Often, as the Reading Specialist at K¹², I’m asked questions by teachers, parents, and colleagues alike about various aspects of reading. Below, a random sample of some of the more recent questions:
Why do I need to teach my Kindergarten/1st grade child Phonics? He/she is already reading.
A strong foundations in phonics isn’t just to support decoding and reading. It also supports encoding, or putting words together, and writing. When kids study phonics, they learn about the structure of English and they learn to decode and encode—to read and to spell. If your child is Kindergarten or 1st grade age and is reading but not spelling, you may find it worth your time to work through the Phonics Work program.
Why is Classic Literature in the lower grades important? Why Fairy Tales instead of Sponge Bob?
K¹² incorporates classic literature throughout the Language Arts program. While I personally believe that any reading is good reading—Sponge Bob included—classic literature helps students build a shared, cultural knowledge base while being exposed to well-crafted stories packed full of opportunities to deepen comprehension and vocabulary.
What’s the difference between reading and comprehension?
If you put 20 reading specialists in a room, you would probably get 20 different definitions of the term “reading.” Think about the first time your child read to you – were they reciting from memory a beloved book an adult read over and over and over again to them? Or were they painstakingly decoding each sound in a short a sentence? Some would say that in both cases, the child was reading, while others would say in the first scenario, the child was “reading” (and they’d probably use air quotes when they said the word reading) and in the second scenario, the child was reading (no air quotes, just heavy emphasis on the word). Still others would say the first child is reciting and the second child is decoding.
I feel like we need Reading-with-a-capital-r to denote “fluently and accurately taking written words off the page and understanding, thinking about, and relating personal experiences or knowledge to those words.” That way, reading-with-a-lower-case-r can just be “getting the words off the page.” Both take a huge amount of effort on the child’s part.
Remember, though, comprehension is the entire point of reading. Comprehension is the key, no matter what your definition of reading may be.
My kindergartener is reading at a 3rd grade level, so why does he have to read the lower grades stuff?
Have you ever read the book, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia McLachlan? It’s a Newberry Award Winning book from 1986, and it’s very short—only 58 pages. With a Lexile level of 560, it falls at an early 3rd grade level. So could your kindergartner read this book? Sure. Would I recommend it? No, not really. Because those 58 pages tell the story of two children whose mother passed away while the youngest was an infant, and whose father, years later, places an ad in the newspaper for a mail order wife—an ad answered by Sarah from Maine, who describes herself as “plain and tall.” Pretty hefty subject matter for a 5 year old (and for an 8 year old, too—but 8 year olds can better relate to the children in this book).
Recently I read that Catcher in the Rye has been “demoted” (where it isn’t still banned) to 7th and 8th grade reading lists rather than 11th and 12th grade lists. Can 7th and 8th graders decode the words? Most certainly. Can they relate to the 17 year-old protagonist? Less than likely. Your student’s time is better spent on developing a love of literature while reading age-appropriate content, rather than weighing him or her down with heavy themes that tend to accompany upper grade stuff.
My child still reverses letters. When should I worry and what should I do about it?
First and foremost, rest assured that letter reversals are developmentally normal and do not indicate dyslexia. Up through the second grade, letter reversals are common (but not unheard of in older students and harried adults!). With older students, you may want to discuss with them why they’re writing letters backwards—are they in a hurry, are they unsure of the proper formation, and so on. If they don’t see the mistake they’re making, then you may want to have their vision checked as well.
Prevention is the best medicine, and prevention starts with proper letter formation in handwriting instruction. Oh, the horrors of watching a first grade teacher absentmindedly draw (yes, draw, not write) the spelling list on the board and then tell the students to copy it while she talked to another teacher in the hallway. Some poor little beans were having such a hard time figuring out how to copy hastily scribbled, semi-cursive "letters," and literally had no idea they were writing the word bat. Instead, the teacher should have discussed (even as a reminder for the 300th time) the letter formation with the students. Something like “stick, circle,” [b] “circle short stick,” [a] “stick, cross it” [t] as she wrote (wrote!) "bat" on the board would have been exponentially helpful for her struggling readers. Spend the ten minutes a day you need to spend to show students their handwriting activities. Learning the fundamentals is well worth it in the end!
How long do I continue to do read-alouds with my children?
While it’s easier to read aloud to kids who can’t read yet, kids of all ages can benefit from (and enjoy!) a good read aloud. Be sure to check out my previous post on read-alouds.
Happy reading, everyone!