Developing Predicting Skills

I appreciated the comments to the last blog post. It is evident that there needs to be a strong concentration of pre-reading and reading activities for children in early childhood settings. As I stated in one of my answers to the comments in the last post, I think many of our struggling readers were left behind because of poor instruction and lack of developmental strategies.

I enjoyed looking at the website for the National Reading Panel that Scott sent along with his comments. I often teach beginning reading strategies to pre-service teachers. One component of that instruction is the discussion about predictors of reading success. We know that becoming an on-level reader in first grade is essential for a child. There are two strong predictors to that success. “Predictors” are skills so important that we should make every effort to ensure that a child builds solid foundations in these skills during preschool and kindergarten; ultimately these skills are essential to building the reading foundation. These two predictors are phonemic awareness and alphabet letter knowledge. That fact is reiterated again on the National Reading Council website. I emphasize that if these foundation skills are not taught appropriately, the child runs the risk of becoming a struggling reader, lacking the background information for making sense of the reading process.

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear sounds of speech (phonemes) in spoken language. It is the beginning stage of phonological awareness, which will eventually include syllables and phonics. Prior to the influx of large quantities of children’s literature, most children came to school with phonemic awareness. Parents used nursery rhymes and folktales with their children because picture books were not as readily available. That scenario changed as quality picture books became readily available. Nursery rhymes are one of the best teaching tools for phonemic awareness. They teach children to listen to the sounds that are the same and the sounds that are different.  Compare “Jill” and “hill” in the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill.” A child can hear how the beginning sound is different, but the rest of the word is the same. When a child has phonemic awareness, you can ask the child to identify the sound she hears at the beginning of the word “cookie.” If the child indicates /k/, then she can hear that sound. At this point it is not important if the child knows it is the letter ‘c’ that makes the sound. It is only critical that she can hear individual sounds. This knowledge is essential to beginning the reading process.

The other predicting skill is knowledge of the alphabet letters. It is so important to work on letter identification with a child prior to beginning instruction in reading. As I stated in one of my comments on the last blog entry, it is important to use appropriate activities for letter identification. Using magnetic, wooden, or plastic letters is a much better way to introduce children to the alphabet than looking at a chart or paper. When the child has some background knowledge in letters, have him form them out of play dough or some other moldable material. Wet moldable sand is also a wonderful option for the child to “feel” the letters and build some cognitive memories about the letter. We must be as concrete as possible with early reading skills because reading is actually quite abstract. As I was pointing to the letter ‘a’ one day, I told a four- year-old girl that letter said /a/. Her response was, “I didn’t hear it say anything.”  Being more concrete will help the child understand this new world of reading. It is critical for us to help children instantly identify the letters. That instant recognition is called “automaticity” by reading researchers. That automaticity is the predictor of reading success.

I was recently helping one of my pre-service teachers as she was teaching in a second grade classroom. The month before, she had received a new student who could not read. The student teacher had not had success in working with the child on letter sounds and decoding words. We decided that the child must have missed early reading instruction, so we went back and worked on phonemic awareness and letter recognition. Within two weeks the child started to improve and is now sounding out words. Because we went back to put in the foundation pieces, I believe this child will eventually be on grade level with her reading skills. Without someone taking her back to the beginning, she may have been labeled a struggling reader and provided with intervention and perhaps special needs services. This experience has made me wonder how many children with missing pieces in their learning foundation end up in at-risk learning situations.

Have you had similar experiences?