Sunday, 9 March 2008

My approach to early literacy teaching

I wrote most of this in response to a question on a classical homeschooling email list I subscribe to, and some of my friends have asked me how I approach teaching reading and writing. Here's my summary.

Before I begin to teach reading or writing, I need to know that my child is interested in reading (so I read aloud to them) and also capable of recognising basic shapes. If a child cannot recognise and name shapes, they will not be able to recognise and read letters or words. I began to teach Joshua to read when he started saying things like, "Mummy, can we go to the hamburger store with the big M?" and "Mummy, look, the sign on that hamburger store has a J for Joshua, it must be my shop!" I taught him M and J first not so he could recognise hamburger stores, but because they start Mum and Joshua. But obviously big signs on hamburger stores provide easily spotted opportunities to reinforce what he learnt.

Initially, I teach the alphabet with each letter's most common sound. I taught both my kids to write their letters at the same time. I know many people think writing is too much for little boys, but my son is quite artistically inclined (he loves to colour and draw) and he has not had too many problems with the work load so far. (It does help to give him a writing task when there is something fun about to happen so that he has incentive to work quickly and well, rather than dither and whinge or do messy work that has to be re-done.) When we're learning about the alphabet, I teach them the capitals and lower case versions and they write five of each, after I have shown them how to form the letters correctly. I then watch like a hawk to see that they do write them correctly, keeping in mind the Charlotte Mason values of good habits and excellence.

I use Reading Reflex (aka Phono-Graphix) as my guide to teaching skills and have recently started supplementing with the Bob Books to give them more reading practice, which has greatly improved my son's reading speed andconfidence. To give you some idea of where we're at, he has just finished reading through the first (blue box) set of 12 books, taking a month to do so.

Once they can read simple CVC words, I get them to write one sentence a day, which they read to me before they copy it. In K4 they do this as tracework so that they are writing over the top of my example, and this has helped to overcome some early letter reversals in my son's freewriting. Now he's doing K5, I have him do some of his penmanship as copywork (from my example written in the line above), or write two sentences of tracework. He copies simple sentences which are based on his experiences and our read-aloud literature, such as "Duck saved Oliver from scrap." (That one's based on one of the original Rev W Audry stories of Thomas and the Tank Engine.) For the past fortnight, because he's just had his 5th bday, he's been tracing two-sentence thank you letters which he dictated himself. My almost 4yo daughter, by contrast, has writing tasks such as "Ss Ss Ss Mm Mm Mm Sam sat on the mat."

My approach to literature has helped my children to develop an interest (for my daughter it is a fascination) in books. I have gradually put together a list of kids "classics" that I want to read to the kids while they are still small enough to fight over who gets to sit in my lap! We read a small selection of picture books several times over a few weeks before moving on to others. For example, we have out from the library at the moment Angus and the Ducks, The Story of Babar, and The Complete Adventures of Curious George. We also read through episodic or chapter books, a little at a time, together. At the moment we are six chapters into Pinocchio, having just finished The Complete Adventures of Thomas theTank Engine.

Every now and again, I get them to dictate a story narration, which I frantically type. I then print this out and get them to illustrate it. When I began to do this with my son, he could not really draw anything recongnisable. Now, his illustrations are quite realistic with many features rendered carefully. I definitely think this has helped him to develop good penmanship skills, however, it would probably not be a suitable task for a child who is averse to drawing or colouring. The narrations have helped him to become aware of the sequencing of events in each story. They also helped him to remember more and more from each story. My daughter on the other hand, who is very aural and is often to be found wandering around the house "reading" a made-up story aloud from any novel she has taken off the shelf, has just completed her first formal story narration (of Angus and the Ducks) and it was 233 words long, and in some places she even mimicked my expression. Even though these tasks are not "phonics" in nature, they have been fantastic for developing a love of and appreciation for books, as well as having beneficial effects on my children's vocabulary (and mine) and imagination.

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