Monday, November 12, 2007

Hooked on Phonics

Like many (if not most) early readers, AJ learned to read by devouring words whole. Phonics meant nothing to him. He was, for a long time, stymied by sounding out words, even though he could read them just fine. This seems to be a common trait among the early readers we know, although so far I have been unable to find any studies that have been done that suggest those who read early learn how to read in that particular way.

In any case, for the last couple of years, we've been working with AJ so that he could be more comfortable deciphering and pronouncing words not previously enncountered. Initially, we were working on phonics. More recently, we've been spending time talking about root words. For the last several weeks, we've been working with AJ's teacher to create challenge word lists for him. After he takes the class' standard issue spelling test (mostly three letter words), AJ gets a test of his own. AJ has been struggling a little with this. He's a good memorizer, so he gets it, but he was getting frustrated with thinking of things this way. So we started making up chants of the letters that rhythmically broke the words into smaller groups. For example, for the word "chocolate":


This worked well, because he remembered the ATE because CHOCOLATE was something you ATE.

This week, all of a sudden, something clicked.

As usual, AJ and I practiced his words on the walk to school. We make up his list on Sundays, so Mondays we do it cold. Usually I make up chants for him, but he did it himself today.

"Spell 'invisible.'"


"Perfect! Did you remember or it or did you figure it out?"

"I remembered it was 'visible' with "in" in front. Then I just figured it out."

"Good thinking. Try 'forecast.'"


"Almost, but it's not quite right. You forgot..."

"Oh, wait. It needs to be "f-o-r-E-c-a-s-t."

"Very good! How'd you figure that out?"

"Well, there are two kinds of "for." This is not for something. It's before something, because, like, you're telling the weather before it happens."

He figured that out all by himself. This may not seem like a big deal for anyone who's taken an SAT prep course, but given the way we've seen AJ struggle with separating words into components, this strikes me as a huge leap in his intellectual development. But more importantly for AJ, it's a huge boost to his confidence. Spelling has, I think, been somewhat mysterious (another word on his list this week) to him, something that he's mastered by force of will and power of memory. Now he actually understands it. It's exciting to watch that happen.


FreshHell said...

Wow - that's a huge developmental leap! Good for him!

peppypilotgirl said...

Maybe not a big deal to people who are prepping for the SAT but the kids his age are learning 3 letter words, FCOL! Go, AJ, Go!!

Terri said...

Wow... Reading what AJ's learning makes me realize how very different my first grader is! My children have always had a difficult time learning to read. Somewhere around the third grade, something in them clicks and the light comes on and they get it! But Timmy has gotten it a lot sooner than his older sisters for some reason. But he's no where near being able to spell the way AJ does. Chocolate? Wow! Good job! I don't mean to compare! I just find development stages interesting and kids are all so different.

Have you found that as AJ learns to phonetically sound out words that his spelling improves? Teachers I've spoken to about Maggie's reading troubles told me that was her issue. Her phonics weren't strong enough. Although I never saw evidence myself. I thought I might be missing something.

Timmy hasn't forgotten his pen pal! He keeps getting stuck what to say, and now he feels badly that it's been so long. He's afraid AJ is mad at him. :) I told him I was sure he wasn't, but that he would probably be happier if he got a letter from him!