Friday, May 04, 2007

Learning to read

I have been wanting to discuss "learning to read" for a while, but haven't had the time I knew it would take to talk about all the different things I wanted to say. :) However, I did send in an entry to a wonderful homeschooling blog called Life Without School, for their "Learning to Read in Our Own Way" page, back in March. This is what I wrote:

My story is about Emily. When she was (I think) 5 1/2 I started using 100EZ lessons. Every night before bedtime we'd do one lesson, and it worked well for several months. Then Emily started resisting the lessons, so we stopped for at least 2 months or maybe 3. I asked her if she'd like to start again and she said yes, so we continued for maybe just 2 weeks before she was ready to stop again. I gave it time and asked again if she wanted to start again, and she did, and we ended up finishing the book. That took 12 months. But, while she could read those words, she was unwilling to take any risk (as I interpreted it) in trying to read books because there might be words she just didn't know already. I didn't push it. No more reading lessons of any kind, just kept reading to her. Once in a while I'd ask her if she'd like to read a paragraph or a page of the book I was reading to her and she would. But she really resisted doing more than that. When we were doing other things, at home or out, she would point out plenty of words she could read, and they were not just the words from the 100EZ lessons. That went on for a long time. During all this time, she would love to write things down, in about 20 different notebooks and journals and diaries and small notepads, you name it! Her spelling was naturally mostly wrong, and sometimes hard to interpret, but I didn't interfere unless she asked how to spell something. Then, we spent a month in Italy, where spelling and reading is entirely predictable, and she mentioned she wished English were like that. This was when she was just 2 months from turning 9, and still refusing to attempt more than a page of a book like Magic Tree House. When we returned, my parents clipped comics for her to read, just a few, and she enjoyed reading them. Then maybe a couple days after that, she just picked up a book and started reading. She hasn't stopped since, and I was completely stunned, but of course really happy, that it just happened so naturally, when she was finally ready to deal with unknown words (at least that's my guess as to why it happened).

With Thomas, we've done things a bit differently. Not on purpose, they just have happened this way. When he was almost 6, we took a trip to Italy for a month. (Emily was just getting ready to break into the world of reading.) For the trip, each child was given a large 3-ring binder, the kind that zips and has pockets and cool things to put your stuff in, in addition to notebooks and loose-leaf paper. They brought some markers, pens, pencils, stickers, whatever they could fit in there. So, while we're there, Emily decided to teach Thomas to write the alphabet. He hadn't been very interested in writing up to this point, but he was very willing to learn from her. So he learned to write the alphabet without our (parental) interference, and without formal lessons. It was a fun thing they did together. Since then, he has done more "writing" and lots of drawing, developing the fine motor skills he'll need to really write.

Then at the beginning of this school year, I asked him if he wanted to start learning to read from the "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" book. He was game. We've gone through it slowly, doing a lesson here and there. Sometimes he'll ask to do them, and we'll cover three in one night. He's having more fun with it than Emily did, taking more chances with being wrong, guessing at sounds, etc. We're not done with the book yet, but I think he feels more confident with what he does know than Emily did at the same time in her reading lessons. Another difference is that Emily enjoyed the alphabet practice that each lesson had, while Thomas doesn't want to do them, so I don't push on that one.

I read an interesting article in Newsweek (I think) a couple years back (and cannot find on the internet now) that discussed differences between boys and girls in the classroom. Of course, a lot has been written about this subject. But this one said that when a teacher gave the kids a question to answer (for math, for example), the boys were more likely to start shouting out answers--guessing and getting it wrong until they finally got the correct answer. Girls would more often try to work out the answer and then tell the teacher.

I find this really interesting because I clearly have seen this in my children and their different attitudes toward reading. Thomas takes so many more guesses than Emily ever did. He just doesn't care if he's wrong. She would freeze up if she saw a word she didn't know, and she didn't like trying to sound it out. Of course, there are many factors involved here, personality being another big one. Maybe boys just take more chances in general, and learning is just another area where they do this. But still, it intrigues me. I'm not sure if/how I'll be able to use this knowledge in teaching my kids in the future, but it will always be in the back of my mind.

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