Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Classical Education, part 2

Our personal version of classical education as I mentioned in my first post on classical education is derived mainly from the framework of The Well Trained Mind. While I consider this text to be my starting point, we do not strictly follow much of the text. Starting with phonics, we have found somewhere between 4 and 4.5, similar to the recommendations of the book, to be a good time to begin phonics instruction. We keep the lessons at the beginning stages to about 5 minutes a day. That may mean we only complete 1/3 to 1/2 a page on some days once we reach the section on three letter words. We don't increase the time beyond 10 minutes until my student can read fluently enough to enjoy level 1 readers on their own without struggling.

Jessie began phonics instruction when she was 4 using Phonics Pathways as recommended in the first edition. When the second edition changed the recommendation to The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, I looked at the new recommendation but decided not to switch for several reasons. First is my general dislike for scripted programs. While they can be open and go, I find that since I didn't prepare ahead of time if my child has difficulty with understanding the lesson I'm suddenly on the spot needing to improvise a new way of teaching the concept. I also find it easier to keep my students attention by looking at them when teaching rather than looking at a book to read a script. Second, I prefer the teaching method in Phonics Pathways. After introducing the vowels, the consonants are introduced in conjunction with vowels, so the child is reading sa, se, si, so, su or ba, be, bi, bo, bu. I personally found this to work better when I was teaching Jessie. I had previously taught her that b says /b/ prior to starting the book. The problem is that in trying to pronounce the b sound individually it always came out as /buh/. She would see ba, say /buh/ /a/, and had an extremely hard time dropping the /uh/ sound out and blending the two letters. It felt like we spent a lot of time unteaching and reteaching to blend certain consonants, but the problem was isolated to consonants like b, d, g, etc. Third, I find Phonics Pathways easier to use because all you need is the book. The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading has you using letter cards and writing things down for the child to read. We prefer to simply curl up together in the recliner for phonics lessons, which is much easier when all you need is a book. Finally, I confess I like the little caterpillar and his quirky sayings. He's always been a great motivator at our house. My kids would gladly finish reading a page to find out what the caterpillar had to say that day.

Beyond Phonics Pathways, especially at the early stages when we're working on fluency with three letter words, we read Bob Books from the A1 and A2 series. Some days we pull out our letter magnets and mix up letters to make words on the refrigerator. I especially like to do this when my kids start trying to guess words. When they watch the word change from had to hat to hit to sit etc. simply by switching out one letter at a time, it helps reinforce the idea that they need to look at all the letters not just the first one or two to make certain they are reading the word correctly. Sometimes I'll throw in a nonsense word or two just for fun. Other days, I'll write words on a dry erase board for practice. This is especially useful for repeating lessons for additional practice without letting them know their repeating a lesson. (I started this because Jessie would get very upset if she didn't get something the first time and had to repeat it.) The kids enjoy either marking out or erasing the words as they go through to mark their progress.

A final thought on phonics... One of the hardest parts of teaching phonics in my opinion is simply learning to be patient. It seems to me that learning to read truly follows a stair step pattern of learning. The child breezes along through ba, be, bi, etc., but simply cannot make the jump to bat, bet, bit or was doing great with cap and mad but looks at you like you're speaking French when the words become cape and made. I think this is the point when many moms jump ship and switch to a different phonics program because they believe the first one is not working. I learned after much trial and error when Jessie used to hit these walls that I had two choices. I could back up in the book and review, or we could take a break for a week or two and try again. What exactly happens in those couple of weeks I'm not sure, but it seemed like almost every time we came back to the new material suddenly it just clicked. I always told the kids their brains just needed some time to make some new connections in order to be ready for the next step.

1 comment:

Lea said...

This is wonderful information for us new homeschooling moms. Thanks!