ (as in whale or whistle and not like an F/f as in
Whanganui, which isn’t an English word, and
which I suspect was originally pronounced as in
which” or “whale” since the wh was assigned by
English speaking missionaries, evidently
approximating the beginning sound of
Whanganui” with the beginning sound of “whale”,
when they first put Te Reo into writing. In the
meantime, English speakers have stopped pushing
extra air through when we pronounce “wh” words).
ing ~ (as in sing, hammering);
ong ~ (as in song, belong);
ind ~ (as in kind, find);
ough ~ (?ff as in tough, enough. This awkward group
of letters also has weird pronunciations such as in
“through” and “though” and “cough.” You just
have to memorise these odd-balls separately).
Have your children thoroughly master all of these on
flash cards. Then by reviewing a few rules to go with
these, which we’ll look at next time, they’re ready to
start reading.
(To be continued.)
Craig was born and grew up in Sanger (near Fresno), California,
came to New Zealand as a 21-year-old in 1973 and
has lived here ever since. He has a BA in Social Policy from
Massey University. He and Barbara have four natural children,
three by adoption and one permanently fostered, aged
from 28 down to two, all being exclusively home educated
from day one. Craig & Barbara established Christian Home
Schoolers of NZ in 1986 which later became the Home
Education Foundation.

From Keystone Magazine

April 2008, Vol. XIV No. 74
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