Growing in an urban scenario and studying in English medium private schools, I never had a problem with ‘reading.’ At least, I felt so. I considered the reading skill for granted.
Reading was associated with the textbooks I was obliged to read during my schooling. I considered ‘reading’ as only a classroom activity but not a way to learn about the world.
Growing up through my boyhood, I never acknowledged the books and anything associated with reading till I passed out of my school. Thanks to a few of my good friends, I was exposed to various genres of books other than text books and hence, changed my perspectives on ‘reading.’
Without learning to read, I started reading to learn.
It’s all the same. All it takes, is the environment and children can read!. I assumed. But, when I walked into upper primary classes, students taught me more about reading than what my teachers taught throughout my schooling.
One out of 4 students said, ‘I can’t read. I don’t know how to read.’
They challenged my practices and assumptions by sharing their problems they faced when they read.
A few guesses the words, a few did not decode the words and a few did not comprehend what they read.
The kids were given different genres, different font sized books and various contextual setting books yet, couldn’t see any progress.
Kids were able to read the words that are often used in their communication, environment and they were able to read the word as a whole unit. Excited to see the fluency, I checked if they can write out those words. 2 out of 3 words were written in wrong spelling.
They were able to read and make a meaning but they were unable to spell out the word.
Researching on these kind of problems and discussing with the fellows, I learnt what whole language approach is about.
“Like speaking, reading is natural to the children,” is how the whole language approach is interpreted.
Questioning the whole language approach, many people voiced out their opinions on how reading is not natural.
"Language is a human instinct, but written language is not. Language is found in all societies, present and past. . . . All healthy children master their own language without lessons or corrections. When children are thrown together without a usable language, they invent one of their own. Compare all this with writing. Writing systems have been invented a small number of times in history. . . . Until recently, most children never learned to read or write; even with today's universal education, many children struggle and fail. A group of children is no more likely to invent an alphabet than it is to invent the internal combustion engine. Children are wired for sound, but the print is an optional accessory that must be painstakingly bolted on. This basic fact about human nature should be the starting point for any discussion of how to teach our children to read and write. (Reading Wars, 2000)"
The pedagogy was more of whole language approach and various practices were performed with the children yet, there wasn’t any effective result.
Solving the problem through continuous discussions and reflections, we figured out that there are sub-skills in reading and we need to strengthen the sub-skills like, phonic skills, comprehensive skills, print awareness, and few other skills.
We researched on phonics skills and realized it’s another vast sea to swim through. First of all, we learned that phonetics and phonics are not the same.
Understanding the difference between phonetics and phonics, we realized there’s a lot more in phonics than what we expected. Implicit, explicit, embedded and what not!!
Consisted of support by other fellows and reflection on our practices, we worked on implicit phonics and worked on ‘reading.’
Children were able to read by decoding but, they were unable to comprehend it.
Contended about at least one outcome, we focused on comprehension.
It took us several months and several discussions to learn, unlearn and change our belief systems on ‘reading.’
My co fellow, once mentioned, “Various countries have fought and debated intensely over the whole language approach and Phonics. They figured out that there needs to be a balanced approach.”
Reading the the article, “THE READING WARS: UNDERSTANDING THE DEBATE OVER HOW BEST TO TEACH CHILDREN TO READ” I realized the intricacies and theories on how we interpret reading.
I never heard about phonics till I walked into the foundation. I was skeptical about its effectiveness but, these lines pushed me to try out the method.
I tried the the implicit phonic method with upper primary class students and it worked. They were able to decode and it acted as a confidence booster as well.
“…to the extent consistent with the priority of learning decoding skills, phonemic awareness and phonics skills should be taught in a context that is interesting and stimulating, with real literature that invites understanding. Children who do not come from print-rich and literate environments, who have no reason to think that reading is important to them and whose parents do not read to them need the invitation of exciting, imaginative literature to give them a reason to do the harder work of phonics instruction. Particularly among children from deprived homes, the classroom will have to make explicit the connection between the discipline of phonics and its eventual results in the joy and necessity of reading that other child will discover at home.”
Witnessing the results in the upper primary didn’t wipe out the doubts I had about implementing phonics in first grades, as I read,
“………. allowing phonics to become the "dominant component" of reading instruction, particularly in the first grade, may be an especially bad idea if it is at the the expense of reading activities that focus, for instance, on meaning.”
Got to know about the balanced approach everyone calls out for but did not understand it to implement or share it in further circles.
Fellow reports and reflections helped me in a great way to understand the balanced approach but, I’m in need of the first-hand experience with first and second-grade students that’ll shift my perspectives.