Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Reading Philosophy

Homeschooling my kids is an educational opportunity for me. As a former teacher by profession, going about it by taking post graduation classes for certification, (I was a psychology major) I went about it backwards. I didn’t get the full four year teaching degree indoctrination so I have a few unique ideas about teaching anyway. I was also lucky enough to get in on the tail end of the whole language movement which is now horribly out of fashion. My professor for the reading classes I took was an ardent advocate for whole language methods. She was someone I admired and respected, so I fell in line with her philosophies. There were a lot of misunderstandings as to what whole language was back in the day, but the way she taught it made so much sense. The basic philosophy behind whole language is to teach learning the same way you teach talking, with whole words. You teach your child to talk by TALKING to them. You don’t teach sounds first, then put the sounds together at some later date when they master the sounds. Reading should be the same way. Start out with stories that make sense yet are easy for the beginning reader to grasp. Enrich the environment with words; label everything. Get the children writing through language experience stories, where they dictate to the teacher. If a child happens to need phonics, and some do, then emphasize the consonants over the vowels. It just makes so much sense. I think things went wrong in the schools when whole language was rolled out because the “old guard” teachers didn’t want change, didn’t want to learn new methodology, and didn’t understand how to go about implementing whole language strategies. They resisted so the kids didn’t learn. There was a huge uproar about it, and so whole language was ripped apart and demonized as a total failure. Back to phonics.

But phonics doesn’t work for every child. There are many children who don’t hear the sounds as distinctly, kids with poor auditory discrimination. I have poor auditory discrimination; I have a lot of difficulty understanding people when I can’t see them talking. (Which is probably why I’m an e-mail person and not a phone person. I have two friends in particular who call me occasionally and go on and on, but I’m only getting about half of what they say. It’s so frustrating!! I WANT to understand, but if I stopped them every time I missed something we’d both go crazy.) We ran into that with The Eldest when she was learning to read. DH tried to work with her and used the “sound it out” tactic; it was fail all the way. She just couldn’t get it, and I think it really hampered her progress. As a whole language advocate I fussed at him when he wanted her to sound things out and he could see her frustration with it so he came around. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, is also unable to sound out words.

Which leads to my next rant about learning to read. Kids learn to read when they are ready. The Eldest didn’t learn to read until she was in the third grade, for instance. She caught on and went berserk with it- she LOVES to read. She reads constantly. (When she isn’t playing her on line games, of course. But even those involve reading since she likes the role playing games the best.) She is well above grade level with her comprehension and vocabulary now. The Middle Child learned to read on the standard time table- five or six. I couldn’t stop her from reading; she also loves it and would have learned using any philosophy you wanted to throw at her. Now we’re working with The Youngest, aka The Wild Child. He’ll be eight in July and he’s not reading yet but he is on the brink; he’s so close! We’ve had some break throughs so I know it’s only a matter of a little more time. I’m so thankful that we are homeschooling him. Had he been in the public schools he would have been identified for not reading yet. He would have been tested and labeled and placed in special classes, where he would have been made to feel stupid. (Not that the classes are labeled as such, but the kids know.) He would have been put into a situation where he was made to feel bad about himself as a learner, inadequate somehow. I taught emotionally handicapped kids when I worked in the public schools and had several boys who couldn’t read in my second/third grade classroom. I worked with them and they GOT it over the course of the time I had them. Combining that experience with seeing my own kids and how they learned to read has affected how I feel about reading and timetables. The emphasis on early reading in the public schools does the children like those students, The Eldest, and The Wild Child a huge disservice. I can understand, though; teachers can’t go around reading to the kids individually so they need them to be able to read on their own at a young age. They have to be able to read directions, assignments, and other information in order to be successful in a classroom full of kids. They have to be able to write to convey what they know back to the teacher, who can’t sit there at give oral quizzes to however many kids she has in her classroom. So the kids who just aren’t ready yet get moved out into “special” classes.

But would we put a kid who walked at 20 months instead of 12 months in special classes? Would we put a kid who potty trains at three instead of two in special classes? How about the kid who is a late talker? We get it that kids have their own timetables for things when they are babies and toddlers. Does that somehow go away when they hit school age? Unless there is truly a developmental disability of some sort, kids who walk late or talk late or potty train late still get it; they learn to walk and they learn to talk and go to the bathroom and by the time they are a little older you can’t tell when each child reached those milestones. Based on my experiences, I believe there are kids who learn to read later than others because that’s who they are. Those kids are just on a different timetable and it is WRONG to label them and treat them the way they are treated in the public schools. I admit that I have moments of doubt and panic about The Wild Child since he isn’t reading yet, but when I calm down, take a step back, and think about it I pull it together. He’ll get there, I just have to have faith.


Missy said...

Hello! I found your blog by way of a google blog alert for anyone who posts about "late talkers." :) Just an explanation of how I landed here. My son is one of the late talkers you mentioned. ;) So I feel ya on this stuff - we just put him into a Montessori school in lieu of sticking him in the public system where he would be immediately slapped with an inaccurate autism and ADHD label (among other things probably) and stuck into a special ed classroom! He, too, has auditory processing problems like you mentioned (heck, I think I do, too).

Anyhow, I love this post and I couldn't agree more. Common sense approach to parenting and education...novel idea, huh! :)

Keep on doing what you're doing because we need to turn out more kids like the ones you're going to be turning out. ;)

My favorite quote of all time:

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”

- Pablo Picasso

Kim said...

This is a great comment! Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I love the Picasso quote; what a wonderful and strange thing for him to say given his reputation for treating the people he loved so badly. (Maybe his reputation wasn't an accurate reflection of who he really was if he went around saying things like this!) :)

The Voracious Vegan said...

I don't have any children, but if I did they would be homeschooled for sure. I don't think our schools today are much more than factories that actively curtail children's passion for learning.

I was VERY lucky, the schools here in Aramco (our compound in Saudi Arabia) are top notch and DIFFERENT. They taught us HOW to learn as well as the facts that we needed to learn. We really were shown how amazing knowledge was and how much fun we could have with it, and I'm an academic to this day, so I know the approach worked.

I love your view and outlook on this topic, I'll be back for more for sure!

Kim said...

Thanks for stopping by! I'm always honored when a blogger I really admire gives my blog a look-see, and you are one of the bloggers I really admire. :)