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Feeling increasinghly confused about learning to read

(33 Posts)
lecce Sat 22-Oct-11 20:01:20

Ds is starting to learn to read and I feel increasingly uncertain as to how best to help him. I have spent quite a bit of time lurking on this board since he started reception (probably too much grin) and I feel more issues arise every week and in trying to resolve them I seem to unearth more.

Firstly, he is sounding out and can do so successfully with two letter words eg an am etc. However, where 3 letters are involved he can't seem to get it. Can was in his new book last night and we sounded it out so much we were practically saying it anyway but it just wouldn't come. I had a read a thread on here (I know, I know) about how this could be caused by hearing problems so later in the evening I sounded out some cvc words to see if he could blend them - no writing/reading involved, just me saying them. He blended them all without hesitation and was begging me to do more and more hmm. I just don't understand how he can't do a simple word like 'can' from a book but could do such a huge variety just from me saying the sounded-out version.

Secondly, his school have given him some commonly occuring 'tricky', as they term them, words to learn by sight. They have also given us some other flash-cards with words to learn that don't seem to be that common, from what I can see. I have read several threads on here featuring posts from some very knowledgeable-sounding people about how this is undesirable and how every word in English can be sounded out if all 44 phonemes are learnt. I just don't understand this. Unless books are written using phonetic symbols instead of the alphabet how would learning the phonemes enable you to know whether the letters oo were supposed to sound like they do in boot or look? Am I being really thick here (probably grin)?

I'm sorry to waffle so but it's just that I had always kind of unthinkingly assumed that my dc would be suucessful readers because of their background blush, SEN notwithstanding, of course. I have read so many posts on here about people failing to learn to read I am now really scared of messing it up.

Thanks for reading

Wellthen Sat 22-Oct-11 20:16:41

With your first concern - the blending - it sounds like he just got stuck and frustrated with that particular word. Lovely to hear he enjoyed the 'game' you made for him lol, sounds like a fab way to practise while you're making dinner. I'm not a KS1 specialist so I can't give a 'proper' opinion but to me it sounds like he has all the skills, its just taking time to put them together. He'll get there.

With phonics - I wouldn't say that sight words are frowned upon and reading HAS to rely on some sight and context because, as you say, phonics are confusing. But the children are taught that all words, apart from the tricky ones, are possible to sound out and are encouraged to always give it a try. With your example, they are taught that some graphemes (the letters) represent many sounds and that some sounds are the same (laugh and bath) but made by different graphemes. With look and boot it would be a guessing situation. If he said look but with the boot sound (which actuyally some people in the north east do!) you might say 'does that sound right? Lets think about what word it could be' then read the sentence and see if he can replace a word that makes sense. This is how they are taught to do it, they wouldn't be expected to know that it is to u sound not oo. Think about learning a foreign language, or trying to pronounce foreign names, You just have to guess at the sounds in a way that makes sense.

I had a girl that had trouble with what we used to call 'magic e' - for example she said 'the car was racking along' instead of racing. We talked about words for how cars move that begin with r.

bringinghomethebacon Sat 22-Oct-11 20:25:13

I don't think you should worry about it. I am very surprised to hear that some people on here are completely anti whole word recognition. My 4.6 year old can't blend at all and appears to be learning to read entirely by memorising words. I don't think this is a problem because this is certainly how I learnt to read. A variety of techniques is fine. He clearly IS learning to read if he can blend as well as you say and am sure he will progress.

mrz Sat 22-Oct-11 20:30:52

lecce children can often hear the word when "you" sound it out before they can put it together themselves so it is quite normal and like many things it comes with practise. There aren't any shortcuts I'm afraid. It might help to blend through the word ... c+a = ca + n = can (2 steps) rather than c+a+n in a single step.

With regards to knowing which phoneme is represented by oo if you know what the word sounds like you can quickly work out which alternative is correct it is what good readers do automatically... harder if it is an unfamiliar word.

I would suggest the girl who said racking for racing hadn't learnt that "c" can represent the sound <s> and simply telling her this is better than getting her to think of words beginning with "r" that a car might do hmm

tricky words can be sounded out once you know the code .

LivingDead Sat 22-Oct-11 20:45:27

I think all children learn differently, sight reading either comes naturally or not, phonics are another way, not the only way.

Ds1 is just starting to read atm, he is pretty good with his sounds but does struggle a bit with cvc words, I give him about 3 goes then tell him the word and get him to sound it out. This is all new to me after dd, so god knows if I'm doing it right, but I'm sure it will all click eventually.

I don't remember learning to read at all, I find the whole process bloody fascinating, it's quite a complex thing isn't it, I haven't a clue about phonemes and phonics in generally really, but the great majority master it, whether at 2.5 (mn average) or 9.5, I wouldn't stress at least not in reception.

Wellthen Sat 22-Oct-11 20:49:22

I used this because I knew the child would very easily be able to read 'race' and therefore knew the 's' sound. I noted that she was also using the wrong 'a' sound and because the e was missing from what is normally a split digraph she had become confused. By asking her to use the context of the sentence she realised her own mistake and applied her knowledge about 's' sounds. It also stuck in her memory so she wouldn't make the same mistake again.

Children need many strategies to read and as adults we naturally use them. Understanding is equally important, a child who says 'a car was racking along' and smiles happily at you with no worries is perhaps a child who does not see that the sentence needs to have meaning and isn't worried that this doesn't make sense. I was reminding her to think about meaning just as if she had said 'the car was racing along' I might still take the time to say 'what do you think that was like? What is another word for racing? Whats a car?' to ensure she actually understood what she read and wasn't just decoding.

mrz Sat 22-Oct-11 20:55:09

but the word "racing" doesn't clearly demonstrate the "magic e" so she was presented with the suffix "ing" and didn't understand that the "e" from the digraph had been dropped ... and applied the <c> because it left her with the option of racking or rasing

Wellthen Sat 22-Oct-11 21:00:00

I'm confused as to what your point is? Well anyway, I used my knowledge of the specific child and wasn't concerned about her phonic knowledge so instead went with meaning, encouraging her to notice her own little mistakes in the future.

Obviously each situation is different, in another then your method might be the far better course of action.

mrz Sat 22-Oct-11 21:11:39

I would have asked her if what she read had made sense ...

maizieD Sat 22-Oct-11 23:43:46

A question for all you 'sight word' readers.

What do you do when you encounter a completely unknown word in the course of your reading? How do you work out what it 'says?

Mashabell Sun 23-Oct-11 07:34:17

every word in English can be sounded out if all 44 phonemes are learnt

Unless books are written using phonetic symbols instead of the alphabet how would learning the phonemes enable you to know whether the letters oo were supposed to sound like they do in boot or look?

Or the letter o in do and go. Much of what phonics fanatics tell u is just not true.

U can use phonics to teach children what sounds letters and graphemes make and how to blend them into words. But because many English graphemes (a, ou, ow, oo) can be pronounced in two or more different ways this is often quite tricky.

a: and – apron, any, father
a-e: came – camel
ai: wait – said, plait
al: always – algebra
all: tall - shall
are: care - are
au: autumn - laugh, mauve
-ate: to deliberate - a deliberate act
ay: stays - says

cc: success - soccer
ce: centre - celtic
ch: chop –chorus, choir, chute
cqu: acquire - lacquer

e: end – English
-e: he - the
ea: mean - meant, break
ear: ear – early, heart, bear
-ee: tree - matinee
e-e: even – seven, fete
ei: veil - ceiling, eider, their, leisure
eigh: weight - height
eo: people - leopard, leotard
ere: here – there, were
-et: tablet - chalet
eau: beauty – beau
- ew: few - sew
- ey: they - monkey

ge: gem - get
gi: ginger - girl
gy: gym – gynaecologist
ho: house - hour
i: wind – wind down
- ine: define –engine, machine
ie: field - friend, sieve
imb: limb – climb
ign: signature - sign
mn: amnesia - mnemonic

ost: lost - post
-o: go - do
oa: road - broad
o-e: bone – done, gone
-oes: toes – does, shoes
-oll: roll - doll
omb: tomboy - bomb, comb, tomb
oo: boot - foot, brooch
-ot: despot - depot
ou: sound - soup, couple
ough: bough - rough, through, trough
ought: bought - drought
oul: should - shoulder, mould
our: sour - four, journey
ow: how - low

qu: queen – bouquet
s: sun – sure
sc: scent - luscious, molusc
-se: rose - dose
ss: possible - possession
th: this - thing
-ture: picture - mature
u: cup – push
ui: build – fruit, ruin
wa: was – wag
wh: what - who
wo: won - woman, women, womb
wor: word – worn
x: box - xylophone, anxious
- y-: type - typical
- -y: daddy - apply
z: zip – azure

The pronunciation of consonant graphemes is mostly fairly stable, but the vowel ones all have alternatives. They are what makes learning to read English much harder than other European languages.

mrz Sun 23-Oct-11 08:52:13

and yet every day hundreds of very young children manage to master reading English

lecce Sun 23-Oct-11 09:40:40

As I said, the more you investigate, the more conflicting advice you get grin. I am really grateful for all the replies - it is a fascinating subject, I suppose partly because we can all do it, yet have no memory of doing it ourselves and now have to take an active role in teaching our dc.

MaizieD asks how you cope with a new word if you don't sound it out. Well, as a secondary school English teacher and someone who reads a lot and stil sometimes comes across unfamiliar words, I would say that successful readers have to have a range of strategies they can draw on. Sounding out would be one of them but the context in which the words appears is pretty vital too. Surely sounding out alone doesn't give you the meaning - someone who only relies on this techniques could well be mindlessly decoding - as Wellthen describes above?

Also, as I said, if the word is completely unfamilair than sounding out alone won't help, will it, as the same letter combination can stand for different phonemes, so, as I said in my OP, how would you know, just from sounding out, if a oo was supposed to sound like book or boot? As Mrz says, they would have to draw on prior knowledge/the context and work it out. So sounding out alone is not going to be enough is it? Where young children are concerned, they use the pictures a lot too, or I know ds does and, although I encourage him to sound out, I know he uses the pictures a fair bit, I can't stop him, can I? Once he's read these (very short, simple) books once or twice, I am pretty certain he's using memory more than anything so not really sure how much sounding out he actually does.

and yet every day hundreds of very young children manage to master reading English

Well quite, so why is there so much hand-wringing about the methodology? <genuine question>

mrz Sun 23-Oct-11 09:58:59

Perhaps as confident adult readers we shouldn't assume that young children learning to read know enough to be able to use context and meaning to decode words in text. It is as the old proverbs says "running before you can walk" which unfortunately results in falling flat on your face and not wanting to get back up.

mrz Sun 23-Oct-11 10:03:50

lecce to know if a word says book or boot does not require context it requires reading through the word ... knowing whether the oo is <u> or <ue> requires the child to have heard the word ...

scarevola Sun 23-Oct-11 10:11:46

Any child who is reading without comprehension is failing to become a reader - it doesn't matter whether that is by mindless decoding or any other reason. A child who is mindlessly decoding is not being taught phonics adequately.

Selecting which phoneme is appropriate from the possibilities is a learned skill within the teaching of phonics.

There are languages where you have to learn to sight read - such as Chinese - the approach to literacy with such languages is very different and involves much rote learning. This is unnecessary in an alphabetic system, even one with irregularities in spelling.

pickledsiblings Sun 23-Oct-11 10:26:05

maiseD, adults reading an unfamiliar word do not do so in the same way that a child who is learning to read does. It is irrelevant whether or not they have been taught or advocate one method of learning to read over another.

CecilyP Sun 23-Oct-11 10:29:49

That's not really the answer. The main difference is that when an adult reads a new word for the first time, it is unlikely to be a word in their spoken vocabulary.

mrz Sun 23-Oct-11 10:33:23

pickledsiblings actually brain research shows that good readers do exactly that only so quickly they aren't aware that is what they are doing

ragged Sun 23-Oct-11 10:35:26

I think you're overthinking it, OP.
Is your child still in reception?
Because it's very early days still, if so, they take ages to get the hang of it (which is fine).
I don't expect mine to click with reading until around their 6th birthday, and even then, only at a basic level.

pickledsiblings Sun 23-Oct-11 10:45:52

mrz, the fact that adults do it automatically is the key to the difference in children learning to read and adults reading an unfamiliar word. Young children learning to read rely very heavily on working memory, as I'm sure you know, however working memory is not thought to be involved when adults read unfamiliar words.

mrz Sun 23-Oct-11 11:33:49

but the automaticity comes with experience and practise that a young child hasn't had time to learn/develop

pickledsiblings Sun 23-Oct-11 11:44:03

I'm not sure what the effect of experience is on the underlying mechanisms mrz. Recent studies have however shown that WMC can be improved with 'training' but this training is quite specific and involves the child constantly working at their WMC via an adaptive feedback process.

CecilyP Sun 23-Oct-11 11:44:53

Do adults do it automatically when the word is unfamliar? Reading a novel, we rarely come across unfamiliar words. But what about scientific terms, drug names, foreign names etc.

BabyGiraffes Sun 23-Oct-11 11:45:58

Facing similar problems to the OP and feel even more confused because English is not my first language. Also struggling to understand how I can best help my dd who's only recently turned 4 and hasn't a clue. She did jolly phonics in nursery and enjoyed it. Now in reception they seem to mix all methods I have heard of and she's had ORT books as well as a variety of others that the school seem to have dug out of cupboards somewhere... confused dd is totally confused because one day she's meant to sound out all the letters, the next day she's meant to read 'sight' words, then another day she's looking at initial letters and guessing the word from picture clues. Is this really the best way to learn to read? Or is there something slightly more logical that I can practice with her at home?

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