Curriculum Notes (Reading)

The whole curriculum thing got started with reading. Reading is one of the fundamental skills without which self learning of more advanced things is nearly impossible and is of such a bootstrapping nature that it can be totally overwhelming to contemplate teaching. We tried a few disorganized things when the Ben got little bits of interest in reading, but nothing ever stuck or showed enough promise to continue. Until September when he decided he wanted to read. We skimmed a couple curricula, one that looked ok (and has since gone back to the library), one online one that appeared to teach how to click on portions of the screen, and Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Engelmann, Haddox and Bruner. A quick skim of the lessons and reading of the justification and teaching methods from the front convinced me that it was worth a shot. It is a phonics method, SRA/Distar. I had a vague dislike of phonics, but I’m not sure from what.

What I like:

Repetitive. There’s variable ratio reinforcement of things to learn, everything is introduced, then returned to on the next day 4-8 times, and then shows up again for another couple of days. At that point, it gets into a slower rotation of things that are just part of the knowledge base
Directions on Praise and Correction. They go for correcting everything, patiently, after one or two tries. The praise follows variable ratio conditioning. Praise sometimes, and for things that are done well, but not for everything and not at the same point in every lesson.
– A word for word script for the lessons. 6 months ago, I wouldn’t have wanted it, but it was a great confidence booster. Also, it really helped to keep lessons on track.
– Phonics needs to regularize the language. They provide a different orthography to indicate different sounds, diacritical marks on the vowels, arcs or ligatures to indicate groupings, and smaller characters to indicate silent letters. They were all in a different font, and clearly differentiated from the ordinary text that started later in the series. This was clearly designed to be a couple month bootstrap, not a long term thing.
Writing. It’s yet another bit of the brain that can be pulled into the writing thing.
– They start with the utterly regular to provide a pattern, but they introduce irregularities soon enough that the pattern does not become a hard rule. There were irregularities showing up by the 12th lesson or so. The special calling out of irregularities faded gradually as well, so the orthographic cues provided a crutch, but didn’t become the core of the understanding.
– All the special orthography goes away by lesson 74. It caused a 2-3 day dip in understanding before the switch from the sans-serif bold special orthography to the times roman ordinary one took hold.
– It worked.

What I didn’t like:

– Some of the stories were really odd.
– They explained the disappearance of an sh ligature to denote the sh sound by using the word fish, which, when set in their serif ‘normal’ font, had an fi ligature.

We managed to do a 15-30 minute lesson virtually every day from September to the New Year, at which point Ben got his first library card, chose a book, then sat down and read it to me. Then another one.

Sometimes focus was the challenge, sometimes taking it seriously, but on days when I wasn’t quite up to it, he was, and vice versa. Words take 2-4 days to internalize, and I can see it happen. Going through the word list can be a bit rough, then once or twice in the story, and by the third or fourth time, it just flows well. Now that we’re done with the curriculum, we’re trying something similar on the beginning reading books. I pick out some words and print them out, we review them and then read a book. We’re at a solid 1st grade level after 3 months, and I’m still seeing that he can pick up words when we work on them, or he’ll just come out with ones that I really don’t expect him to know. (like Australia. read properly, the first time)

No comments

No comments yet. Be the first.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.