Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Hukt on fonix
Right now, OmegaMom is looking at the question of reading; specifically, learning to read. Many moons ago, when OmegaMom was young, "Fun With Dick and Jane" was the flavor du jour of the school system. Bland stories, bland illustrations, bland words--all in one or two syllables. A scintillating sample: "Oh, see. Oh, see Jane. Funny, funny Jane." Oh, barf. FWD&J was based on the premise of teaching kids to identify short words by sight, and magically, somehow, they would learn to "read". Lured onward by the exciting adventures of Dick, Jane, Spot, and Puff, the kids would be overjoyed by the beauty and wonder of the written word, and become literate. Har. Luckily, shortly before OmegaMom was born, Dr. Seuss came out. OmegaGranny thought Dr. Seuss was Da Bomb, the way he played with rhythms and words and whimsy. OmegaGranny also--thankfully--thought that phonics was (were?) a pretty practical approach to reading, and she also thought that kids were not only likely to enjoy interesting words more, but were entitled to learn how to use and enjoy and read multisyllabic words. So, while at school, OmegaMom got Dick and Jane, but while at home, OmegaMom got all the Dr. Seuss books, a slew of classics such as Bambi, The Little Princess, Heidi, The Five Little Peppers, Charlotte's Web, and a slew of more obscure kids' books from the early 20th century that relied on adventure and intrigue. But even after a few generations of people learning to read from such literary gems as "Fun With Dick and Jane", we still have controversy about the question of phonics versus whole word reading as a pedagogical approach to learning to read. Right now, there seems to be a certain lip-service being paid to the idea of "balanced literacy" in teaching kids to read, an amount of hand-waving at the idea of phonics mixed with sight-reading, "good literature" mixed with "teach the phonetic basics". Woohoo! Way to go! Unfortunately, though, some of what I'm hearing from some parents with kids in the early grades seems to indicate that the idea of balance is tilted more towards the sight-reading approach, leaving the basic skills floundering. It seems that many teachers (and many parents) think (or are taught) that "phonics" is synonymous with drill-and-kill. So you either have see-and-say Dick and Jane boredom on the one hand or you have drill-and-kill boredom on the other hand, and the end result is a lot of kids who think that reading just isn't interesting or fun. I come squarely down in the middle of things, thinking phonics is a Great Idea, thinking that using phonics to read excerpts from interesting stories, or lots of kewl kids' books with fun stories and kicky illustrations, is the best way to go. Why can't you mix the two? Why can't you have phonics instruction--teaching the basic phonemes that the letters represent--and also have the fun and interesting stories? Why does it seem that it's all one or the other, but never an amalgam of the two? I read the websites on "balanced literacy", and it seems like just what I'm talking about--so why are some parents complaining that their kids still aren't learning to read? Interestingly enough, some international adoptees manifest learning disabilities when they switch from verbal/receptive language skills, as in speaking, to the language skills needed for decoding reading; it has to do with the interruption in the natural flow of language learning that happens when a child is moved from being immersed in one language (say, Chinese) to another (say, English) at a particular point in infant/toddler development. So, while OmegaDad and I think OmegaDotter is exceptionally bright (and cute and sweet and charming and beautiful and all those things), there is a possibility that this type of language problem will emerge once she enters official school. In the meantime, however, we just muddle along, with me snuggling into bed with the dotter, reading her fun stories such as "If You Give A Moose a Muffin", and occasionally doing a stint of sounding out the letters for her. I'd like to think that simply being a kid in a house where there are 3000+ books, with parents who read obsessively and play with words on a regular basis, and being read to consistently, will help just via osmosis. There she is, a tabula rasa, a sponge, soaking up Joy Of Reading just by living with us. One hopes. On the other hand, there are days I fear that the wrong teacher early on, or the wrong approach early on, will sour her on the whole idea. There's such a wide world of fun and interesting things written on paper (or displayed on computer screens)--I'd hate for her--and other kids--to miss out on it all.