Listening to those 'Home Readers'

Kirstie Wilson M. Ed (special needs)

published in speld (sa) Autumn 2007 newsletter

Article 2: Reading for Meaning: Reading the Print

and Self-Correcting

Kirstie Wilson M. Ed has written a series of three articles in answer to one of the most common dilemmas that parents face when it comes to their children learning to read


Three Crucial Principles that underlie Learning to Read

There is no doubt that the purpose of reading is to understand the message, or the story, behind the print (to comprehend the text). There are a number of skills that a reader must possess in order for comprehension to take place.

In this article we look at 3 of the crucial skills that good readers use and apply this knowledge for use when listening to ‘those Home Readers’. The skills we look at are:

Reading for Meaning

Reading the Print

Reading for Meaning

One of the skills that is vital to efficient and effective reading is being able to “make sense of” the print as one reads. While a child is reading, they need to be constantly thinking about what the message is and whether what they are reading is making sense. They might make predictions about what is going to happen, be thinking about the characters, linking information with their own past experiences etc. This is called Reading for meaning.

Reading is more than just decoding the text. For example, I may well be able to decode much of a passage taken from a high level neuroscience text, however I would not have much of an idea of “what” I read. The same would apply were I to attempt to read a text written in French. I could probably ‘decode’ it but would not have a good grip of the content. We must teach children that reading is a valuable skill because of its ability to carry meaning - it can help us communicate, learn, express ourselves, relax etc.

Comprehending text is the reason for reading! The good news is that comprehension skills can be taught.

There are a number of things that we, as the adult listening to the home readers can do to encourage children to read for meaning.

For instance, we might:

Discuss the book before we read it. Look at the cover, the pictures, talk about what we think the book might be about, the characters in it etc. We could even use some of the vocabulary that is contained in the book – I sometimes do this if I know that there is a word or words coming in the text that the child might never have heard of before.

Eg Oh, we’ve had a book about Max before haven’t we… I wonder what he is up to this time, what do you think…have a quick peek…

What’s that a picture of? Yes, it’s a caterpillar cocoon. Do you know what the fancy word for cocoon is? It’s 'Chrysalis'.

Make Occasional comments throughout the book that help children keep track of the story-line or message.

Eg. Oh, poor Sally, she must be feeling really scared don’t you think?

Ask questions to check whether the child understands what they are reading. There are different types of questions and different levels of questions. When children are young I tend to ask fairly literal questions, and as their reading develops I add questions that require children to ‘read between the lines’.

Eg. So, how many people are coming to the party altogether?

Gosh, the mice are in trouble. What do you think they are going to do?

Ask children to re-read sections to make sure they made sense. Sometimes children take a while to figure a passage or sentence out, and by the time they are at the end, they sometimes have forgotten what the heck they read. Sometimes if children miss grammatical cues, it can also distort the meaning.

Eg. Did that make sense? Try that again and see if you can get it to make

I missed that, can you read that again because I got confused
Reading the Print

Whilst there is no denying that the purpose of reading is understand the message behind the text, it is equally certain that one must be able to accurately decode most of the print in order to have enough information with which to work out the meaning! In fact, being able to ‘read’ (or decode) the words on the page is almost always the most vital and essential step towards comprehension.

You can best support your child when they are attempting to decode the print in their reader by firstly allowing them enough time to figure words out on their own. We need to wait, and give 'figuring out time'. As I mentioned in the previous article, we adults are often far too quick to jump in early with a solution when the child would have been able to figure it out on their own if just given enough time.

If a child can figure out the text on their own – then let them, as this leaves the responsibility and power with them.

Whilst this may be more time consuming in the short term, it is far more empowering and efficient in the long term.

If your child does have trouble figuring out some of the text, then there are a number of strategies that you can use to ‘help’ them figure it out. I often remind children to 'look for clues' in the word.

Such clues and/or reminders might be related to:

Sounding out.
Children need to know the sounds that letters make and be able to blend or synthesise (join them together). Children should be encouraged to sound out words. Gosh, we do as adults – using sound as a guide is one of the strategies that we use when we come to an unknown word. That belief that children should be discouraged from sounding out has been debunked by research, and anyone still pushing a 'non sounding out' approach to reading is simply misinformed and not up to date with current theory and best practice. Children need to know letter sounds. There is no way round this.

e.g. g…e…t = get

Clue: Have a look at that one, what sounds do the letters make?

Children also need to look for a group of letters that belong together that form a sound.

e.g. 'ay' in the words: day, stay, playing

'igh' in the words: night, lightning, frightened

Clue: look for clues & letters that go together

Children need to know the common letter patterns and be able to blend them together.

e.g. ‘b’ … ‘ea’ … ‘ch’ = beach

Children also need to be able to recognise other common letter strings or clusters such as ‘ing’, ‘ed’ as well as 'blends' such as ‘tr’, ‘cr’, ‘sl’ as this also helps children figure the text out more quickly and easily.

Note: There are a number of resources available through SPELD or good educational shops or even on-line that detail the letter combinations for the 44 different sounds (phonemes) in the English Language as well as common letter strings and blends.

Sight words.
Children need to be able to quickly decode the print to become fluent readers and to assist comprehension.

If children have a ‘bank’ of words that they automatically just know (by looking at – without having to stop and sound out) then decoding the text as whole becomes less arduous. 'Brain space', if you like, is freed up for thinking about the meaning as well as having energy available to decode any unknown words. The most commonly used words are particularly important.

e.g. the, is, to, come, here, they etc

Well done, I noticed you got 'they’ first go this time, you remembered it form the page before

There are many lists available of the most common sight words or most common high frequency words.

Compound words
Children need to learn to look for little words inside bigger words as this will also help them decode words faster and read more fluently.

e.g. to/day, tree/house

Clue: Have a close look at that word, can you see a word inside it that you already know?

Larger words can be broken into smaller more manageable chunks.

Clue: Break that word in half because it has a double letter in the middle, you can use your fingers or your eyes to cut the rest off

e.g. rabbit = rabb…it

Clue: Take the ending off because you don’t need to worry about that part yet, just figure the first part out

e.g. playing =, shouted = shout…ed

Sometimes there are specific rules that apply to words and letters. Although the rules can be very useful, there are exceptions – in which case, I just simply say:

That’s a tricky word, it doesn’t stick to the rules

If a child was having trouble figuring a word out and I can see that there is a rule that applies in the word, I might remind them of the rule.

Remember, look for clues. What has this word got that’s special? That’s right, a Bossy ‘e’. What does a bossy 'e’ do again? Good on you, spot on. Now that you know that, have another go…

Note: The bossy ‘e’ is used to denote when a letter ‘e’ is on the end of a word, it makes the vowel before it say its name rather than the sound it usually stands for.

e.g. game, these, bike, home, flute
(without the ‘e’ on the end, these words would say gam, thes, bik, flut !)

Once again, there are many useful resources available that detail the common rules used in the English language

Reading by analogy
Sometimes a child might not be able to figure out a word but they know a word that looks very similar or has similar parts to it. I might remind the child of the word that they know and give them another chance to figure out the unknown word.

e.g. if the troublesome word is ‘brother’ and the child has ‘mother’ in their bank of sight words…

Mmm, having trouble with that one? I actually think you can figure it out all on your own and that you don’t need me, because you know a similar word – mother. Perhaps you can figure it out now…

Making sense
If a child has trouble figuring out a word, it can be helpful to suggest that they think of a word that would ‘fit’ or make sense AND fits with the letters in the word. To do this, your child might look at the picture for clues, re-read the sentence etc, and that is OK. However, the child should be encouraged to check that their ‘guess’ fits with the print.

e.g. the boy went to his__________ (home – word in the print)

What do you think the word could be?

(child) - house

Mmm, it could be, that would make sense. Does it have all the right letters, it does start with ‘h’?

(child) - it’s got an ‘m’ not an ‘s’

What else could it be, that fits with the letters? etc

Reading the punctuation
Reading full stops, commas, exclamation marks, words in bold or italics etc helps children read with expression and improves comprehension. Children need to be encouraged to learn to look for these and ‘read’ them.

Try that sentence again, and this time ‘read’ the full stop. Remember, your voice goes down and you take a breath

Notice and praise children when they ‘get it’!

Wow, you are getting really good at reading your full stops. I noticed that you ‘read’ them all on that page. Good on you.

Sometimes, especially when children are first learning about punctuation, it is worth demonstrating exactly HOW to correctly read a particular form of punctuation so that your child can see/hear a good model before they are expected to have another go themselves.

Remember to ‘read’ your full stops. Here, I’ll show you how they would do it…
Self Correcting

Good readers monitor (or check) their reading as they go for:

meaning (whether what they are reading is making sense), and

accuracy (whether what they are reading matches the print)

If they notice they have made a mistake, good readers will often go back and correct it themselves. This is called 'self correcting'.

It is a very valuable skill, and something that we need to encourage our children to do. There are a couple of things we can do to encourage our children to self correct.

Notice and praise your child when they stop/pause – stopping is the first step as it indicates awareness.

I noticed that you stopped then, good on you, you did the right thing, you realised that it wasn’t making sense/matching the print and you stopped

Notice and praise them when they fix a mistake themselves

Good on you, you fixed that one all by yourself, you didn’t even need me to tell you. Well done, noticing and fixing mistakes is exactly what good readers do..

Allow children enough time to notice and fix a mistake themselves.

Keep in mind that children do not process thoughts as quickly as we adults do and therefore they need a little longer. Also, sometimes it is not immediately apparent that a mistake has been made, and the child needs to be allowed to continue in the hope that the error will reveal itself later.

e.g. Your child might say 'she' instead of 'he' and then further in the passage finds out that the character is actually a boy.

You need to wait and give 'noticing time' as far as possible. This encourages children to be responsible for their own reading and is far more empowering than having all their mistakes pointed out for them. In the long run children will learn to read faster if they learn to monitor their own reading for meaning and accuracy and fix mistakes all by themselves.

In summary, the purpose of reading is to understand the print (the message the author is wishing to convey).

However, the reader must first be able to accurately decode most of the print in order to have sufficient information with which to work out the meaning. To be a good reader, both processes in tandem are necessary: reading for meaning and reading the print.

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