By Richard Colombini, MA
Teaching too much at a time or unclearly can confuse children taking their first steps in reading. The best way for children to learn how to read is presenting one skill at a time in logical sequence.
Some people say, "It's tmi" (too much information) when flooding with information they'd rather not hear or need. Presenting lessons to children that contain too much information or is too advanced for their cognitive skills and/or interests is "tmi" and creates confusion. It's better to isolate the difficulty or concept that you are teaching. Isolating a difficulty requires teaching one skill at a time. This can be difficult with the English language because of its complexity. Fortunately, here at Preschool University, we've figured it out.
In the English language, there are about 44 phonemes and 70 different ways to say those 44 phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech in a language that distinguishes one word from another. For example, the phonemes "b", "p" and "t" are the smallest units of speech in the words "cab", "cap" and "cat". Another way to explain this is, the English language has 26 letters, 44 speech sounds and more than 70 common ways to spell those sounds.
Here at Preschool University, we spent 22 years mastering how to teach the complexity of the English language in a way young children can understand and love learning.
Being successful at teaching English requires a deliberate sequential plan of action to ensure clear effective learning. At first, only the most common sound of each of the 26 letters should be taught. Even though some letters make more than one sound ("c" for "cat" or "c" for "cent" for example), 80% of the time letter use conforms to the most common sound. So, we teach those other sounds and spelling rules later in the sequence of learning we developed.
It's "TMI" for Me!
Six examples of giving beginning readers too much or confused information:
1. Telling a child first learning how to read, "This is the letter 'a'. It says 'a' like 'apple', 'ax' and 'alligator' and can also say like 'ape' or 'a' like 'walk' or 'umbrella'. Is your head spinning like mine is now?
2. Telling an emerging reader that the sound can be represented in six different ways; by "ai" as in "maid", "ay" as in "play", "eigh" as in "eight", "ea" as in "break", "a" as in "make" and even by "ei" as in "vein". All six phonemes have the same sound so you can see how confused this can make a child.
3. Teaching the uppercase name of the letter "A" before teaching the sound of the letter "a". This is in the top three mistakes when teaching reading skills to young children.
4. Saying, "The letter 'a' says 'a' like 'apple'." This is teaching about four things at once: the name of the letter, the symbol of the letter, the sound of the letter and how "apple" has an "a" sound at the beginning. It's much more effective and focused to say, "'a' 'a' 'apple'," as an auditory phrase.
5. Teaching early phonics methods in manners such as: "i" is for "ice cream" or "a" is for "acorn". In this example, the most commonly occurring sound of the letter is not used.
6. Using words with two consonants to teach beginning sounds of words, such as "frog" or "tree" instead of using "fog" or "tee".