How do we teach kids to read?
Many practices reflect the bricklaying model of reading. The act of reading is made up of several bricks – the phonemic awareness brick, the alphabet brick, the grapho-phonic brick, the sight words bricks, and all the other decoding bricks.
As long as each brick was laid straight and firm we were pretty confident that our kids would learn to read. We have all seen reading taught like this. “Today we are going to learn about long a”, and the teacher compiles lists of words with the long a sound, shows the children texts in which they identify the long a sound, and then they move on to short a. Another brick is being laid.
As our understanding of the brain develops and with it our understanding of learning, and more particularly our understanding of LANGUAGE learning we discover that learning to read isn’t like building a brick wall at all.
Which brings me to my point – remember Whole Language?
Remember the people who advocated for teaching language – reading, writing, speaking, listening – in an integrated manner, relating each to the other?
Whole Language advocates never suggested we don’t need to understand phonics, they never suggested that grammar has no place in language. What they did say was language is a network and needs to be taught as one, each part integrated with every other part.
It’s not rocket science, and it’s certainly not brick laying.
Let’s look again at how kids learn best, by immersing them in the complexity and helping them make sense of it. We begin with the experience and then we help them discover the rules and procedures that enable them to make sense of the experience in a brain compatible manner.
Kids learn to read by reading just as they learn to ride bikes by getting on them and working it out.